Last year, I saw a post on The Smitten Kitchen for Fig, Olive Oil & Sea Salt Challah that simply captivated me.
It sounded wonderful and looked absolutely beautiful. I decided to try a variation on it for the High Holidays this year using dried dates (since I still have so many from our trip to Iran in June).
The date filling is delicious, dates and orange – a perfect combination!
Although it looks rather complicated, both the making of the challah and the braiding are fairly straight-forward and simple.
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet — 1/4 ounce or 7 grams) active dry yeast
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs (from Farmer Kim)
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pitted and roughly chopped dried dates
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest, or more as desired
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Few grinds black pepper
1 large egg
Coarse 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. 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 until dough begins to hold together. Switch to a dough hook, and run at low speed for 5 to 8 minutes. 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.
Meanwhile, make date paste: In a small saucepan, combine the dates, zest, 1/2 cup water, juice, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the dates are soft and tender, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, and let cool to lukewarm. Process date 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 dates: 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 rectangle. Spread half the date 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 and divide it in half. Repeat with remaining dough and date filling.
Weave your challah: 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 (or in my case, not-quite-round).
Transfer the dough to a parchment-cover heavy baking sheet. 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.
Bake your loaf: Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 45 minutes. Check the loaf after about 20 – 25 minute, if it starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time. The very best way to check for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer — the center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.
Cool loaf on a rack before serving. Enjoy!
Makes one large loaf.