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Cranberry Swirl Challah

November 25, 2013

Cranberry Swirl ChallahPin it!

Happy almost Thanksgivnukkah! (…or Thanksgivukkah as the internet has taken to calling it…)

Instead of sharing this recipe with you on Thanksgiving / the first day of Hanukkah—when many people will be away from their computers, cooking, eating, and drinking with friends and family—I wanted to share it with you today, to give you time to make it!

Why? Because it’s that good! And because Thanksgivnukkah only happens once every 70,000 years.

Cranberry Swirl ChallahPin it!

Also, Hanukkah actually begins Wednesday night, and this recipe makes one gigantic loaf of challah, so you could probably bake it up on Wednesday, serve it for Thanksgivnukkah on Thursday, and still have a few slices left to make turkey sandwiches on Friday.

(It took me and Paula an entire week to polish off this challah the first time we made it. Luckily the second time we made it to share with friends.)

Making Cranberry Swirl Challah

Challah is a delicious, eggy, Jewish bread, traditionally eaten on Shabbat (Friday evenings) and holidays. It’s not really a Hanukkah food exactly, but that didn’t stop Buzzfeed Food from including a recipe for Challah-apple stuffing in their collection of Thanksgivukkah recipes.

Cranberry Swirl ChallahPin it!

As I mentioned in my last post, with my first take on a Thanksgivnukkah recipe (Pumpkin Cheese Blintzes), I enlisted my younger sister’s help to come up my Thanksgivnukkah concoctions.

Making Cranberry Swirl Challah

I told my sister that Paula had wanted to make a challah-based stuffing for our Thanksgiving dinner this year, and also that I’d thought about swirling a pumpkin-spice mixture into some challah, à la this fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah from smitten kitchen. But then I decided to make pumpkin cheese blintzes, and I didn’t want to make two pumpkin spiced things in a row. (I think we can all agree there’s been no shortage of pumpkin-spiced things floating around the internet/world this fall.)

Making Cranberry Sauce for Cranberry Swirl Challah

So following closely on the heels of my pomegranate rosemary focaccia recipe, I have once again baked some fruit into bread. (And once again with heavenly results.)

Cranberry Swirl Challah

This time, at my sister’s suggestion, we used smitten kitchen’s strategy for swirling figs into challah, but instead of chopped dried fruit + juice, we used cranberry sauce.

Making Cranberry Swirl Challah

I took these photos a few weekends back, when Paula and I were still emotionally adjusting to daylight savings time and the sun was already setting (can you tell?!). Racing against the sunset, I threw together an easy cranberry sauce with brown sugar and orange zest, and was surprised by how cooperatively it gelled; I think it took five minutes from start to finish. (I forgot how quickly cranberries can transform from firm, nutty beads into a syrupy magenta jam!)

Making Cranberry Sauce for Cranberry Swirl Challah

Then Paula used the smitten kitchen method for flattening out the braids of dough that would form the challah, slathering them with cranberry sauce, then rolling them up again, before braiding them into the shape of the loaf for the final proofing.

Making Cranberry Swirl Challah

We both loved the results. The cranberry sauce was distributed beautifully throughout the bread, and was not too wet or too dry. (It made me so glad we’d chosen to make our own cranberry sauce instead of using, say, dried cranberries.)

Cranberry Swirl Challah

And that wasn’t just an offhand comment about the turkey sandwiches above; it is a FACT that this challah makes for some EXCELLENT turkey sandwiches. The comforting, doughy egg bread, dotted with tangy cranberries, and smeared with sharp mustard is the perfect backdrop for a simple sandwich of turkey, cheese, tomato, and spinach.

Cranberry Swirl ChallahPin it.

I should know, since I made myself that sandwich for about five lunches in a row using the first loaf of challah. I had to test it out for you (and your Thanksgivnukkah leftovers enjoyment)!

Cranberry Swirl Challah

p.s. Check out my Thanksgiving recipe round-up for some more traditional (and not so traditional) Thanksgiving ideas.

Cranberry Swirl ChallahPin it.

Print this recipe. (PDF)


Cranberry Swirl Challah
(Adapted from the The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion; inspired by smitten kitchen)

Makes 1 large loaf (15-20 slices)

Active time: 45 minutes; Total time: 5½ hours

Starter Ingredients:
~ 1 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1 cup water
~ 2 tsp. yeast

Cranberry Sauce Ingredients:
~ ¼ cup brown sugar
~ 3 Tbsp. water
~ 1 cup fresh cranberries
~ 1-2 tsp. orange zest

Dough Ingredients:
~ 3½ cups all-purpose flour
~ 1½ tsp. salt
~ ⅓ cup sugar
~ ¼ cup vegetable oil
~ 2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk, beaten (save extra egg white for egg wash)
~ ⅔-1 cup cranberry sauce

Egg Wash Ingredients:
~ reserved white from 1 egg
~ ½ tsp. sugar
~ ½ tsp. water

How to make it:

1. Make the starter: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, water, and yeast. Mix well, then cover and let sit for an hour until it’s nice and bubbly.

