Cranberry Orange Swirl & Nigella, Sesame & Pumpkin Seeds Challah

I hope you all had a Happy Chanukah and a Merry Christmas.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I was all about challahs this holiday season. First I made my fluffy, 'cotton candy' dough with a cranberry sauce swirl. Cranberries are one of my all time favorite winter ingredients. I don't have many photos of that batch other than the round one and sliced cranberry one on Instagram, with Wizard, aka Wizzy, lurking in the background waiting to pounce on a slice. It was featured on challah hub on IG which was super fun. Ah, you can also see the texture, shot with my point and shoot, in the third photo here. I suspect I sliced it as soon as it came out of the oven. I couldn't wait.

Somehow, the sweet honey challah with the not dry but the tangy fresh cranberry sauce made perfect sense, but wait, there's more....
Just like my cherry cardamon oat  'divine revelation' flavor combination I posted about herehere and here, this time it was challah, cranberry sauce and wait....nigella seeds. Nigella seeds are a common Middle Eastern and Indian ingredient that I've been recently obsessing over. The 'divine revelation' was a process. I sat on the concept and let it simmer for a couple of days. 
First, it aesthetically appealed to me. The flushed red of the cranberry as a stark contrast to the jet black nigella. I kept mulling the idea over in my brain. I imagined the flavor sensation of the seeds against the cranberry and challah. The more I thought about it the more excited I got and looked forward to the 'baking project'.
It's no easy feat to insert a high moisture ingredient, even if gelled, into the dough and expect it to work like a charm. Sure enough my first loaf was a hot volcanic mess. The cranberry sauce touched the edges and I couldn't pinch the seams completely. I was determined not to let that loaf go to waste even if the cranberries erupted and poured out of the dough like lava. I let it bake longer and the result was spectacular. 
The dough featured in these photos is Breads Bakery's dough. It is a sturdier dough, fundamentally different than my dough, in the recipe below. It is (yet again) mind boggling, how slight variations in the same basic ingredients produce different loaves that vary so much in character. Crumb, texture, flavor just to name a few characteristics. Both doughs are incredible. It is up to you which one you decide to bake this time. BTW, the cranberry sauce will ooze out somewhat no matter what.
Please read to the end before proceeding to bake.

Cranberry Orange Swirl and Nigella, Sesame and Pumpkin Seeds Challah
makes 2 loaves

The cranberry sauce is best made a day or two ahead and refrigerated.

Cranberry Sauce:
enough for 2 challahs

1 packet (12oz) fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange (optional)
1 cup water

Add all the ingredients into a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil on high heat. Once the cranberries come to a boil, turn the heat down immediately to low for a gentle bubble. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat and let come to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight so the cranberry orange sauce gels.

Challah Dough:
2.2 lbs (1 kg) all purpose flour
3 1/2 packets of active dry yeast (each packet is 1/4 oz)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup canola or other vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs, whisked
1 1/2 - 2 cups water

Canola oil

1 large egg, whisked
Nigella seeds
Sesame seeds
Pumpkin seeds

Add 1 1/2 cups water and the yeast into the mixer bowl, mix and let sit for 10 minutes. Attach the dough hook and on low speed add the flour, eggs, sugar, honey, salt and oil into the water/yeast mixture.  Scrape dough off the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle more water in a 1/4 cup increment early on if needed.  Mix on low speed for 12 minutes until dough is incorporated.

Take dough out of mixer bowl, form into a ball and coat with a light film of canola oil. Put the dough in a ceramic or glass bowl and let sit in a warm place until doubles in size, about an hour.

Take dough out and cut into six equal parts*, three parts for each challah. I didn’t flour the rolling surface but if you find it necessary, flour just slightly. You are now working with only three parts, the other three put back into bowl and make sure they are covered with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel.

For the first challah, punch the air out of each of the three parts of the dough and roll into a 20 or so inches long ropes. Roll out each rope to 20X4 inches.

Spread some cranberry sauce right in the middle leaving wide clean/cranberry-free space around the edges to be pinched. Pinch the seams and turn sealed ropes upside down.

