Chocolate Chunk Challah French Toast with Blueberry Syrup/Compote

From 6 Bittersweets
Adapted from The Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg
Makes 2 loaves

XIAOLU'S NOTES: If you're not familiar with 4-strand braids (which I wasn't), watching someone do it is really helpful, much more so than photos or written directions in my opinion.This is a good one I found on Youtube. My bread was overbaked, especially the bottom, so I recommend starting to check for doneness at 25 minutes and NOT using a dark baking pan. Lastly, I love the look of tall challah, so next time I plan to make one braid slightly smaller than the other and to stack the smaller braid atop the larger one for baking like this.

1 1/4 cups lukewarm water, divided
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar, divided and more for sprinkling
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided [scoop and sweep measurement]
1 3/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp canola (or other flavorless) oil
2 Tbsp honey
3 large eggs, divided
4 oz. semisweet chocolate (preferably 62%), cut into chip-size chunks
1 Tbsp sesame seeds

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the water, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and the yeast. Stir to dissolve. If it does not foam in 10 to 15 minutes, discard and start with fresh yeast.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, salt, oil, honey, 2 eggs, yeast mixture, and remaining 1 cup of water. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl periodically. Add 3 more cups of flour, then switch to dough hook and knead at low speed, scraping the bowl from time to time, until an elastic dough forms. Only if the dough seems too sticky, add more flour a few tablespoons at a time JUST until dough is no longer sticky but still is soft. Let rest 10 minutes.

On a lightly floured board, shape dough into a 7 x 10-inch rectangle. Press the chocolate pieces into the dough and fold dough in half over the chunks. Seal edges and tuck under; let rest 10 more minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl. Form the dough into a ball by tucking edges under, and place in the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise 45 minutes to 1 hour, until doubled in bulk.

Lightly oil 2 baking sheets. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board, punch down and divide into 8 equal pieces. Cover half the pieces with a kitchen towel, and roll the remaining 4 pieces into 15-inch ropes. Pinch the ropes together at one end, and set that end near the short side of one baking sheet opposite from you. Braid the ropes by continuing to weave the right-most strand over, under, then over the strands to its left (see notes above for video link). Pinch strands together at the end, and tuck both ends under slightly. Cover the 1st loaf with kitchen towel, and use the same procedure to braid the the remaining 4 ropes on the other pan.

Whisk remaining egg to make an egg wash and brush top of each loaf, being careful not to let egg run down to baking sheet (it can burn). Let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Twenty minutes into this rise, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. 

Once loaves have doubled in size, brush them with egg one more time, and sprinkle with sesame seeds or sugar. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until top is glossy and brown, rotating the pans halfway through. If tops brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil. Cool completely on racks, then wrap well so loaves are airtight and store at room temperature or freeze if not eating immediately.

Challah French Toast with Blueberry Syrup/Compote
Adapted from Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook and pictures and pancakes
Serves 4 to 6

If your challah is taller than mine, you may need to use fewer slices or make more of the batter and syrup so there's enough for all 8 slices. This french toast is delicious with regular challah, but I really enjoyed the combination of chocolate and blueberry. And the chocolate could be a wonderful surprise for guests digging into the final product.

1 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 to 2 cups blueberries
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
8 (1-inch) slices challah bread, homemade (see above) or store-bought
4 tsp unsalted butter, or more as needed and to serve

In a small saucepan, combine maple syrup and 1 cup blueberries. bring to a boil and simmer until blueberries release their juices. remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/2 to 1 cup of blueberries. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the custard into a wide, shallow dish. Soak each slice of bread in the liquid, turning to coat on both sides, until the bread is saturated but not falling apart, 3 to 5 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt 1 teaspoon of butter in the pan. Working in batches, cook challah until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Repeat with the remaining challah, adding butter if needed.

Divide the toast among individual plates and serve topped with blueberry maple syrup and butter, if desired.