The Starter for Cranberry Swirl Challah        Kneading Cranberry Swirl Challah

2. Make the cranberry sauce: Combine the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries and orange zest and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-7 minutes, until most of the cranberries have burst open and the cranberry sauce has thickened quite a bit (it should leave a clear path when you scrape across the bottom of the saucepan with a wooden spoon). Transfer the cranberry sauce to a bowl and let cool completely before step #4.

Ingredients for cranberry sauce with orange zest to swirl into Cranberry Challah        Making Cranberry Sauce for Cranberry Swirl Challah

3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and the starter from step #1, and mix together with a rubber spatula. Then mix in sugar, vegetable oil, and eggs. Turn out dough onto lightly-floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until all ingredients are well incorporated and the dough is smooth and less sticky. Lightly spray a large bowl with olive oil, then place the ball of dough in the bowl, and spray the dough with olive oil as well. Cover and let sit for 2 hours until doubled in size.

4. Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto lightly floured surface, and use a dough scraper to cut into four equal pieces. Stretch each piece into a long rectangular shape, then use a rolling pin to flatten out a long rectangle. Spread the cranberry sauce evenly across the dough (but not right up to the edges), then roll the long edge of the rectangle up so that it forms a long rope. Repeat with remaining three pieces of dough.

Making Cranberry Swirl ChallahMaking Cranberry Swirl Challah

5. Braid the challah: On a lightly-floured surface, join the four ropes of dough at one end, spreading the other ends out. Start by taking the outer (first) rope and bringing it over the second rope, under the third rope, and over the and fourth rope. Then continue by taking the now-outer (formerly second) rope and repeating the weaving process. (You can refer to these excellent challah-braiding tips for more details; but you can see from the photos that we braided ours somewhat haphazardly, and it still turned out just fine!) Carefully transfer the braided challah to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

6. In a small bowl, mix together the egg wash ingredients and brush half of the mixture over the braided challah. Cover the challah with plastic wrap and set aside for the final proof of 1 hour. (Plan to start pre-heating the oven about 45 minutes into this final proof). Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. After the final proof, brush the challah with a second coat of egg wash. Then bake for 35-40 minutes. Let cool before eating.

Print this recipe! (PDF)

Cranberry Swirl ChallahPin it.

Related recipe posts:

Pomegranate Rosemary Focaccia with Dipping Sauce Skillet Cranberry Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free) Pumpkin Cheese Blintzes Sourdough Epi Baguettes with Rhubarb Blood Orange Ginger Jam
Pomegranate Rosemary Focaccia Skillet Cranberry Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free) Pumpkin Cheese Blintzes for Thanksgivnukkah Sourdough Epi Baguettes with Rhubarb Blood Orange Ginger Jam
68 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2013 9:14 am

    This is fabulous! Your directions are perfectly written and I am fully inspired to make this. I have never baked challah before but I think I can after studying your post.

    • November 25, 2013 9:29 am

      Thanks so much for saying so! I definitely hope you try out challah after this! It’s soooo delicious and one of my favorite kinds of bread—whether you swirl cranberries into it or not. :)

      • November 25, 2013 9:32 am

        The cranberries are what convinced me to make it! :) I can tell, it is going to be delicious!

      • November 25, 2013 9:53 am

        Haha, nice! Well I hope you enjoy this cranberry version then!

        (…the fact that this worked so well with a somewhat wet jam/sauce opens up so many possibilities for swirling other things into future loaves of challah!)

  2. Jessica permalink
    November 25, 2013 9:18 am

    So pretty!!

  3. November 25, 2013 9:34 am

    i have always apprecaited challah for it being so delicious and NON-dairy!.
    this so beautiful, great job.

    • November 25, 2013 9:52 am

      Thank you, Lan! I know, challah is one of my favorite things ever—I have fond memories of getting to eat challah on Fridays at the jewish day camp I went to as a child, and I probably still get just as excited about eating challah now as an adult.

      (I just want to point out for others, though, that it’s only non-dairy if you consider eggs to not be dairy, but it’s not a vegan recipe.)

  4. November 25, 2013 10:13 am


  5. November 25, 2013 11:03 am

    beautiful challah braided bread. The browning on it looks so perfect! beautiful pics and post! Now I need to go make this!

    • November 27, 2013 10:04 am

      Thank you! Yes, the egg white wash really helps with perfectly browned challah. :) And I love how you can easily see just how much it continued to rise in the oven, where the browned (egg white washed) parts have expanded away from each other, leaving whiter doughy parts in between.

