Maple Raisin Challah

What’s rich and brown, shiny and sleek, and smells like Vermont at sugaring time? The answer is Maple Challah, aka “the end of dieting as we know it”. Once this heady fragrance wafts out of your oven, all good intentions will be put aside and you’ll be a gonner!

I used maple syrup to sweeten the dough, but it doesn’t give enough maple “kick”, so I turned to my trusty Mapleine. Maple flavoring, maple extract, it’s all good! And, in case you’re wondering, I found kosher maple flavoring and refined coconut oil on the internet.

Whether you make a simple three-strand braid or go all out for the six-strand braid, this bread won’t fail to impress; it’s gorgeous even if you try desperately to follow instructions and still come up with a wonky braid!  


I tried a six-strand braid. Several times. I had no trouble with four strands (see my Pumpkin Challah ) but apparently, that was pushing the limit of my braiding skills. I hate videos, but this is one time I probably should have watched a tutorial. In the end, I did the best I could, tucked the less than attractive ends under, and hoped that a good, puffy rise and a lot of egg yolk would cover my worst messes. It wouldn’t pass the test of experienced challah bakers, but it worked for me.

Because I can never get enough maple flavor, I sprinkled the top of one of the loaves with maple sugar which gave a slightly burnt-sugar flavor and made the crust a tiny bit crunchy. I loved it, though it takes away the pretty shine. It’s totally optional, of course, but mmmmmm. Here’s what the sugar-topped loaf looks like next to one with a traditional egg yolk wash:

Left loaf was brushed with yolk wash and sprinkled with maple sugar

Remember that challah dough is rich and will take a little longer to rise than a basic sandwich bread. Make it when you’ll be home all day so you don’t try to rush it. Ninety-minute rise times are to be expected. You don’t have to sit and watch it – just set a timer and go about your business, and before you know it you’ll be tearing off a tender piece of maple goodness.

Maple Raisin Challah
Makes 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves. Simple braids are very attractive. For more complicated braids, look for online tutorials.
  • ½ cup hot water
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¾ cup warm water
  • pinch sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs plus 1 yolk, divided (extra yolk is for glazing bread)
  • ⅓ cup refined coconut oil, melted (or you can use a mild-flavored cooking oil)
  • 1 tablespoon maple flavoring - or to taste
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  1. Combine hot water and raisins in a small bowl and let sit for 10-15 minutes to plump raisins. Stir in maple syrup.
  2. In a small bowl or cup combine warm water, sugar, and yeast. Allow it to sit until yeast is foamy.
  3. In a large bowl, (a stand mixer with a dough hook is recommended) combine eggs, oil, maple flavor, the raisin mixture, and the yeast mixture.
  4. Add flour and salt. Mix well. Allow mixer to knead dough for 5-6 minutes. (If mixing by hand, drop dough onto lightly floured surface and knead 7-8 minutes.The Dough should be soft and slightly tacky. If it's too sticky, add a little more flour.
  5. Place dough in a greased bowl. Turn to coat the dough, cover with a dish towel, and allow it to rise until doubled - about 90 minutes.
  6. For one large 3-strand braid, divide dough into 3 equal parts. (For 2 small braids, divide into 6 equal parts.) Braid loosely and tuck ends under. Place on parchment covered baking sheet and cover with a damp cloth. Allow bread to rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.
  7. Heat oven to 350 F.
  8. Whisk egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water. Brush generously over entire challah. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, until bread is deep golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
  9. Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack.

Hot water, raisins, and maple syrup

Combine eggs, oil, maple flavor, raisin mixture . . .

. . . and the foamy yeast

Put dough in greased bowl and let it rise. It will go from THIS . . .

. . . to THIS. Now comes the fun part – braiding!

Braiding a round challah. I’m not EVEN going to try to explain this. The Internet is your friend, with lots of tutorials.

Brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with maple sugar if desired. The more sugar you add, the crunchier the crust will be.

Bake. Cool on a rack if you have superhuman self-control. Otherwise, rip and tear!

I haven’t tried it (yet), but I’ll bet this recipe would be great for rolls, too. I think I’ll add them to my Thanksgiving plan. And I may try mixing maple syrup with that egg yolk before brushing it on the bread. If you beat me to it, let me know how that works!



