Challah, that stretchy, rich, lightly sweet, braided glossy bread that’s brushed with egg and baked to an burnished burnt umber shine, like many great traditional foods, does not exist in a vacuum. While challah is a Jewish ceremonial bread, eating on Sabbath and major Jewish holidays, and is usually paerve (dairy product-free, so it’s Kosher regardless of what is being served), pulled away from the Judaic lens, it’s a close cousin to brioche and other enriched breads.
And it is from this jump — challah is brioche-like; breakfast buns are brioche-like… — that I began making challah-ish breakfast buns last year. We adore them. They’re less rich and more fluffy than the usual gooey, rich and very sweet cinnamon rolls (which, of course, there is always a time and place for), they go well with afternoon coffee or tea, should you find yourself in the kind of civilized life where this is your norm (and please teach me your ways) but hardly abstemious. My two favorite fillings I auditioned were a sweetened cream cheese with jam (basically tastes like cheesecake) and a chocolate-tahini swirl. For a Food Network episode, we featured the cream cheese buns; they liked the story about my dad growing up in the Bronx and having cream cheese and jelly sandwiches from a local deli (as do I, less so that ridiculous face I’m making in the video still).
But if you think that meant I’d let rich chocolate spirals float off into The Ether of Retired and Forgotten Recipes, you might have missed the part where I mentioned they had chocolate in them. Also: butter, cocoa powder, and powdered sugar to smoothly offset the bittersweet chocolate. (It takes a page from this babka filling.) Also: tahini, but just enough for a toasty, nutty, but not overwhelming effect. You can make a powdered sugar glaze for it; it’s great here with either lemon or orange juice (your choice); I know they often taste over-the-top but here, where the sweetness and richness is slightly restrained, it’s not unwelcome. But my favorite part is that it has that deep varnished top of a good (and here, very lucky) challah.
* I am not sure if you follow @smittenkitchen on Instagram but do know that whenever I find pockets of time, I’m having great fun making stories of recipes I’m working on, such as this. And including their ups and downs, such as when this one just decided not to rise for a couple hours, quite rude of it. (Alas, they expire after 24 hours, so you’ll have to watch this one in the next 2 to 3 hours.) It’s a fun place to share works in progress at a detail level that would be excessive, even for this loquacious site. Sometimes I talk, too, but I mostly try to spare us all that awkwardness.
Have you gotten to check out the book tour for Smitten Kitchen Every Day? It begins the day the book comes out — October 24th — and I’m so excited. I hope your town is on it. I hope this means we finally get to meet. And if you’re in Minneapolis, Nashville, Denver, Atlanta or Montreal… we should have more good news soon (eee!).