  6. November 25, 2013 11:24 am

    Oh wow, so lovely! I’ve made plain challah 3 times now so think I have the confidence to try this :)

    • November 27, 2013 10:08 am

      Nice! And yes, you should; I’m sure it’d turn out perfectly for you! (I was impressed by the poppyseed challah you made—I love poppyseed bagels, but when we’ve tried making those, we can never get enough poppyseeds to really stick; I guess that’d be a little easier with challah because of the egg wash, but it still seems intimidating!)

  7. November 25, 2013 12:06 pm

    This would be SO good with our sweet potato latkes with cranberry sauce!

    • November 27, 2013 10:09 am

      Yes it would! And yum! We just enjoyed some latkes with homemade cranberry sauce (and homemade applesauce) this past weekend, but, alas, not sweet potato latkes… I still want to make those someday!

  8. November 25, 2013 12:44 pm

    This sound delicious, here in Canada our Thanksgiving has passed and I am not Jewish, but I will try it for Christmas. Thank you

    • November 27, 2013 10:11 am

      Nice! It would definitely be a lovely addition to a Christmas dinner. (And just a hunch, but if you’re interested in festive and Christmas-y breads, you may want to check out my pomegranate focaccia recipe as well.)

      • November 27, 2013 12:48 pm

        I will check it out. Can never loose weight, I love to cook and to eat.

  9. November 25, 2013 12:48 pm

    So pretty!

  10. November 25, 2013 1:30 pm

    This looks so amazing! The pictures are great and I think even I could make it! Yum!

    • November 27, 2013 10:13 am

      Thanks, Laura! Yes, I’m sure you could make it! Although I say that having watched (& photographed) my fiancée Paula making it, rather than having actually made it myself… but it seemed very do-able. :)

  11. November 25, 2013 1:43 pm

    Hi Alison, what a lovely recipe. I always think that a good bread sets the tone and expectation of a meal, your recipe would certainly lift me! X

    • November 27, 2013 10:14 am

      Thanks, Deena! I think you’re right about that—bread is certainly central to a lot of meals that we have around here. (Well, bread or rice!) And it can definitely set the tone for a meal, especially when it’s served near the beginning as a kind of appetizer leading into the main course.

  12. November 25, 2013 2:20 pm

    Your photos of baked goods with red things in them (pomegranate, cranberries) are just so pretty. This looks delicious!

    By the way, have you seen this:

    Love all these linguists blogging about food! :-)

    • November 27, 2013 10:24 am

      1) Thank you! I think I’ve developed a fondness for baking red things into bread.

      2) No, I hadn’t and thank you for introducing that site to me! Also CRAZY COINCIDENCE: I’ve actually met the author of that blog!!! (Or maybe not such a crazy coincidence since the world of linguists is maybe a small one…?) Anyway, he was a visiting scholar in my linguistics department a few years back. I guess the Venn diagram intersection of food-nerds and linguists is a *really* small world!

  13. November 25, 2013 2:21 pm

    The challah bread is so delicious, I love the usual braided bread but your cranberry swirl makes it all the more gourmet :D


    • November 27, 2013 10:32 am

      Thanks, Uru! I know, it’s an easy-ish bread to work a fruit swirl into, since you’re already mixing things up with the braided shape that all fuses together beautifully when baked.

  14. November 25, 2013 2:31 pm

    OMG. I can’t believe you made challah. I’m loving all of your personal history cooking of late. Impressive. I had no idea you were such a competent baker!

    • November 27, 2013 10:36 am

      Haha, well the thing is, I’m not! It’s my fiancée Paula who has baked ALL of the breads on this site (…so far… maybe I’ll take up the bread-baking mantle someday). I’ve baked most of the desserts, and I definitely make quick breads somewhat often, but Paula is in charge of the yeasted breads. (I do still feel that I have a personal history/connection to challah though, since my love of it goes all the way back to the jewish summer day camp I went to back in elementary school.)

      • November 27, 2013 11:50 am

        Lol well then you make a good team!

  15. November 25, 2013 3:18 pm

    This looks incredible!

  16. November 25, 2013 4:15 pm

    This is brilliant!

  17. November 25, 2013 7:00 pm

    Wow, this bread looks amazing!!!

  18. November 25, 2013 10:31 pm

    Another must make for me. I’m loving all your recipes. Not Jewish, but have a Jewish friend I want to make an extra loaf for. He doesn’t have family close to him, so I think he will enjoy a taste from his past.

