Camembert, Pear and Thyme Challah

by meike peters

Camembert and Pear Challah

A lot of cracking and aching was going on in the oven while I watched my camembert, pear, and thyme challah bake. At one point I got worried that my braided bread was going to explode. It rose and expanded on all sides, it looked more like a challah pancake than the elegant breaded loaf I had in mind. Maybe I filled the single yeast dough strings a bit too generously with ripe – and stinky – cheese and chopped crisp fruit, but I had a feeling that the recipe needed it. So I trusted, which is always the only sensible thing a baker can do when the object of attention doesn’t perform as expected.

To my surprise, it worked out in the end and the shape still reminded me of a Hefezopf – the German name for challah. I used my classic plain challah recipe and replaced the sugar with honey. It’s common in Germany to use butter and milk for this kind of bread, instead of water and vegetable oil, which you usually find in traditional challah recipes. I like the added richness coming from the dairy products, I find it tastier. Seeing as the fruit and cheese bring in even more juice and moistness, I could have made the dough a bit drier, added more flour to help it keep its shape. But the final texture was so nice, soft and spongy, that I’d rather accept the pancake-look than ending up with a dry Hefezopf.

If you don’t feel like camembert, you can also go for any other aromatic cheese that melts well. I already have a raclette challah in mind, next time. And I’m sure that apricots or peaches would also do a pretty good job instead of the pear. So feel free to experiment, but keep in mind, the juicier the fruit, the more it’ll soften your dough.

This challah is a perfect picnic, brunch, or Saturday lunch treat, preferably accompanied by fresh fruits, wine, and a selection of cheese and prosciutto. A green salad with juicy tomatoes also goes very well with it.

Camembert and Pear Challah


Camembert and Pear Challah

Camembert, Pear and Thyme Challah

When I baked my challah, it was a very hot day. So the butter in the dough literarily melted in my hands and turned braiding into a fiddly task. The single braids stretched quicker than I reacted, I was too slow. If you also happen to go for this recipe on a day with high temperatures, to avoid stress and frustration, try to work quickly when you braid the loaf. Keep the braids a bit shorter to begin with, due to the filling they’ll expand in length.

Makes 1 large challah

honey 2 tablespoons
butter, melted, 100g / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons
milk, lukewarm, 150ml / 2/3 cup
organic eggs 2
plain flour 520-550g / 4 cups – 4 cups plus 4 tablespoons
fast-acting yeast 1 sachet (7g / 1/4 ounce)
fine sea salt 1 teaspoon

For the filling

aged camembert, cooled and cut into thin strips (it’ll be a mess if it’s too soft), 250g / 9 ounces
medium to large firm pear, cored and cut into tiny cubes, 1
fresh thyme and a little rosemary (the needles, chopped), a large handful

For the glaze

organic egg yolk 1
water 1 tablespoon

Stir the honey into the hot melted butter and whisk until combined, let it cool until it’s lukewarm. Add the milk and eggs and whisk, the mixture should be lukewarm.

In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the milk-butter mixture to the flour mixture and mix for about 5 minutes or until well combined and smooth. If it’s too soft and sticky, add a little (!) more flour. Continue kneading and punching with your hands for about 3-5 minutes or until you have a soft and silky ball of dough. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place, or preferably in a 35°C (100°F) warm oven, for 60-70 minutes or until almost doubled in size. If it’s a hot summer day, you can let the dough rise at room temperature (that’s what I did this time).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

When the dough is puffy and almost doubled in size, punch it down, take it out of the bowl, and knead for about 30 seconds. Divide into 3 parts and roll them into longish, but not too thin sausage sausage shapes (see picture above). Flatten each piece of dough until it’s roughly 7.5 cm / 3″ wide. Divide the camembert, pear, and herbs between the 3 pieces of dough and spread, leaving a little rim all around the filling. Fold over each piece of dough, roll it gently, and seal the overlapping side and ends well. The filling should be completely wrapped inside the dough.

To braid the bread, work quickly, as the dough stretches. Lay the ends of the dough rolls on top of each other at one end and braid them tightly. If they become too long and thin, squeeze them together a little. Bend both ends of the bread under the loaf and quickly transfer to the lined baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about 40-50 minutes or until fluffy.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F (conventional setting).

For the glaze, whisk the egg yolk and water and brush the top of the challah. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and spongy. When you knock on the challah’s bottom, it should sound hollow. Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting the bread into thick slices.

The challah tastes best on the 1st day.

Camembert and Pear Challah


Camembert and Pear Challah


Camembert and Pear Challah


Camembert and Pear Challah


Camembert and Pear Challah