Ever since I started making challah about four years ago, I’ve used the same recipe. I got it from my mom who learned from her friend. The loaves are golden brown and busting at the seams with warm dough. Spread a little butter and sprinkle a little salt and we can all call it a night. Why fix it if it’s not broken, right? The only time I strayed from this tried and true recipe is when I made a seasonal pumpkin challah. The idea of a pumpkin challah seemed so novel and unusual that I had to try it. It was perfect to make around the fall holidays like Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. So when I saw this fig, olive oil and sea salt challah on Smitten Kitchen, it had the same effect on me. The ingredients seemed unusual, daring, yet enticing. It’s good to step out of your comfort zone in the kitchen (or life, I suppose!), take risks, learn to fail, learn your lessons. Except I didn’t fail (ha!). I’m glad I took that risk because this challah was amazing.
I saw the recipe a few weeks ago and then had a chance to see Deb Perelman at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh! I wondered if her bubbly and candid personality online would be true to the actual person. It was! She was so sweet and welcomed lots of questions. I haven’t bought her book, but I did bring my cookbook to the event (which was standing room only!). However, I turned the wrong way to get in the book signing line and by the time I found it I felt like Steve Martin in Father of the Bride when he gets in line for food. People were snaking through the aisles. The line got so immediately long that I headed out. One day she’ll sign my cook book. For now, I can just enjoy this delicious challah. Plus, look at that cool braid action! Written directions for how to braid it are below, but if you also need visuals, she posted photos on her blog.
I made Shabbat dinner for my parents. Thus, I doubled the recipe. The quantities below are for ONE loaf, but it’s easily doubled to make two. I’m so glad I made two loaves because between James, my parents, my brother Jeremy (who also came), and me, there’s only one left. It’s the kind of challah you can’t stop eating even when there’s a plate of food in front you. Given, we were eating rice and beans, but they were good beans! I felt funny inviting my parents over for Shabbat and offering such a seemingly bland meal. I couldn’t even write it in an email. I had to call my mom and explain that I was using dried beans and planned on soaking them overnight then simmering them for hours in herbs and spices. Of course they were happy, but I felt the need to justify. “Thanks mom and dad for raising me and making delicious dinners. Here’s some rice and beans.”
And then there’s Roo. He’s just cute and hangs around my feet in the kitchen when I’m cooking. Although in this moment he got distracted by a noise outside. He could just barely see over the ledge and the shade. Ever since I started giving a taste of butter from an empty wrapper he hangs out hoping for a taste.
Source: Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs
2 tsp. flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
4 cups bread flour (all-purpose is fine, too)
1 jar fig spread (I used ‘Dalmatia‘ from Whole Foods. Although any brand will do. You can also make your own fig filling, found on the original SK post.)
1 large egg
Coarse or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
- Whisk the yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water (110 to 116 degrees), and let it stand for a few minutes, until foamy, 5-10 minutes.
- In a large mixer bowl, combine the yeast mixture with remaining honey, 1/3 cup olive oil, and eggs. Add the salt and flour, and mix with a wooden spoon until dough starts to come together. until dough begins to hold together. Turn the mixture out onto a floured counter, and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. Transfer the dough to an olive-oil coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
- After your dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured counter and divide it in half. Roll the first half of the dough into a wide and totally imperfect rectangle. Spread half the fig filling evenly over the dough, stopping short of the edge. Roll the dough into a long, tight log, trapping the filling within. Then gently stretch the log as wide as feels comfortable (appx. 3 feet), and divide it in half. Repeat with remaining dough and fig filling.
- Arrange two ropes in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a tight tic-tac-toe board. Weave them so that one side is over, and the other is under, where they meet. So, now you’ve got an eight-legged woven-headed octopus. Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move the leg to their right — i.e., jumping it. Take the legs that were on the right and, again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left. If you have extra length in your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. Tuck the corners or odd bumps under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round.
- Transfer the dough to a parchment-cover heavy baking sheet, or, if you’ll be using a bread stone, a baker’s peel. Beat egg until smooth, and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour, but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375°F.
- Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 35 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if yours starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time.
Bonus Voila Fact! My great-great aunt Eva was an award winning challah maker in Chicago!