    • November 27, 2013 10:40 am

      Sounds good! It’s not exactly traditional to swirl cranberry sauce into challah, but I’m sure this is one type of bread that almost anyone would enjoy. :)

  19. debbeedoodles permalink
    November 26, 2013 4:25 am

    This is awesome! Well done!

    • November 27, 2013 10:52 am

      Thanks! I owe a lot to my little sister’s idea for the recipe, and my fiancée Paula for making it happen. I just photographed it/wrote about it. :)

  20. November 26, 2013 5:43 am

    What a perfect holiday crossover dish! I love it.

    • November 27, 2013 10:42 am

      Thanks, Jen! (And I cannot not take this moment to say that I love your blog—your photos are gorgeous—so I’m honored that you commented on mine!)

  21. November 26, 2013 9:17 am

    Oh my – can you imagine the amazing Cranberry Challah FRENCH TOAST you could make with the leftover bread? YES PLEASE!

    • November 27, 2013 10:45 am

      Shelly, YES! That’s the cranberry challah spirit! Actually, the first time we used up the entire loaf on toast and/or sandwiches, but the part I didn’t mention/photograph was that we also baked a second loaf and instead of cranberry sauce, we swirled in the little bit of extra filling that was leftover from my pumpkin cheese blintzes… then we used THAT pumpkin-cheese-swirled challah to make french toast, and it was sooooo good.

      Anyway, you’ve convinced me to use the last of our most recent cranberry challah for french toast—tomorrow for Thanksgiving morning perhaps! :)

  22. thegreatamericanfeast permalink
    November 26, 2013 12:57 pm

    My grandmother and I bake challah all the time but I think well, eschew our recipe this next time and give your cranberry challah a try!

    • November 27, 2013 10:46 am

      I’m honored to hear it! I hope you and your family enjoy this cranberry version of challah; let me know how you like it if you get a chance! And happy holidays! :)

  23. November 27, 2013 1:12 pm

    Currently baking this now yummmm. Thanks for the great recipe. And Happy Thanksgivukkah!

    • December 5, 2013 10:01 am

      Yay! Happy Thanksgivukkah to you, too! (And sorry it took me a while to respond– too many Thanksgivukkah parties and festivities…)

      I hope you enjoyed your cranberry swirl challah! :)

  24. November 27, 2013 2:49 pm

    Wow :)

  25. December 1, 2013 7:01 am

    One of my favorite parts of the holidays is how ridiculously easy it is to fresh cranberries. I find that I always horde a bunch from the grocery store and then store them in my freezer. I love the idea of jazzing up challah bread- how creative!

    • December 5, 2013 10:03 am

      Yes, I know! I’ve been going cranberry crazy this year— I think I’ve brought home at least 9 bags by now, and none of them has gone into the freezer!– not just because we made this challah three times recently but I’ve also been making sugar-coated cranberries for snacky appetizery things, and pear and apple crisps with cranberries in them.

  26. December 4, 2013 11:40 am

    Wow, what a labor of love!

    • December 5, 2013 10:05 am

      Thanks, Shikha! My fiancée is the one who made the challah, while I just took the pictures and wrote the blog post, so that’s a good way to describe it! :)

  27. December 19, 2013 8:56 am

    Wishing you a magical Christmas season and all the good things in 2014! :)

  28. January 12, 2014 9:51 am

    Oh my goodness this looks magnificent! How gutted am I to discover it way after the festivities are over :( Sod it, I’m so going to try it ;) I love challah and fancied making dinky individual ones. I might have to try that too and get back to you :D Beautiful blog x

    • November 29, 2014 11:46 am

      Thank you, Jo! (Whoops, I’m sorry it took me nearly a *year* to respond to your comment! You can tell I am super behind on things…)

      I hope you did get to try making this, even after the festivities were over, or at least maybe you could try it this holiday season! We just made it again yesterday, and then had some cranberry swirl challah toast for breakfast today :)

  29. m.a. permalink
    November 27, 2014 5:15 am

    Made this for Thanksgiving last year and we loved it so much, it’s become a tradition. Makes great tofurkey sandwiches the next day!!! Getting ready to make it again now! Thank you!

    • November 29, 2014 11:48 am

      Awesome, this makes me so happy to hear!

      We just made this again yesterday — the day after Thanksgiving, since we didn’t have time to make it *before* Thanksgiving this year (not that we needed more bread at the table or anything…), so it looks like it’s becoming a yearly tradition for me, too!

      And yep, I agree — it makes amazing leftover sandwiches. :)

      • thevictoriankitchen permalink
        November 24, 2016 4:05 am

        Checking in again to lavish you with praise for this recipe. Getting ready to make this again as it’s now a fixture on our thanksgiving table.

        I have also made it for Christmas but have filled it with cinnamon roll filling- a compound of spices and butter- and it is unreal.

        Happy thanksgiving!


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