Thanks to a childhood full of Sunday school and Jewish summer camp, I’ve been baking challah for a long time. It’s always been one of my favorite breads to eat – dense, brioche-like, soft, and sweet – so it’s also one of my favorites to bake. As a kid, I would eat whole packages of challah rolls by myself. I thank my grandmother for financing this habit.
This challah recipe is based on one from King Arthur Flour, but unlike traditional challah, it’s filled and shaped. I braided it in the usual way, but I filled each strand of the braid with a sweet mixture of lemon, honey, and toasted almonds, then wound the finished braid in a spiral to create a complex-looking knot shape.
One of the great things about filled bread (and buns, rolls, etc.) is that you can change the entire feel of the recipe by changing basic things about the filling. I love the almond filling in this challah, but you can swap it out for whatever you want. I’m a fan of teaching how to cook, not just what to cook, so here’s a formula you can use to make and customize your own fillings:
1/2 cup toasted nuts : 1/4 cup sweetener : 2 tbsp butter : a few tsp flavorings
You can also use a dessert spread (like cheesecake filling, cookie butter, or Nutella) instead of the butter and sweetener.
Some great combinations might be:
- Toasted pistachios, honey, zest of one orange, butter, 1-2 tsp cardamom
- Toasted walnuts, cinnamon, butter, and mixed white/brown sugar
- Toasted hazelnuts and Nutella
This challah is so lovely and decadent that you’ll dream about it. It’s buttery, fluffy, and lightly sweet, not to mention the little pockets of honey, lemon, and crunchy almonds sprinkled throughout. Try it toasted with a little butter, or just plain and torn straight from the loaf. You can bet that I’ll be making this again soon.
NOTE: I’ve listed many of the ingredients in both grams and cups. If you have an electric kitchen scale, I strongly recommend you weigh your ingredients for maximum accuracy. You’ll still be okay if you don’t have a scale, but make sure to measure the flour using the spoon and level method (use a spoon to lightly scoop flour into the measuring cup. Don’t shake or press down on it, just keep adding flour until a dome forms over the top. Use the back of a butter knife to smooth it cleanly across the top).
Challah Knot with Lemon, Honey, and Toasted Almonds
- 4 cups (482 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ cup (113 g) lukewarm water
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup (85 g) honey
- ¼ cup + 2 tbsp (74 g) avocado oil
- 1 tbsp instant yeast
- 1 ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 egg beaten, for egg wash
- ½ cup (170 g) honey
- 2 tbsp salted butter at room temperature
- Zest of one lemon
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- MIXING: In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients from flour through salt. Knead lightly with your hands until well-combined and smooth.
- RISING: Cover the mixing bowl with beeswax wrap or plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours.
- FILLING: While the dough rises, heat the almonds in a dry pan over high heat, stirring constantly. They will start to brown; remove from heat when about half the almonds are deeply browned. Continue to stir constantly since they’ll keep cooking in the residual heat. Finely chop the almonds, then stir them with the honey, butter, lemon zest, and lemon juice until well-combined. If the heat of the almonds melts the butter a little, put in the fridge to firm up.
- ASSEMBLY: After rising for 2 hours, press on the dough gently to deflate it, then transfer to a lightly-greased surface. Split into 3 equal parts. Roll each part into a snake about 20″ long, then use a rolling pin to flatten it into a ribbon about 2″ wide. Spoon ⅓ of the filling onto each part, spreading it into a thin line along the top edge. Leave a ½-1″ border on each end. Roll the dough toward you like a Swiss roll, folding over the filling first and continuing to roll until the filling is well-sealed inside. Press the ends shut.
- BRAIDING: When all three strands are filled, press them together at one end and braid all the way down. Press the other ends together, then roll the braid into a loose spiral. Tuck the ends in.
- RISING AGAIN: line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat. Grease it lightly, put the braided challah on top, and cover the challah with lightly greased plastic wrap or beeswax wrap. Let rise until very puffy, 90 minutes to 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 375º F.
- BAKING: Whisk the egg in a small bowl and use a pastry brush to generously coat the top of the challah. Put the baking sheet on top of a second baking sheet to insulate the bottom, then bake in the lower part of the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Once brown, tent the challah with foil and bake another 10-15 minutes until the internal temperature is at least 190º F.
- Let cool and serve at room temperature.