Russians love to bake. My childhood home always smelled like sweet dough and we had bakes all year round. But of course fall and winter were special seasons for baking. To the day I still carry that tradition. When the weather starts to cool down and first firewood is put to use, I like to spend my time baking and creating new sweet recipes.
Poppy seeds is one of the commonly used baking ingredients in Russian cuisine. Challah is my favorite type of dough, it is simple to make, it's tasty and its texture is great. If poppy seeds are too much trouble for you, just make plain Challah wreath and top it with almonds. But I absolutely love poppy seeds here, they bring sweet crunch to this delicious dinner table centerpiece. This recipe is great for holidays and family gatherings.
For more Russian recipes, visit Russian Cuisine page.
Poppy Seeds Challah Centerpiece Wreath
How to prepare cardamom for this recipe: Crack the pod, empty out the seeds, and crush them, using a mortar and pestle, spice mill, or coffee grinder.
- 1 cup milk
- 1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (about 110F)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp crushed cardamom seeds (from about 7-9 pods)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
- 4 1/2 to 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 8 Tbsp. (4oz) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 can (12.5 oz) poppy seed cake and pastry filling
- 1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. milk, for glaze
- sliced almonds for topping
- poppy seeds for topping
Place a small sauce pan over medium heat and add the milk. Heat the milk, so small bubbles are just visible around the edge. Remove the pan from the heat and cool the milk to around 110F. Make sure it is no hotter than 115F. Heat the butter in another small sauce pan until just melted. Set aside.
In a large bowl, add the warm water and whisk in the dry yeast. Set the yeast/water mixture aside for at least 5 minutes until the yeast has dissolved and is creamy. Whisk in the milk, sugar, cardamom, salt, and eggs until fully combined. Using a mixer fitted with the dough hook, add 2 cups of the flour, and beat the mixture until smooth. Beat in the butter and then add as much additional flour, 1/2 cup at a time, as you can until the dough is stiff but not dry. Cover the bowl with plastic and kitchen towel and let the dough rest for 15 minutes in warm place.
After the short rest knead the dough until smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into the ball. Place it in a large bowl (lightly greased), cover and let rise it until doubles in bulk for about 1 hour, in warm place.
Cover your baking sheet with parchment paper.
Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out of the bowl onto a cool, lightly oiled surface. Knead the dough briefly to release the air. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. I weigh the pieces to ensure they are equal, or close to it. Roll each of the three pieces into a log about 36 inches in length. I took turns rolling each piece into a log. As one got too springy, I would move to the next. I continued in this manner until all 3 logs were 36 inches long. Then flat the logs and gently place, using teaspoon the poppy seed filling in the middle of each flatted logs.
Fold one long side over the filling and connect with other side. Seal the seam by pinching it. Repeat with other logs. You will have 3 stuffed long logs with poppy seed filling. Turn them over, so that the seams are on the bottom.
Now comes the fun part-)) Braid the three logs, braiding as far down to the bottom as you can. Lift the long braid onto the prepared pan. Connect the ends together, pressing and pinching them to fit. (You can also make a bow if you like, I bake my bow separately). Cover the wreath with a kitchen towel and let it rise until puffy but not doubled, about 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Brush the egg glaze over the bread. Sprinkle the wreath with sliced almonds and poppy seeds.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden. Try not to over bake the wreath. Transfer the loaf to a rack to cool down before cutting. Serve with cup of tea.
Note: To store, cover the loaf in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature. Or, wrap tightly, so the bread is air tight and freeze for up to a month. Thaw the bread at room temperature.