Marzipan Almond Challah Crown

Marzipan Almond Challah Crown ©ShulieMadnick

This sublime Marzipan Almond Challah Crown recipe first appeared in Bonnie Benwick's "How to make your challah lovelier and sweeter for the Jewish New Year," published in The Washington Post on September 8, 2015. I am republishing the Marzipan Almond Challah Crown recipe, with some edits, just in time for Rosh HaShanah 2021 falling on the eve of September 6 this year.

I baked with then Deputy Editor of the Washington Post food section, Bonnie Benwick, some of my challahs at her home that year before Rosh HaShanah. And amidst the couple of tumultuous years we had with COVID-19 and the looming Delta variant, these are much needed feel-good quotes and testimonials I re-visited from Bonnie's article above: 

"The Washington area food blogger and travel writer bakes challah every Sabbath, as was the practice in many of her friends’ homes when she was growing up in an Indian-Israeli community in Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv. Looking to complement her Rosh Hashanah dishes — lamb biryani, veal-and-beef-stuffed artichoke bottoms in a spicy red sauce and the cornstarch-thickened, sweetened milk custard called halwa — Madnick figured out a way to capture fruit and/or nut fillings within each rope of dough. She braids those ropes in such appealing ways as to create almost a new class of High Holiday challah."

"Madnick worked on her base challah dough over many years. It’s not too eggy and, like others, not so fussy. Her flavor combinations can be seasonal: apples and quince in the fall; cranberry, orange and nigella seeds in the winter; cherry and oats in the spring. Rosh Hashanah stuffed challahs call for something sweet: chopped dates, fresh figs, even marzipan. Each sub-portion of dough that might have been a simple rope in a braided loaf of challah is first rolled out to a thin rectangle, then swabbed lightly with a syrup or jam to help hold the chopped fruit or nuts in place. Once the dough is rolled up, the filling stays contained, allowing for the usual braiding and shaping."

"Except Madnick’s techniques rise above the norm, appropriately. She’ll do a four- or six-part braid, winding it in on itself like a nautilus.."

Marzipan Almond Challah Crown

Make sure the center vessel you use is both heatproof and freezer-safe (the latter if you plan to make the challah in advance).

Using a 9 1/2-to-10-inch springform pan will help the bread keep its shape, but you can bake on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet as well.

Make Ahead: The dough needs to proof twice: first for 1 hour, and again for 30 to 40 minutes after the dough has been filled, braided and shaped into a pan. The baked challah can be wrapped in aluminum foil, then plastic wrap, and frozen for up to 1 month. To reheat, discard the plastic wrap but keep the bread wrapped in foil; warm through in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Illustrated crown and round challah braiding techniques.


1/2 cup lukewarm water plus 1/4 - 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 packets (3/8 oz) active dry yeast
17 oz (scant 4 cups) all purpose flour, plus more for rolling1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup oil, plus more for proofing
2 tablespoons honey, plus more for serving
1 large egg, plus 1 egg for an egg wash
1/3 cup sliced almonds


14 oz (two 7 oz tubes) marzipan
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)


For the challah: Whisk together the lukewarm water, 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar and all the yeast in a liquid measuring cup. Cover tightly with plastic wrap; let stand for about 20 minutes, until a head of bubbles forms and the mixture increases in volume.

Combine the flour, the remaining sugar and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough-hook attachment; beat on low speed for about 10 seconds, then add the yeast mixture, the 1/4 cup of oil, the 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 egg. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 to 1/2 cup water (as needed); the dough will seem a bit wet, initially. Beat for 10 minutes (low), during which time the dough will firm up and become elastic; stop once or twice to work the dough down the hook as needed.

Use some oil to lightly grease a proofing bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, making sure to turn the dough so it's evenly coated, cover with plastic wrap and set in a non-drafty place for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in volume.

Lightly flour a work surface. Uncover the dough and plop it out onto the surface. Use a bench scraper or large knife to divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Working with one at a time, roll out each portion to a rectangle that’s about 12 inches long and 8 inches wide, checking to make sure it isn’t sticking to the surface.

For the filling: The marzipan should be quite firm; if not, freeze it for 5 to 10 minutes. Grate it on the large-holed side of a box grater. Scatter one-third of it evenly over each rolled-out portion of dough, leaving a 1/2-inch margin at the edges, then sprinkle each one with a third of the slivered almonds. Sprinkle a third of the sugar, if using, over the almonds. Starting with the long edge of the dough that’s closest to you, tuck and roll the dough, making sure to blend in the seam at the end. The 3 filled ropes of dough should be the same length and of even thickness, so adjust them as needed.

Line them up with one set of ends facing you on the counter (north-south). You’ll be braiding these filled ropes; do not pinch them together at the top. Braid as you would a ponytail: Bring the right-hand rope over the middle rope, then bring the left-hand rope over the (new) middle rope, being careful not to twist the ropes as you weave them all the way down to the end closest to you on the counter.

Bring the braided challah into a ring shape with enough space left in the middle for the honey dish. Both the top and bottom tails of the loose strands will now be facing each other to complete a round circle. Attach the strands facing each other. You might need to pinch/remove excess dough from the tail ends while attaching the strands to make a neat-looking finish to the circular braid.

Line the springform pan or a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Plump the challah, cupping it gently from top to bottom with both of your hands. Support the underside of the braided round as you transfer the dough to the pan or baking sheet. Tuck and shape it in the pan as needed. Use your hands to gently lift and plump up the now-round, shaped braided dough. Use your hands to nudge a center space wide enough to insert the honey vessel you’ve chosen. Nestle it in securely; the dough will rise around it during proofing. Cover with a clean dish towel; let it proof in a non-drafty place for 30 to 40 minutes. Do not over-proof, or the shape of the challah may be adversely affected.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (If you like, set the proofing pan of dough atop the range while the oven preheats below.)

Once the dough has proofed a second time, beat the remaining egg well in a liquid measuring cup. Brush the top of the dough surface with the beaten egg, making sure not to let the egg drip down the sides (or the bread may stick to the sides of the pan), then immediately sprinkle with the sliced almonds.

Bake (middle rack) for 50 minutes or until nicely browned and fragrant, rotating the bread from front to back about halfway through the baking time. Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack; let cool for 20 to 30 minutes before removing the pan’s springform ring and bottom (if using). Cool the bread (keeping it on its parchment) completely.

When ready to serve, pour honey into the center vessel.

Recipes for Rosh HaShanah:

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