Hanukkah is next week, which — where food is concerned — means plenty of latkes, brisket and challah.
If you’re looking for a savory take on the latter, Shannon Sarna has you covered.
“My pesto and goat cheese filled challah is such a fun project for the holiday season,” says Sarna, editor of the Jewish food blog The Nosher. “You can go super easy and buy some pre-made pesto at the store, or go all out and make your own. It’s delicious, festive and something a little bit different for Hanukkah and holiday celebrations alike.”
The recipe is one of several inventive twists for challah, as well as babka, bagels, rugelach, hamantaschen, pita bread and matzah, featured in Sarna’s new cookbook, “Modern Jewish Baker” ($29.95).
Pesto and goat cheese stuffed challah
Yields 2 medium loaves
For the dough:
1 1⁄2 tbsp. dry active yeast
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tbsp., and 1⁄2 tsp. sugar
1 1⁄4 cups lukewarm water
4 1⁄2-5 cups unbleached bread flour (preferably King Arthur)
1 1⁄2 tsp. table salt
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
For the filling:
4 oz. pesto (store-bought or homemade)
6-8 oz. goat cheese
For the topping:
2 egg yolks (or 1 beaten egg)
1 tsp. water
1 tsp. dried basil
1⁄4 tsp. coarse sea salt
1. In a small bowl, place the yeast, 1⁄2 tsp. sugar and lukewarm water. Stir gently to mix. Allow to sit 5 to 10 minutes, until it becomes foamy on top. In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together 1 1⁄2 cups of the flour, salt and 1⁄2 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar. Add the water-yeast mixture and oil to flour. Mix thoroughly.
2. Add another 1 cup of the flour and 2 eggs and mix until smooth. Switch to the dough hook attachment if you are using a stand mixer.
3.Add another 1 1⁄2 to 2 cups of the flour and mix thoroughly. Remove from the bowl and place on a floured surface. Knead the remaining 1⁄2 cup flour into the dough, continuing to knead for about 5 minutes.
4. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to rise at least 3 hours, punching down at least once if possible.
5. When fully risen, split the dough into two parts.
6.To make a braided stuffed challah: Split each dough section into three additional sections. Roll each into a rope about 6-inches long. Flatten the ropes. Spread one-third of the pesto in the middle of each rope. Top each with one-third of the cheese. It may seem like a lot as you are doing it, and it will be messy, but the amount of filling can be deceiving. Fold the sides of each rope up over the filling and pinch tightly. Roll slightly to even out the shape. Braid.
To make a round turban challah: Roll out each of the two sections of dough into a large rectangle using a rolling pin. Spread about half of the pesto in an even layer on each rectangle, leaving a 1⁄2 -in. border all around. Top each with half of the cheese. Working quickly, roll each rectangle from the longer end into a long rope. Try to keep the roll relatively tight as you go. Pinch the ends when you finish. Circle the dough around itself and then pinch under.
7. Place challahs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Allow challah to rise another 30 to 45 minutes, or until you can see the size has grown and dough seems light. Preheat oven to 375 degrees while the dough rises.
8.For the topping: In a small bowl beat 2 egg yolks with 1 tsp. water. Brush the challah liberally with egg wash and top with dried basil and coarse sea salt.
9. Bake for 24 to 26 minutes, or until golden brown. The round challah may require an additional 1-2 minutes.
Recipe excerpted from “Modern Jewish Baker” by Shannon Sarna, published by Countryman Press, September 2017.