Pinch three ropes at one end and braid the challah braid. Pinch at the other end and tuck both ends under the challah.

With the palms of your hands press lightly from each end  like an accordion and place the challah inside a parchment paper lined 9X5 loaf pan (you can use any size loaf pan you've got). Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let proof for 1 hour in a warm place.

Alternatively, place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet without pressing into an accordion, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let proof for 1 hour in a warm place.

Or, roll the braided challah gently like a snail into a round challah shape. Tuck the outside edge under the round challah gently. Transfer to a parchment paper lined cookie sheet or a round cake pan, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let proof in a warm place for an hour.

Pre-heat an oven to 350F**.

Brush the challah with the egg wash, sprinkle with nigella seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or any combination of the three and bake for 45-50 minutes or until deeply golden, rotate the challah midway. If challah gets deeply golden or brown too quickly, cover it loosely with foil at the 35 minute mark. Ovens may vary.

Author's Notes:
*You can cut the dough into 3 equal parts, and then each part cut into 3 smaller equal parts to make 3 challahs. Roll out the dough into 18X4 inches and proceed as instructed above. The filling will be enough for 2 challahs.

With the dough above I made 2 cranberry challahs. One round in a round cake pan and one in a 9X5 cake loaf pan (you can use any size loaf pan you've got). With Breads Bakery's dough I made three challahs. Two of the three were cranberry, one topped with nigella seeds and the other with sesame seeds, while the third was a plain challah topped with nigella, sesame and pumpkin seeds.

**In the Breads Bakery directions, it says to bake at 425F. That particular dough, if plain, bake as instructed for approximately 20 minutes or less at 425F (oven temperatures vary).  For the dough filled with cranberry sauce swirl, I changed the temperature to 350F and baked it for 45-50 minutes, while rotating the tray mid-way. The excess moisture of the cranberry sauce requires extra baking time so the challah won't be under-baked and doughy. At 425F it gets deeply brown on the outside while still under-baked from he inside.

Challah and other Related Recipes:
Vanilla Bean Brown ButterCinnamon Swirl Challah
Quince Honey Challah Knots
Spelt Flour Challah Dough Rolls and Chocolate Babka
The Perfect Honey Challah
Chocolate Yeast Cake and Roulade


  1. Wow, what a gorgeous loaf! Love the cranberry-orange filling :)

  2. Beautiful, mouthwatering bread.

  3. wow that's genius. I'm sure that would also taste great with some sour filling!

  4. This is pure perfection, Shulie. That dough looks amazing in texture, and the filling really pops with color! I'd like to have a piece right now. If only...
    Happy New Year!!!

  5. Each one is stunning - the braids just perfect! I love the contrast of the nigella seeds against the dough. And that filling? Yum!

  6. What a gorgeous bread! My husband is the bread baker in our family - I have to get him to make this recipe as soon as possible!

  7. Oh your challah is such a beauty…amazing; how I wish to be able to make pretty food well it is not my forte so I will just sit here and enjoy the beautiful picture of this delicious challah. ~ Bea @ The Not So Cheesy Kitchen

  8. That is one absolutely gorgeous loaf of bread

  9. That is the most beautiful challah I've ever seen!

  10. The colors in this challah are beyond gorgeous. I just love that shot with the pepitas!

    1. Thx Dara. When I saw pepitas I realize the oopsy I made. Fixed now. Appreciate it.

  11. This very well could be the most beautiful loaf of bread I've ever set eyes on

  12. So unique and elegant! I applaud you!

  13. Absolutely stunning. I'm dubbing you the queen of challah! I think next time I dare give it a try, your recipe will have to be the one.

  14. Gorgeous! What a stunning presentation.

  15. I have never made challah but it looks so pretty! I need to get on the challah train!

  16. Wow - this is gorgeous! I love those big pockets of cranberry inside.

  17. Gorgeous photos and amazing looking cranberry orange swirl nigella sesame! I am obsessed with desserts! I'll definitely try it! Thanks a lot for sharing!