post #200: fig and olive oil challah-holla!

Post #200 had to be something a little more special than the zucchini dish I have written and ready to post.  Zucchini?  It's good, but a little boring.  When I saw it would be such a landmark number, I consulted my editor in absentia (Sara) and waited for a day off to bake up something spectacular.  One of the bloggers I follow is publishing her cookbook with Knopf and going on a book tour.  Wow.  She actually celebrates Jewish holidays and made this amazing challah.  Some of my lovely work friends who celebrate Jewish holidays and I were discussing what would likely be on the table this Saturday and of course there will be challah.  

At my house we just have a fine appreciation for challah.  Especially honey challah made into french toast or a bread pudding.  And at my house you can't say "challah" without someone following with, "Holla!".  Duh.  Now that I have made my first loaf of challah I think it will make delicious toast.  I don't have the heart to soak it in milk and eggs and make it into french toast.  It has a fig filling (tastes just like a Fig Newton's middle if it was freshly made in your own kitchen) so I'll serve it with orange marmalade.  Mmmmmm.  It wasn't too much work, it was just too much work for using as day old bread in french toast.  I used my KitchenAid stand mixer to knead the dough and the braiding was a fun challenge.  As always, the hardest part about baking bread is the clean-up.  All the glutinous dough bits that get all sticky and all the flour on the floor.  Maybe that's just me, but I have a little clean-up to do.

If you observe Rosh Hashanah like dear Amanda and Aviva at lululemon, enjoy your holiday with your families.  I will be observing a football game in West Lafayette.  Maybe I'll take some challah for breakfast if it makes it until Saturday. 

Fig and Olive Oil Challah

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 C plus 1 tsp honey
1/3 C olive oil, plus more for oiling bowl
2 large eggs
2 tsp flaky sea salt or 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (I used King Arthur Flour's bread salt)
4 C all-purpose flour plus more for kneading and rolling

1 C stemmed and coarsely chopped dried figs
1/4 tsp orange zest
1/4 C fresh orange juice
1/8 tsp sea salt
couple of grinds of black pepper

one egg

Stand mixer directions:  In a measuring cup whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 C warm water (110-116 degrees) and let stand for about 5 minutes until foamy.  In the mixer bowl combine yeast mixture with remaining honey, 1/3 C olive oil and 2 eggs.  Add the salt and flour and mix until dough starts to hold together.  Switch the paddle for the dough hook and run on low speed for 5-8 minutes checking to see if additional flour is needed (my dough was very sticky, I either missed 1/2 a cup of flour or the humidity or something required more flour to get the ball to come together and stay that way).  Rest the dough briefly on a cutting board and oil your mixer bowl for rising.  Place your dough back in the oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cover with a tea towel and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size.  

Hand mixing directions:  Proof the yeast as directed above.  Mix the wet ingredients with a whisk then add salt and flour.  Mix with a large wooden spoon or spatula until it starts to come together.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.  Let rise in oiled bowl as directed above.

While dough is rising, make fig filling.  In a small saucepan, combine figs, orange zest, 1/2 C water, orange juice, salt and a couple grinds of black pepper.  Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally until figs are soft and tender but mixture is still a little saucy, or about 10 minutes.  Process mixture with stick blender, food processor or blender until it is a fine paste.  Cool.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  After dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it in half.  Place one half on the baking sheet to wait.  Roll out the other half to a big more or less rectangular shape (mine was about 12 x 18 inches).  Spread half of filling over the dough leaving edges clean.  My filling was so thick I just distributed it the best I could and it was fine.   Roll up the dough into a long, tight log pressing the edges sealed.  Gently stretch the roll as wide as you think you can into a rope.  Mine got to almost 24 inches, but kept shrinking (again, not glorious but it worked).  Divide rope in half and set aside.  Repeat with remaining dough and filling so you have four ropes.  

Now it's time to weave!  Arrange two ropes in each direction perpendicular to each other, like a tic-tac-toe board.  Weave them so one is over and the other is under where they all meet in the middle.  Now you have something like a linear octopus with 8 legs.  Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move the legs to the right jumping the leg it crosses.  Take the legs that sat still and originally  were on the right and jump each of them over the leg next to them but this time go to the left.  Repeat if you have extra length.  I got to repeat just once by really stretching my legs as I wove them.  Tuck ends under loaf and form the braided loaf into a round shape.  Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet.  

Beat wash egg until smooth and brush over challah.  Let loaf rise for another hour, but start your oven heating to 375 degrees about 45 minutes into this second rise.  Before baking, brush again with egg wash.  Sprinkle with additional salt or maybe sugar and bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.  Check the loaf for bronzing.  It will get golden brown.  Mine needed a loose foil covering after about 20 minutes.  The internal temperature of the loaf should be 195 degrees, but honestly I've never tested my bread with a thermometer.  If it really starts smelling delicious, it's probably about done.  

proofing yeast

dough in oiled bowl

figs, zest, orange juice and etc ready to simmer

fig filling ready to process

my filling which I wish was a bit thinner

dough after first rise

"spreading" the filling

rolling the first rope

this is where we begin the weave
(remember when you could make a chair with your arms
for someone to climb aboard, it looked like this but sturdier)

after second rise and given a second egg wash



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