Growing up I had only tasted challah once — at a friend’s house.
15 years went by until I had my next taste and made my first homemade challah loaf. I might be a baker, but the truth is I haven’t always been accustomed to working with dough. In fact when I first began experimenting with cooking and baking, the thought of making even pizza dough made me nervous. I was afraid that I would mess it up — that I would fail.
It wasn’t until I started working at a bakery in college that I developed a love for working with dough. As I watched my colleagues work with dough day-in and day-out I began to feel like maybe it wasn’t so difficult after all. Breadmaking became a sudden passion.
Looking back on it I don’t exactly know what I was afraid of. Mistakes happen in all aspects of life, but that doesn’t keep us from living. And fear of a failed loaf of bread or pizza dough shouldn’t keep us from baking. (Although, some advice to dough first-timers: Always keep a pre-made version of what you are planning to make on hand … just in case!)
All that to say, I know some of you might look at this loaf of challah bread and think, Well gee I could never make that! And I want to tell you you are wrong! You CAN make it. It might take some time, and you will probably want to look up a YouTube video of how to braid the dough, but you can do it.
Your reward if you succeed? This incredible, i-would-marry-this-bread-if-i-wasn’t-already-married loaf of Blackberry Pistachio Walnut Challah Bread. Perfect by itself, as sandwich bread or slathered with honey butter or blackberry jam.
- ⅔ cup warm water
- 2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons honey
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup blackberry jam or preserves
- 1 egg (for the egg wash)
- 1/3 cup walnuts and pistachios, smashed
- In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast and a drizzle of honey into the warm water. Let sit until foamy, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add the honey, olive oil and 2 eggs and stir until combined. Then, add the flour and salt and stir until a dough forms.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If using a stand mixer, you can also knead the dough with a dough hook on low speed 7 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and turn it to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1.5 hours.
- Punch down risen dough and divide into three equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough into a wide rectangle, about 8 by 15 inches. Spread a third of the blackberry jam onto the dough. Roll up the dough tightly from the long end into a log and pinch the seam to seal. Carefully stretch dough so the rope is about 15 inches long and set aside. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Place the ropes side by side and squeeze them together at the very top. Take the left strand and cross it over the middle strand, then take the right strand and also cross it over the middle strand. Repeat, braiding the ropes together like how you would braid hair or yarn and squeeze the ends together when complete.
- Transfer the loaf to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the loaf with a few pinches of flour and drape it with a clean dishcloth. Let rise 30 minutes until puffy but not doubled.
- Heat oven to 375˚ F. Beat remaining egg in a small bowl and use a pastry brush to coat the top of loaf with egg wash. Sprinkle loaf with nut pieces and bake until deep brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let the challah cool on a cooling rack until warm.