So rather than opt for the tradition of our people to indulge in Chinese food on Christmas day, we had a lovely invite to Christmas dinner at the home of some dear friends. Other than wine, in true Mamaleh fashion, I offered to bring challah. I thought it’d be fun to give it a truly Christmas twist and make it into a candy cane. I figured it would need to be a four strand for even coloring but wasn’t quite sure how to get stripes as opposed to just alternating colors. My husband suggested doing a mock-up with string so I grabbed some pipe cleaners – they lend themselves to shaping a bit better than string. It all comes down to the order you start the braids. I first tried alternating colors and that did not work at all. Then I discovered that if you arrange the colors 2 and 2 and then follow the 4-strand braiding technique by The Challah Blog, you will get just the right stripes.
I started with my go-to challah recipe. When it was time to braid, I split it up into 3 portions – as I’ve mentioned before I like to do 3 medium-sized loaves even more than I like to do two since there is always one to give away. Next, I separated one portion into four. I set two aside and the other two I colored using gel food coloring in Super Red. Since the last time I made colored challah (red, white and blue for the 4th of July), I looked like I had Smurf hands for days after, I knew that adding color at this stage is quite messy but I opted to do it anyway just because I find it easier to portion everything at this stage. This time I just made sure I put on some disposable gloves and pulled out a sheet of waxed paper so that my non-stick mat would stay clean for my other strands/loaves. I just kneaded the red gel into each ball. When I was satisfied with relatively even color, I then rolled out much skinnier strands than usual which meant going section by section and reconnecting the strands. After I was done with all four braids, I followed the four strand braid and at the end curved it into a candy cane shape. My other two loaves are simple four strand loaves as well.
Once my loaves had risen, I did my standard egg wash (once with just egg and the second time with a little honey added). I decided to add a little something extra to the candy cane so just after I applied the glaze, I gave it a light sprinkle of green sparkling sugar. (If I’d had some, I think it would look equally good with some mixed Christmas sprinkles or shimmery gold too).
Next I baked everything as usual. The one piece of advice I will give is that the colored dough makes it much trickier to judge whether the bread is done and I think I slightly overcooked the candy cane loaf as a result. So just watch carefully. In the end, I was still pretty happy with the result (as were the kids).
Better yet, we didn’t even touch the two regular loaves so our hosts kept one as did we so there is challah French toast in our future! Hope those of you who celebrated had a very Merry Christmas and that all of you are enjoying some down time like I am (currently typing in my PJs with the 2-year-old snuggled next to me). :)