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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Crown of Thorn / Sweet Raisin Challah Bread

This is a delicious bread that's typically seen in stores around the Easter/Passover season.  My family would get this bread from a baker in Berwick, Pennsylvania, and just recently my mom has been able to purchase it at her local grocery store (though it is not as good).  I thought it would be fun to find a recipe and try to make it on my own. 
The bread is light and flaky with a slight sweetness from the plump raisins and this recipe makes a HUGE loaf (and I'm not exaggerating)!  So you will be enjoying this bread during the whole Easter season and can even freeze half of the loaf to enjoy later!

Sweet Raisin Challah Bread
courtesy of:

1 1/2 cups dark raisins, plumped (soaked in water)
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 Tbsp yeast
pinch sugar

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
3 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup oil
3 eggs + 2 yolks
6-7 cups flour

Egg wash:
2 Tbsp water
2 tsp. sugar
1 egg

In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, water, and pinch of sugar.  Let stand 5 minutes to allow yeast to swell and dissolve.

Briskly stir in remaining sugar, honey, and salt.  Then add oil, eggs, yolks, and about 5 cups of the flour.  Stir and let stand 10-20 minutes to absorb flour.  Knead, but hand or with dough hook, add remaining flour as needed to make a soft and elastic dough (about 10-12 minutes).  Dough should leave sides of bowl (if using dough hook).

Let dough rest on a lightly floured board 10 minutes, then flatten and press in raisins as evenly as possible into the dough, folding dough over raisins to "tuck" them in.  Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled in a warm place for 45-90 minutes.

Divide dough in three sections.  Shape each to a round ball.  At this point, place the dough on a cornmeal dusted baking sheet.  Either arrange to bake the bread as rounds, or roll each ball out to about 12"-14" and braid together.  Brush with egg wash and let rise until puffy, 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bake bread 12 minutes then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 25 minutes until bread is evenly browned.

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