I’ve been mulling over various ideas for using Italian prune plums in new ways ever since they made their brief yearly appearance at the market a few weeks ago. Italian plum season coincides with the fall Jewish holidays, so I wondered if there were ways other than a traditional plum tart or kuchen to profile them.
Our family breaks the Yom Kippur fast every year with New Year’s Apple Challah made from Marci Goldberg’s Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking cookbook. It’s a rich, sweet challah perfect for any holiday gathering. I wondered if plums could be substituted for apples, yet I didn’t find many plum challah references in any of my Jewish cookbooks…apples are the real stars of this particular holiday season.
Using the apple challah recipe as a guide, I ended up winging it a bit and devised a fresh plum challah with a distinct monkey bread sensibility. Pieces of challah dough, fresh diced plums and plum compote are united in a pan to rise together. For this recipe, I added the same plum compote as the one in my Fresh Plum Kuchen Streusel Muffins. The compote helps the diced plum adhere to the dough and ensures the plum flavor is appreciated in each bite.
Pearl sugar, also called Swedish nib sugar, hail sugar, or parlsocker, adds a little crunch and a pretty finish to the plum challah. It’s a coarse, large grained white sugar that stays crunchy when baked. Pearl sugar is used primarily in Northern European baking specialties. In the dark ages before the internet or the Food Network my mom lived in Brooklyn at a time when the densest Scandinavian population in the United States was in her Bay Ridge neighborhood. For years, she was my lifeline to the otherwise impossibly hard to find parlsocker.
Pearl sugar seems to pop up everywhere now. In Atlanta I’ve found it at a diverse assortment of stores including our Buford Highway Farmers Market, Sur La Table, Whole Foods, World Market, IKEA and even Walmart! The pearl sugar adds a charming, but optional window dressing to the challah. Without it, the crusty exterior, soft doughy interior and sweet and sour plum pockets provide enough ideal contrasts necessary for challah contentment.
When I told my sweetie of 25 years I was making a Holiday Plum Challah this year, he made me promise I would still make the New Year’s Apple Challah he counts on to break his fast. I’m not one to mess too much with tradition, so I reassured him that this year the Plum Challah would only double the wishes for a sweet year ahead!
Holiday Plum Challah
makes one 10″ loaf, two 9″ loaves or six 6” loaves (using springform pans)
1 ¼ cup lukewarm water
1 ¾ tsp dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
½ cup sweet unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5 ½ – 6 ½ cups bread flour
3 1/2 cups fresh plums cut into ½“ dice. (Italian prune plums preferred)
1/3 cup white granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ cup plums cut into ½” pieces (~3/4 lb)
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs water
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice
- In medium saucepan cook ingredients 8 minutes over medium low heat until plums are broken down, syrupy and garnet red. Let cool. Plum Compote can be made and refrigerated for 3-4 days before using. Makes about 1 cup compote. Use all of compote made for challah.
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 Tbs water
- Mix egg yolk and water.
3 Tbs pearl sugar for decoration (optional)
- In large mixing bowl, add water, yeast, sugar, butter, eggs, yolks, salt, vanilla and cinnamon. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- Add 5 cups flour and mix until combined. Add additional flour ½ up at a time until a soft, but sturdy dough is formed. This may take as little as 5 ½ cups or as much as 6 ½ cups. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic. This will take about 7-8 minutes with a mixer or 10-12 minutes by hand.
- Place dough in lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double in volume. This can be done in refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for about 1 ½ – 2 hours. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before next step.
- Lightly grease springform pan(s) with vegetable shortening. Nonstick pans are ideal.
- Deflate dough. Use rolling pin to form a large irregular 12” by 18” rectangle with dough. Spread plum compote evenly over dough. Sprinkle diced plums over compote. Lightly press plums into dough.
- Fold dough in half as best you can and again press lightly. This will get a bit messy! Let dough rest a few minutes then fold again and roll out to incorporate as many of the plums as possible into the dough.
- Cut the dough into 2” chunks with dough cutter or sharp knife. Place the chunks evenly in the prepared pans. Put any remaining diced plum pieces on and around the dough.
- Generously brush egg wash over dough.
- Cover challah with plastic wrap sprayed with canola oil. Let rise until almost double in volume, about 1 – 1 ½ hours.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- If using, generously sprinkle pearl sugar over challah and bake until dark golden brown. Top should sound hollow when thumped.
- Cool bread in pan about 15 minutes before removing. Cool completely before eating.