Guinness Bread Braids – Sweet or Savory

I went all Irish on you with this bread. It has both Guinness Stout beer AND potato in the dough. You won’t even taste the beer, but what a pillowy-soft dough it helped create. I made a savory Celtic braid by adding some Parmesan and garlic to the dough, and turned another batch into a braided cinnamon and sugar ring.

Both were light – surprisingly light – and tender. I will say, however, that this is a bread that is best eaten the day it’s made. On day two it was just a tiny bit chewy, though if it had been heated a little, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. This almost made me wish I hadn’t deep-sixed the microwave. (A pat of butter and a few seconds in a microwave will revive any cinnamon roll . . . or braid.)

Guinness Bread Braids - Sweet and Savory
Makes two Celtic braids or one braided cinnamon ring.
  • 1¼ cups very warm water
  • 3½ teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ½ cup Guinness Extra Stout beer
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup dry instant potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon if your instant potatoes contain salt)
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • For Celtic Braid: ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, if desired. 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water combined for egg wash.
  • For Cinnamon Ring: 2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, ⅓ cup sugar, green candied cherries. Icing if desired.
  1. In a large bowl, combine warm water and ½ teaspoon sugar. Add yeast and allow mixture to sit for at least 5 minutes, or until foamy.
  2. In a small saucepan on low heat, heat the beer and 1 tablespoon butter until beer is lukewarm. (It’s okay if the butter hasn’t melted completely.)
  3. To the yeast mixture, add warm beer mixture, instant potatoes, salt, flour, and 3 teaspoons sugar. (IF MAKING SAVORY BREAD, ADD PARMESAN AND GARLIC.) Mix well. If using a heavy stand mixer, let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. (If kneading by hand, knead on generously floured surface for 7-8 minutes.) Dough will be very soft, slightly sticky, and may stick to the sides of the bowl a little. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
  4. FOR CELTIC BRAID: Cover large baking sheet with parchment. Punch down dough and divide dough into 4 pieces. (If dough is too sticky to work with, knead it a few times on a generously floured surface.) Working with 2 pieces at a time, roll each piece into a rope about 2 feet long. Follow photo instructions in post for making braid (or find a template online). Repeat with remaining 2 pieces. Place braids on prepared baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Cover loosely with towel, and allow to rise until doubled - about 1 hour.
  5. Heat oven to 375 F. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until rich golden brown. Cool on rack.
  6. FOR CINNAMON RING: Prepare two large baking sheets by covering with parchment. (One will be used to coat the bread ropes in butter and cinnamon, and the other will be used to bake the braid.)
  7. Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll into ropes, each approximately 24 inches long.
  8. Melt butter and pour onto one of the prepared baking sheets. Combine cinnamon and ⅓ cup sugar in a small bowl.
  9. Roll ropes of dough in the melted butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture, rolling until completely coated.
  10. Pinch the three ropes together at the top. Lift onto clean baking sheet and braid. Tuck the ends under and pinch together where the ends meet.
  11. Cover braid loosely with clean towel and allow it to rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour. Decorate with green candied cherries, if desired.
  12. Heat oven to 375 F. and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Place baking sheet on cooling rack for 5 minutes, then slide braid and parchment onto rack to cool completely.
  13. Drizzle with icing if desired. To make a simple icing, combine ½ cup powdered sugar, 1-2 drops green food coloring, and 1 tablespoon milk or water.

Dough will be sticky. Don’t add extra flour yet – you can always work in a little more once it’s risen if necessary.

Rises like a champ! Wait ’til you feel this dough – it’s billowy and soft as a baby’s cheek.

Roll dough around in the flour. If it’s really sticky, knead it a few times to add a bit more flour and make it manageable.

Start by crossing the two ropes at the middle, like an “X”.

And then do this . . .

. . . then this.

It should finally look something like this.

Brush the braid with egg wash and bake!

If you’re making the cinnamon ring, it’s a little easier – just a simple braid:

For the cinnamon braid, begin with three long dough ropes.

Roll them in melted butter, then coat them with cinnamon and sugar.

Braid the sticky ropes on a clean piece of parchment. Tuck the ends under and pinch together to make a ring.

Risen and ready for the oven.

Warm and fragrant.

Oh, and if you want to go with the whole green thing, drizzle this puppy with some green icing. 

Serving it was kind of interesting. You can cut it in slices (the least messy option) or you can do what we did and just rip and tear. Licking your fingers is half the fun – no fork and knife for this gal.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!