My friend Molly is always making wonderful challah variations, which besides making my mouth water, also really make me regret how far away I live! Normally I don’t do anything untraditional with my challot, for a couple of reasons. I don’t really make challah during the year, because it’s just me alone, and I go out to eat on Friday night after services. So I only make challah for High Holidays, and I make a somewhat traditional fruited challah (next time try half raisins and half chopped apricots, it’s awesome) and I’m done for the year.
But this year I was so inspired by the pictures of What Jew Wanna Eat’s Pomegranate Beet Challah, and by the idea of pomegranate in a challah. However, I’m not really into beets, and was trying to think of what else I could do with pomegranate molasses. I googled “pomegranate challah”, of course, and found this pomegranate challah that used the seeds, and the two ideas kind of mixed in my mind.
What if, instead of stuffing a challah with pomegranate molasses, I used it as the sweetener? And taking it a step further, what if the liquid was pomegranate juice? And then using pomegranate arils…. it could be a loaded, three pomegranate challah!
I halved my standard challah recipe, used pomegranate juice instead of water, and made pomegranate molasses to use instead of the honey. I added a little extra pomegranate molasses (the remainder of my homemade pomegranate molasses) with the pomegranate arils, and then mixed it in and braided it. The braids were super messy – next time I think I’ll just coil it into a round instead of trying to knead everything in and braid it.
The color of the dough is a little off-putting to me (my friend Karen, who was taking the pictures, didn’t have the same reaction I did), but it bakes up fine, and the finished loaf is a much nicer shade.
I brought one of the loaves to a second night Rosh Hashanah dinner, and we agree it’s pretty interesting and worth making. It doesn’t taste particularly “pomegranate-y” but it definitely tastes wonderfully fruity. I think it’s a great addition to any High Holiday or Sukkot table, and I hope you’ll give it a try!
Triple Pomegranate Challah
Recipe adapted from Gil Marks' Fruited Challah in The World of Jewish Entertaining and my mom's challah recipe
Put yeast and sugar in the bottom of your mixing bowl. Warm (either microwave or in a pot on the stove) the pomegranate juice until it feels warm but not hot (technically between 100-115 degrees F, but you can just feel it to gauge). Pour about 1/4 cup of the juice into the yeast, and stir to combine, making sure there are no yeast lumps in the juice. Let the yeast mixture sit for at least 5 minutes, until it is very frothy and has doubled or tripled in size.
When the yeast is ready, stir about a half cup of flour into it, then the rest of the juice. Stir it lightly, then add the eggs, oil, and 1/3 cup pomegranate molasses. Stir until almost combined, then add a cup of flour and stir to combine. Add another cup of flour, mixing it in, and repeat with remaining flour. If it gets too stiff to easily mix, you can switch to mixing with your hands (think of it as "pre-kneading").
When you feel ready, turn your mixture out onto a lightly floured counter or board. You can do this when there is still flour to incorporate, or when all the flour is mixed in, whichever works best for you. Make sure you scrape the sides of the bowl onto the counter - you'll want to incorporate it into the dough, and you'll be using the bowl to proof in. Begin to knead the dough, and roughly time it, as it tends to take about 5 to 7 minutes. I fold the top over about halfway down, and use the palms of my hands to push that doubled section of dough back towards the top of the board. I do that one to three times, then rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat. If the dough gets sticky, add a light dusting of flour to the dough and the board. You can tell when the dough is ready because it will feel smooth and have a good elasticity to it. Alternatively, you can put it in a mixer with a dough hook on low-medium speed for 5 minutes. Form the kneaded dough into a smooth ball.
Make sure your mixing bowl is at least three times the size of your dough, and put oil in the bottom of it. Put the dough ball into the oil, and turn it all over to coat the ball in oil. Use the dough to coat the sides of the bowl in the oil. Cover the bowl with saran wrap. You can leave it in the fridge for an overnight rise, or in a warm place to rise for 1-2 hours, until it's doubled.
When dough has doubled (if left in the fridge overnight, it should have doubled in there), use a closed fist to gently punch all the air out of the dough. Cover the bowl back up, and leave in a warm place to rise a second time. If it was taken out of the fridge, this step will also bring the dough to room temperature as it rises. Let rise another 1-2 hours, until it has doubled in size again.
Punch the dough down again. Turn it out onto a clean counter or surface (no flour this time!), and roughly pat into a rectangle. Drizzle the 1/4 cup of pomegranate molasses along the surface, then scatter the pomegranate arils across it. Roll it up jelly-roll style. To make two medium loaves (about 1 pound, 2 ounces each), divide the dough in half. You can divide into smaller loaves, if desired, or leave it as one large loaf. From here, you can either divide the dough to braid it or roll the jelly roll into a thinner snake and then just coil it up into a coiled round loaf.
However you decide to shape your loaves, place them on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet, and then cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap. Leave out the egg for the egg wash at this time, so it comes to room temperature. If you try to brush a cold egg wash on the challah, the surface of the dough will shrivel. Leave the loaves for another 30-60 minutes, until they have grown again and are very springy to the touch.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the egg with the water to make an egg wash, and brush it all over the surface of the challah, trying to get it everywhere, so the surface will be beautiful and shiny.
Bake the challah loaves until they are a golden brown, 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your loaves. If you carefully lift them up when you think they're done, if you tap a finger against the bottom they should sound hollow when they are fully cooked. Unless you've had problems with the oven or with other breads, generally the color is a good indicator.
Remove from oven, and serve either warm or at room temperature, as desired.
Pomegranate Molasses Note: If you can't find pomegranate molasses, it's easy to make your own. Combine 1 cup pomegranate juice and 1/2 cup sugar in a small pot, and heat it on the stove. Let it boil, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently as it boils, until it's reduced and appears to be nice and thick. If you periodically pull it off the heat for a second, you can more easily gauge how thick it is (no bubbles from the boil). I got the 1/3 cup + 1/4 cup that I used in this recipe from my reduction, and it was a good thickness. Whatever you get, use 1/3 cup in the challah and any extra you want in the mixing-in stage with the arils.
Pomegranate Arils Note: If you've never removed the arils (seeds) from a pomegranate, look at this post for instructions.
2.5 teaspoons active dry yeast (or one 1/4-ounce package)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup pomegranate juice
2 large eggs
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses (see note)
1/4 cup canola oil
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the counter, as needed
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
3/4 cup pomegranate arils
1 large egg plus 1 tablespoon water, for an egg wash