Fig, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt Challah

With all of the extra time I have while job hunting you’d think I’d be able to stay on top of things here, but that hasn’t been the case. I’ve had Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook checked out from the library for a few weeks now and was all set to make this recipe when I realized I didn’t have any yeast. And then I got busy (or just lazy) and didn’t make it to the grocery store for a while.

The first time I had challah was at a sex positive Shabbat that I attended while I was an undergraduate student. Everything I ate was delicious but I remember really liking the challah. It’s been a few years since I’ve had it; when I lived in Minneapolis during grad school I would occasionally pick up a loaf from the local Kowalski’s market. This is a sweeter, somewhat healthier version (thanks to whole wheat flour) of traditional challah.

Fig, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt Challah

Challah

Ingredients

Bread

  • 1 packet dry active yeast
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tsp honey
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus some for the bowl
  • 2 large eggs, plus another for the egg wash
  • 2 tsp sea salt, plus more for sprinkling on top (if desired)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling

  • 1 cup dried figs, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 1/8 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • a pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk the yeast and honey together with 2/3 cup warm water. Let sit until the mixture gets foamy. Add the remaining honey, 1/3 cup olive oil, and eggs. Whisk until everything is combined.
  2. Add the flour and salt to the wet ingredients and stir everything together with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and somewhat stretchy. Place in an olive oil-coated bowl and let rise for about an hour.
  4. While you’re waiting for the dough to rise make the fig paste. In a small saucepan combine the figs, orange zest, water, orange juice, salt, and the black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook until the figs are tender and everything looks a bit gooier, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
  5. Pour the fix mixture into a food processor or blender and blend until it forms a paste. Set aside.
  6. After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface (again). Cut the dough in half. Roll out half the dough into a rectangular shape, getting it as thin as you can. Spread half of the fig paste on the dough, keeping about an inch between the paste and the edge of the dough. Roll it into a thin log and cut it in half. Seal the ends as best you can so you don’t have fig paste oozing out. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
  7. Twist your dough into a challah shape. I know that’s really vague, but completing this step depends on how elastic your dough is and how thin/long your strands are… here’s a YouTube video demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPfhQJ_D338 and here’s an eHow guide: http://www.ehow.com/how_8666007_twist-challah-bread.html. My dough was not super elastic so I just twisted it a few times and tucked in the ends.
  8. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the dough on it. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and brush the dough with egg wash.
  9. Let the dough rise for another 40 to 45 minutes and then preheat the oven to 375° F. Brush the dough with egg wash again, and sprinkle on that extra sea salt if you want. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack, and bake the challah for 35 to 40 minutes, until it’s nice and golden brown.
  10. Let the challah rest on a wire cooling rack for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting and eating.

As seen in the picture above, my challah strands were pretty thick (and not super elastic) so it doesn’t look as pretty as it could. Still tastes wonderful, though, which is much more important.

Source: Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

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