I like to think of this non-traditional challah as like a union of Jewish and Asian cuisines. Challah being Jewish, and sweet black bean and pandan essence being Asian. Being half Chinese myself – I LOVE black bean. Sweet black bean is commonly used in a lot of Chinese pastries such as moon cakes (which sell during the Chinese new year period), and pandan is a flavour used in many things, but I most commonly associate it with a Malay dessert called pandan cake; the lightest, airiest, most fragrant cake ever. The flavour of pandan is very unique and is hard to pin down. The flavour is sort of delicately coconut-y, slightly nutty and maybe a little bit ‘grassy’… for lack of a better word. But trust me, it is awesome. If used fresh from the leaf, it will also colour your baking creation green. I have used pandan essence in this recipe so the bread is not green; but if you can get your hands on fresh pandan leaves and have the time to squeeze out that lovely green pandan juice I would recommend that you do! The pandan juice can simply substitute the water in this recipe. The green will really pop against the black bean.
- 475g strong white flour
- 8g salt
- 7g fast action instant yeast
- 60g/ml tepid water
- 55g vegetable oil
- 70g sugar
- 3 large eggs (plus 1 extra for glazing)
- 1 tsp pandan essence
- sweetened black bean paste (I got mine from a tin – can be bought in any Chinese supermarket)
1) Mix together all the wet ingredients until roughly combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until it comes together as a rough ball.
2) Knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. It should be firm but easy to knead and not sticky.
3) Place the dough in a plastic bowl, and cover with cling film. Let rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size. I let this rise in my oven on a low temp (30C) because my kitchen is in the basement and therefore VERY cold. Rising time may need to be adjusted due to the temperature of your kitchen or wherever you leave the dough to rise.
4) Once risen, divide the dough into four equal pieces (best to weigh them). Roll a piece out into a long rectangle and spread over a thin and even layer of black bean paste. Starting from the long edge, roll up the rectangle and gently pinch the seams to seal in the filling. Do this for all four pieces of dough. You should end up with four individual ropes of dough, each filled with black bean.
5) Now for the fun bit – plaiting! Now it’s hard to explain this is words so it’s best to look at a video for guidance. But really, a four strand plait is easy, and as the filling isn’t very wet it doesn’t get in the way at all. You forget that these strands of dough are filled. You need to pinch all four strands together at one end, then number them 1 to 4 (left to right). First, cross strand 1 over strand 3. Now, re-number your strands 1-4 (left to right), as they have now moved position. Then, strand 2 over strand 3. Renumber the strands again. Then, strand 4 over strand 2. You repeat this until you run out of dough to work with. To tidy up the ends, you can tuck them underneath the loaf. Sometimes chopping the ends off is effective, but we don’t want to risk the filling coming out. It should now look like this!:
6) Carefully pick up your loaf and place it on a lightly greased baking tray. Loosely cover with lightly oiled cling film, or better place a bag over the tray, and let rise for about 45 mins to an hour until the dough does not immediately spring back when you push your finger in. 10 minutes before they are fully risen, preheat the oven to 160C (fan assisted).
7) Brush with beated egg and bake for 45 minutes. Check it after 15 to 20 minutes as a second egg wash may be needed in the bits of dough that have become exposed after oven spring. It will probably need tenting with foil before it finishes baking completely too, because the sugar in the dough means that it browns very quickly – before it bakes completely inside. You want to tent it with foil when it becomes a lovely glossy deep brown colour, before that colour becomes a little bit toooo deep brown.
And that’s all! Remove from the oven and enjoy straight away or wait for it to cool down and then enjoy. Either way, bread is good.
Thanks for reading as I’m rather proud of this one. The spirals in the middle turned out to be really striking. I hope you are all enjoying the new year. Also I’m getting into the idea of filled challahs and would love suggestions for any other interesting fillings that would work.