Marzipan Almond Challah Crown
For the challah
½ cup lukewarm filtered water, plus ¼ to ½ cup filtered water
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ packets (3/8 ounce) active dry yeast
17 ounces (scant 4 cups) flour, plus more for rolling
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup canola oil, plus more for proofing
2 tablespoons honey, plus more for serving
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg for egg wash
About ⅓ cup sliced (skin-on) almonds, for garnish
For the filling
14 ounces (two 7-ounce tubes) marzipan, well chilled
¼ cup slivered (skinless) almonds
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
For the challah: Whisk together the lukewarm water, ½ teaspoon of the sugar and all the yeast in a liquid measuring cup. Cover tightly with plastic wrap; let stand for about 20 minutes, until a head of bubbles forms and the mixture increases in volume.
Combine the flour, the remaining sugar and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough-hook attachment; beat on low speed for about 10 seconds, then add the yeast mixture, the ¼ cup of oil, the 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 egg. Gradually add the remaining ¼ to ½ cup water (as needed); the dough will seem a bit wet initially. Beat for 10 minutes (low), during which time the dough will firm up and become elastic; stop once or twice to work the dough down the hook as needed.
Use some oil to lightly grease a proofing bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, making sure to turn the dough so it's evenly coated, cover with plastic wrap and set in a non-drafty place for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in volume.
Lightly flour a work surface. Uncover the dough and plop it out onto the surface. Use a bench scraper or large knife to divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Working with one at a time, roll out each portion to a rectangle that's about 12 inches long and 8 inches wide, checking to make sure it isn't sticking to the surface.
For the filling: The marzipan should be quite firm; if not, freeze it for 5 to 10 minutes. Grate it on the large-holed side of a box grater. Scatter one-third of it evenly over each rolled-out portion of dough, leaving a ½-inch margin at the edges, then sprinkle each one with a third of the slivered almonds. Sprinkle a third of the sugar, if using, over the almonds. Starting with the long edge of the dough that's closest to you, tuck and roll the dough, making sure to blend in the seam at the end. The 3 filled ropes of dough should be the same length and of even thickness, so adjust them as needed.
Line them up with one set of ends facing you on the counter (north-south). You'll be braiding these filled ropes; do not pinch them together at the top. Braid as you would a ponytail: Bring the right-hand rope over the middle rope, then bring the left-hand rope over the (new) middle rope, being careful not to twist the ropes as you weave them all the way down to the end closest to you on the counter.
Bring the braided challah into a ring shape with enough space left in the middle for the honey dish. Both the top and bottom tails of the loose strands will now be facing each other to complete a round circle. Attach the strands facing each other. You might need to pinch/remove excess dough from the tail ends while attaching the strands to make a neat-looking finish to the circular braid.
Line the springform pan or a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Plump the challah, cupping it gently from top to bottom with both of your hands. Support the underside of the braided round as you transfer the dough to the pan or baking sheet. Tuck and shape it in the pan as needed. Use your hands to gently lift and plump up the now-round, shaped braided dough. Use your hands to nudge a center space wide enough to insert the honey vessel you've chosen. Nestle it in securely; the dough will rise around it during proofing. Cover with a clean dish towel; let it proof in a non-drafty place for 30 to 40 minutes. Do not overproof, or the shape of the challah may be adversely affected.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (If you like, set the proofing pan of dough atop the range while the oven preheats below.)
Once the dough has proofed a second time, beat the remaining egg well in a cup. Brush the top of the dough surface with the beaten egg, making sure not to let the egg drip down the sides (or the bread may stick to the sides of the pan), then immediately sprinkle with the sliced almonds.
Bake (middle rack) for 50 minutes or until nicely browned and fragrant, rotating the bread from front to back about halfway through the baking time. Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack; let cool for 20 to 30 minutes before removing the pan's springform ring and bottom (if using). Cool the bread (keeping it on its parchment) completely.
When ready to serve, pour honey into the center vessel.
Makes 8 to 12 servings
Note: This special bread has the added, gracious touch of a vessel for dipping honey that's baked right into the center. The filling keeps the challah's interior especially moist without compromising its light and airy texture.
Make sure the center vessel you use is both heatproof and freezer-safe (the latter if you plan to make the challah in advance); wide and short will provide the most generous dipping space for your guests.
Using a 9 1/2-to-10-inch springform pan will help the bread keep its shape, but you can bake on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet as well.
Make ahead: The dough needs to proof twice: first for 1 hour, and again for 30 to 40 minutes after the dough has been filled, braided and shaped into a pan. The baked challah can be wrapped in aluminum foil, then plastic wrap, and frozen for up to 1 month. To reheat, discard the plastic wrap but keep the bread wrapped in foil; warm through in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 12): 450 calories, 10 g protein, 68 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 32 g sugar
From Shulie Madnick, who blogs at www.foodwanderings.com.
© 2015, The Washington Post