On Rosh Hashanah, I did something really un-Jewish and un-Kosher by making shrimp for dinner. But I kind of half made up for it by making fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. And that makes things kind of ok, right? (Let’s not even talk about the fact that there was no fasting or breaking of fast on Yom Kippur as I had band practice and work, both of which require much sustenance. Don’t tell my Bubbe.)
This challah has been on my “to make” list for so long. I was waiting for figs to be in season (only to realize after I went to the store and bought fresh figs that the recipe calls for dried figs… oops… way to follow your own rules, Annie) AND I’d never made challah before. TERRIBLE JEW, I know. But you know, bread is mildly scary to me, and braided bread that’s supposed to look all shiny and pretty? That much scarier. But a holiday is a good enough reason to man up and do anything, so I went for it. And man oh man, it was good. This recipe is pretty much straight from Smitten Kitchen.
Fig and Olive Oil Challah
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp honey
1/3 cup olive oil, plus some for the bowl
2 tsp flaky sea salt (such as Maldon, which you really should have around because you should be putting it on everything because it is awesome)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup dried figs, stemmed and roughly chopped
1/8 tsp orange zest (I eyeballed this, because you know, who has an 1/8 tsp measure)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper (you’ll only need a few grinds)
flaky sea salt
In a small bowl, combine the yeast and 1 tsp of honey with 2/3 cup of warm water. Stir it up, and let it sit for a few minutes until it gets foamy. In the bowl of your mixer with the paddle attachment (or you know, with a wooden spoon and a bowl if that’s your jam), combine the yeast mixture with the rest of the honey, the olive oil, and the eggs. Then add the flour and salt, and mix it until the dough starts to come together. Once it comes together, switch to the dough hook and let it run on low for 5-8 minutes. Put the dough on the counter for a moment while you coat the bowl in olive oil, put the dough back in the bowl, and cover with saran wrap for an hour, or until the dough doubles in size.
While the dough is rising, it’s fig paste time. Put the figs, zest, water, juice, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook this fig mixture until the pieces of fig are soft, having absorbed the water and juice, stirring occasionally (should take about 10 minutes). Turn off the heat, and allow to cool for a while before putting it in a food processor and processing until it resembles a paste, like a relatively smooth jam. Set it aside to cool the rest of the way.
Once your dough has roughly doubled, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it in half. Roll the first half out into “an imperfect rectangle,” spread half of the fig filling over the dough, and roll it up into a long log, trapping the filling within. You’ll want to be careful when you roll out your dough that it still has some thickness to it, as I had a few tears in mine which made everything a little tricky for me. Roll out/stretch the log as long as you can without breaking or tearing it, and then divide it in half. Repeat this whole process with the second half of the dough. You should have four fig-filled ropes of dough.
Next comes the weaving, which I’m not even going to try to explain. Instead, you should head to over to Smitten Kitchen to look at the pictures and read her instructions. I never could have woven it without those pictures. Oy. Once woven up into a beautiful mound of deliciousness, transfer the dough to a baking sheet prepped with parchment paper (or silpat, I suppose).
In a small bowl, beat the egg for the wash, and brush it over the challah. Let it rise for another hour, but start heating your oven to 375 degrees about halfway into the rise. Before putting it in the oven, brush the challah again with the egg wash, and bake it in the middle of your oven for 35-40 minutes. If it starts to get dark (like mine did), you can cover it with foil for the rest of the bake (like I didn’t). Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving. Tear off pieces with loved ones, and add a dab of butter and jam, if you like. Enjoy.