Cinnamon-Walnut Stuffed Challah and a Story

Disclaimer: this bread will make zero leftovers. Today’s post is going to be a bit on the serious/personal side but, never fear, a recipe still awaits you at the end. It’s nothing that serious that baking has to be sacrificed, come on.

Veganism and I have been on a crazy journey. Since day one, red meat was never something I picked. I liked to say that I “didn’t eat mammals”, my first food label. I would only eat chicken, turkey and some fish. In my early teens, I discovered that I was lactose intolerant leading to a painful goodbye to mac and cheese and pizza but an easy one to yogurt and milk. Dairy free: label number two. Then, came pescetarianism, number three, dropping chicken and turkey. And then, the big one: vegetarianism, I let go of eating salmon and, one of my favorites, grilled shrimp. Label number four.

Here I was at dairy-free vegetarianism. But then, I began to flirt with eating a bit of dairy. I would splurge on an ice cream, have a bite of nachos, stuff like that. And it was manageable after the break I had taken from it. And then, about 2.5 years ago, after learning more about the health and environmental impacts of the meat and dairy industries, as well as the horrifying treatment of animals in the system, I decided to go completely vegan with label number five. No dairy, no meat, no eggs. Vegan.

I liked that, it felt good to have one word that encompassed all that I ate, or rather, didn’t eat. Now I didn’t have to explain, I don’t eat meat, but I sometimes eat fish, and I don’t eat dairy, but once and I while I’ll have some ice cream. Nope. Now it was plain old vegan. And I really did feel amazing, for the first year. It was easy. I ate tofu, tons of vegetables, fruit smoothies and some good, whole grains. I loved that I wasn’t contributing to the industrialized meat and dairy industries and it made me feel clean and healthy.

But then, it began to change, about a year ago. Veganism began to feel a bit like a chore. I was eating massive amounts of salads and every kind of vegetable but never felt satisfied. Grains and fats were after thoughts, more like occasional condiments than substantial servings. Veganism began to feel limiting, rather than freeing like it had when I began. And, quite honestly, my body began sending messages that it craved more than what I was giving it.

But I wanted to be vegan, it had become who I was: the healthy vegan baker (who, by the way, didn’t indulge in anywhere near as many vegan baked goods as she made). So, this past summer, I took it upon myself to break away from these strict guidelines around food. A huge step was letting go of the term vegan as something to encompass myself and my life. I would still say that I’m 75% “vegan”, but I have begun loosening my restrictions around food, eating eggs, salmon and the occasional slice of cheese pizza (a late night slice of Joe's in NYC is a life changing experience). I’m not giving up being healthy, I’m not giving up caring about animals and our environment, I’m just looking for a more wholesome and well-rounded way to support myself, one that doesn’t rely on strict labels and rules.

You may have noticed the slight change on my blog’s sidebar, no longer will I provide strictly vegan baking, but wholesome baking. I still believe that not eating dairy is much better for me, but adding an egg or two in my baking is completely okay. This is my path and not right for everyone, so substitutes will always be offered to make recipes vegan and non-vegan, no worries. I just thought that, while I have promoted a vegan diet, and will continue to, in a less strict way, you deserved to see that strict veganism doesn’t work for everyone. For me, the right choice has been to welcome a bit more freedom into my eating and I want to share that with you.

Let’s celebrate and embrace a new, more wholesome, chapter of the Sweetest Beet, and let’s use some eggs and butter. Is it cool if we do that with some swirly cinnamon challah? Awesome, let’s do it.

Cinnamon-Walnut Stuffed Challah (Adapted from here)

For the Dough:

0.5 cup whole milk (or other unsweetened non-dairy milk*)

0.25 cup honey (or maple syrup*)

0.5 cup unsalted butter (or solid coconut oil or Earth Balance*)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

0.5 teaspoon ground cardamom

2.25 teaspoons active-dry yeast

2 large eggs (or sub 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds and 2.5 tablespoons for each egg*)

For the filling:

0.5 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (or coconut oil, Earth Balance*)

0.75 cup brown sugar, packed

2 cups walnuts, finely chopped

1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

1 egg (or use unsweetened non-dairy milk*)

1 teaspoon water

 

1. Combine milk, honey and butter in a small saucepan. Heat until butter is just melted, remove from stovetop and let cool slightly, around 120-130 degrees F.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine, using dough hook, 2 cups of flour, salt, cinnamon, cardamom and yeast. Add liquid mixture and combine until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure to completely mix after each. 

3. Add the final cup of flour, 3 tablespoons at a time, fully incorporating it before adding more. Once all flour is added, dough should be soft and not too stuck to the sides of the bowl. If the dough still seems too wet, you can add a few more tablespoons of flour but don’t add too much. At this point, I removed the dough from the machine and kneaded for an additional 5 to 8 minutes by hand. It should be smooth, soft and stretchy. 

4. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. When done, gently punch the dough to release the air and knead a few times by hand.

5. Make Filling: Cream together butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a stand mixer. Stir in chopped walnuts until relatively smooth.

6. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each individually on a well-floured surface into a 12x6 inch rectangle. Sprinkle each piece of dough with one third of the brown sugar mixture. It may look like a lot, but use it all, trust me. Starting with each long end, roll the dough into a tight scroll and carefully place on a sheet pan lined with a piece of parchment paper. Make sure the seam of the dough is on the bottom. 

7. Once all 3 pieces of dough are rolled, carefully braid them together, keeping them on the sheet pan with the seams down. Tuck the beginnings and ends of the rolls underneath and let rise again, covered lovely in greased plastic wrap. It should double in size, about 45 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine egg and water to make an egg wash. Once dough is risen, brush on the loaf. Bake until the loaf is golden brown on the outside, about 35-40 minutes. 

9. Let cool slightly and enjoy!

*(I have not tested the vegan substitutions but they should work)*

Thank you so much for listening to my journey today. I was hesitant to post this but it is something that I felt I owed, as I have been promoting a vegan lifestyle. If you're looking for any more support around this issue, I highly recommend you check out the Balanced Blonde as she goes into much more depth on this issue and is an overall great blogger with an amazing and inspirational story. 

I hope you enjoy this bread, I literally have dreams about this stuff. If you make, I’d love to see! Tag me on Instagram or share it on Facebook! Food photos are meant to be shared. Also don't forget to subscribe to the blog to stay updated on my wholesome baking adventures!

 

xo