Fig, Olive Oil + Sea Salt Challah

sliced

I sometimes wonder how I made it through my life pre-jewish friends. Of course I’ve had potatoes cakes (latkes) smoked salmon and cream cheese (lox + ‘shmear’) and egg bread (challah.) But never to the abundance as of the past few years.

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risin'

I must stress my very unkosher love for Jewish food before we go any farther. With this bread, I’d highly recommend making a  ham grilled cheese (don’t even count the ways that’s against Kosher laws- yes there are laws.) Also, challah is traditionally eaten on Friday (Shabot/Sabbath) or holidays (but not Passover!!) and the round variation is usually eaten in the New Year (in the fall, not winter) And that’s just the basics! In case it isn’t blatantly obvious, my family is not Jewish and they still eat it up like…some yiddish word for hungry people.

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balls
spread

Like most breads, this one takes some time. As far as bread goes, I’d say its about mid-level in difficulty and time spent. The longer dough rises, the better it tastes as a rule of thumb. This dough rises twice AND is filled with orange scented fig spread, so there’s no shortage of flavour.

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The hardest part technically is probably braiding the dough into the traditional round. Once you understand what you’re doing though, it is quite easy. Even if you mess it up, as long as it’s somehow woven and forms a ball-ish shape, your doing just fine. Making your own bread in itself is such a rewarding and showy task to undertake-no matter what it looks like.

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sliced

*If there are leftovers (gasp!) I’d definitely recommend grilled cheese or french toast. Don’t skimp on the pork products for either.

Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Yield: 1 large loaf

Bread

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet — 1/4 ounce or 7 grams) active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup (85 grams) plus 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil, plus more for the bowl
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour

Fig Filling

  • 1 cup (5 1/2 ounces or 155 grams) stemmed and roughly chopped dried figs
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest, or more as desired
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) orange juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • Few grinds black pepper

Egg wash

  • 1 large egg
  • Coarse or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

To make dough with a stand mixer:

  1. 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.
  2. In a large mixer bowl, combine the yeast mixture with remaining honey, 1/3 cup olive oil, and eggs.
  3. Add the salt and flour, and mix until dough begins to hold together. Switch to a dough hook, and run at low speed for 5 to 8 minutes.
  4. Transfer the dough to an olive-oil coated bowl (or rest the dough briefly on the counter and oil your mixer bowl to use for rising, so that you’ll use fewer dishes), cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.

To make the dough by hand:

  1. Proof the yeast as directed above. Mix the wet ingredients with a whisk, then add the salt and flour.
  2. Mix everything together with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together.
  3. Turn the mixture out onto a floured counter, and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. Let rise as directed above.

Meanwhile, make fig paste:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the figs, zest, 1/2 cup water, juice, salt, and a few grinds of black peper.
  2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the figs are soft and tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Remove from heat, and let cool to lukewarm. Process fig mixture in a food processor until it resembles a fine paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Set aside to cool.

Insert figs:

  1. 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 (really, the shape doesn’t matter).
  2. Spread half the fig filling evenly over the dough, stopping short of the edge.
  3. Roll the dough into a long, tight log, trapping the filling within. Then gently stretch the log as wide as feels comfortable (I take mine to my max counter width, a pathetic three feet), and divide it in half.
  4. Repeat with remaining dough and fig filling.

Weave your challah:

  1. Arrange two ropes in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a tight tic-tac-toe board.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. If you have extra length in your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope.
  5. Tuck the corners or odd bumps under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round.
  6. Transfer the dough to a parchment-cover heavy baking sheet, or, if you’ll be using a bread stone, a baker’s peel.
  7. Beat egg until smooth, and brush over challah.
  8. Let challah rise for another hour, but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375°F.

Bake your loaf:

  1. Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt.
  2. Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 40 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.
  3. The very best way to check for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer — the center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.
  4. Cool loaf on a rack before serving. Or, well, good luck with that.
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