It’s a Chrismukkah miracle!
Can you tell that I am half Jewish? But not even, really. My dad is of Jewish decent, but I grew up celebrating Christmas. Alex, on the other hand, is fully Jewish. Now that we have Owen, we are trying to find a middle road. We celebrate both holidays, but we try to downplay Christmas (small tree, we haven’t ever visited Santa), and play up Hanukkah by giving the bigger gifts then. So far it’s working for us.
You know what else is working? This blended holiday challah.
A good loaf of regular challah is rich and pillowy soft inside, and tastes faintly of honey. This is like that, only instead of honey it’s molasses and warm winter spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. And then we top the whole thing with a shower of crystalized ginger.
I used to be totally phobic about bread baking (as in, I thought I couldn’t do it). But then one day a few years ago, I went to buy a challah at literally three different stores and they were all out. So, as they say, when you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself. I used Melissa Clark’s recipe, and the loaf came out perfectly. I never looked back. These days I bake a challah at least once or twice a month.
I may have been raised without any particular religion, but there is something in the ritual of baking bread. It reminds me to be thankful for the simple things: flour, water, food to eat, and my family to share it with.
Do I need to tell you that leftovers of this gingerbread challah makes incredible french toast? Be generous with the butter and maple syrup. It’s all about holiday indulgence.
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1/3 cup apple cider, apple juice, or orange juice
- 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 3 large eggs
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 cup chopped crystalized ginger
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the yeast, sugar, and water. Let stand until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the apple cider or juice, oil, molasses, and 2 eggs.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, ground nutmeg.
- Fit the mixer with the dough hook. With the mixer running on a low speed, slowly add the flour mixture until it is all incorporated. (Sometimes I have to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides with a spatula.) Beat the dough on a low speed until it forms a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl but still sticks to the bottom, 5 to 8 minutes.
- Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface. Kneed it for 30 seconds to a minute, just until it forms a smooth ball. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray and put the dough in it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warmish spot (I like my oven, turned off) and let the dough rise for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, until it has doubled in bulk. (Don't stress too much about the time. I've left if for 3 hours and it's fine.)
- Punch the dough down, cover the bowl again, and let it rise for another hour.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Gently roll and stretch each piece into a long rope. Arrange the ropes into a crisscross and braid into a round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Whisk the remaining egg and brush it over the top of the dough, making sure to get all the nooks and crannies. Let the dough rise, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the dough again with the egg, and sprinkle with the crystalized ginger. Bake for 25 minutes. Check the challah and if the ginger is darkening too quickly, gently rest a piece of foil over the top of the loaf. Continue to bake for 5 to 10 minutes more, until the challah is a deep golden-brown and sounds hollow when tapped. (A thermometer should register 190°F.) Let the challah rest on the baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes before moving it to a serving plate or cutting board.