By Jennifer Stempel
(The Nosher via JTA) — I will never tire of the classically Cuban iteration of savory and sweet found in guava and cheese, and I promise you that if given the opportunity, I will find ways to insert it into otherwise unsuspecting recipes. (My guava and cheese hamantaschen come to mind.) Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I infused one of my favorite Jewish recipes with a little taste of Cuba, and came up with a pull-apart challah stuffed with sticky guava paste and silky cream cheese.
Stuffing a challah with guava and cheese may sound like sacrilege to some, but in my mind it makes perfect sense. I am pretty vocal about my opinion that the hands-down best store-bought challah in my home city can only be found at our local Cuban bakery. Of course, this isn’t their specialty – a flaky and buttery guava and cheese pastry, called a “refugee,” seemingly for the strong memories of the motherland it invokes, wins that title. But if this bakery’s challah married its world-famous guava and cheese pastry, I imagine their babies would look something like my fun creation.
The pillowy pockets of challah stuffed with sweet-as-candy guava paste and velvety cream cheese pull apart into individual servings of the most decadent roll of bread you can imagine. This is one of those special recipes to pull out for guests!
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, divided
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons cream cheese
12 tablespoons guava paste
Turbinado sugar (optional)
In a large bowl, gently stir together the yeast, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar and warm water until dissolved, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Mix in vegetable oil, 2 eggs (1 at a time), 1 egg yolk and salt.
Slowly add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until well incorporated (you may need a little more or a little less, depending on the moisture in your air). When the dough holds together, knead until smooth, about 5 minutes by hand or 2 minutes using a dough hook on a stand mixer.
Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 1 hour.
Punch the dough down, reapply the plastic wrap and return to the warm location to rise for another hour.
On a floured surface, remove dough from the bowl and cut into 12 equal pieces. Using the palm of your hand, flatten each piece, fill with 1 tablespoon each of cream cheese and guava paste. Bring the edges of the dough together to cover the filling and pinch. Repeat with the remaining 11 pieces of dough.
Place the filled dough pieces seam-side down into 2 greased 9-inch cake pans (6 dough pieces in each), and arrange the pieces in a circle with one piece in the middle.
Using the remaining eggs, create an egg wash and brush the dough generously.
Let rest for 30 minutes. Then preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush the dough a second time with the egg wash, making sure to pay special attention to any dips and creases where the pieces of dough meet each other.
Sprinkle with turbinado sugar (optional).
Place cake pans in oven, and immediately lower the oven temperature to 350.
Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until loaves are golden brown.
Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes.
Remove loaves from the cake pans and place on wire racks to cook completely.
The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.