When PJ first talked about this recipe, I had excitedly saved the page in anticipation of trying my hand at it when we did our apple picking that year, but I also promptly forgot about it until recently (no big surprise there!). While it may not look like your traditional braided Challah bread and it is fairly messy to prepare, I definitely think you will be as pleased with the results as we were.
The soft dough is fairly straightforward, filled with sticky honey, a couple eggs and safflower oil, whose combination kept the baked bread incredibly tender. I used my hands to knead the dough just because I love the feeling of dough between my fingers, but a stand mixer does an excellent job too. You've kneaded the dough enough when it is smooth, pliable, slightly tacky to the touch
and springs right back if you poke a finger into it.
With the oil and honey in the dough, it will take its time to rise - set aside two hours or so, which is about how long it took for our ball to gain roughly double its original size. Remember how I said it gets messy? It's that time! Once risen, the puffy dough is gently stretched out into a rectangle, then topped with chunky apple pieces that were tossed with granulated sugar and plenty of our favorite Vietnamese cinnamon. Only half of those apples are used first, with a portion of the dough folded over the top to cover them. On top of the apples you just covered, the rest of the sugared chunks go on, followed by another piece of dough to enclose them too - think like you are folding a letter when you do this.
The stuffed dough is then split into 16 pieces, made by slicing the now-bulky rectangle into four pieces, then quartering each hunk of dough. Apples will fall out, juice will ooze over the work surface, you will start wondering what in the world you've gotten yourself into and it will look completely wrong, but forge ahead! The pieces of dough are tightly arranged into a baking pan (we used a springform pan as I haven't located our cake pans since moving - if you want to use a cake pan, make sure it has at least 2" high sides) - it will be fairly crowded, but that's intended... just try and keep everything in a single layer. Take any of the apples that had fallen out during the cutting or moving and nestle them in wherever you can - it won't, and should not, be perfect looking.
Left to rise once more, the top is brushed with a light egg wash and sprinkled with sugar before sliding the pan in the oven. Use coarse sugar (or even turbinado) if you have it, but all I had on hand was granulated - we sprinkled over about a tablespoons-worth. Bake this until the top is richly golden brown (some darker spots are okay) and you see no more "white" or very light spots of dough on top - if you have any concerns about doneness, a thermometer placed in the center (hopefully missing any apples!) should read at least 190 degrees.
Serve it as is, sliced in hefty wedges, or if you want to doll the servings up, adorn each piece with a drizzle of honey from your best jar. We found this to be somewhat of a cross between a fluffier yeast bread and an almost firm bread pudding - tender, light, just-sweet-enough and brimming with those cinnamon-dusted chunky apple cubes. One note - if you do use a springform pan, wrap the bottom with foil or place the pan on a baking sheet. Some of the juice from the sugared apples will drip out (it definitely did for us!) during the rising and baking process and doing this will prevent any leaks from reaching the oven floor.
Harvest Apple Challah