Sunday, September 23, 2012
I definitely was supposed to have been born Jewish. Or at least have a bunch of Jewish friends or something to make my weird obsession legit. Well I do have several, so that makes me feel a little better I guess. Or f*** it, why can’t I just love their food and traditions?!
I’ve made lots of Jewish foods over the years – apricot babka, latkes, hamentashen (several times trying to get the dough to taste the way I want!), honey cake (epic fail, or is it just not good?), brisket, etc. Never challah though. While my mom is a phenomenal bread maker, it always intimidates me, even though one of the absolute best feelings (in the kitchen) is kneading dough with your hands. It’s soft, has great elasticity and smells so good. You can work out some aggression or angst on the dough if necessary too!
I found this recipe for fig challah a couple weeks ago and I knew I had to make it soon. It seemed like the perfect baking challenge for me in my new kitchen. And the result? Success!! I had a lot going on in the kitchen yesterday and I added way more orange zest than the recipe called for. When I tried the filling it was all I could taste, so I added a few prunes to try to regain a little sweetness. I think it worked out well – the citrus flavor came through but wasn’t at all overpowering and the fig flavor was strong as well. The bread itself? So good. It had a nice crumb – soft, chewy, slightly flaky crust and while it was a teeny tiny bit dry for my taste, it was nothing a little butter or honey couldn’t fix. Definitely not reach-for-some-milk-quick kind of dry.
I’ll be making this again, for sure, despite the tricky braiding process – I mean, check out the pictures – gorgeous!! Worth every minute of effort. Bring it Joan Nathan. (Ok, so maybe that’s a little aggressive)
2 ¼ tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
¼ cup plus 1 tsp honey
⅔ cup warm water (110-116 degrees)
⅓ cup olive oil plus a little more for the bowl
2 large eggs
2 tsp flaky sea salt such as maldon – I used fleur de sel
4 cups AP flour
1 cup stemmed and roughly chopped dried figs – I used a combination of calimyrna and black mission
½ cup water
⅛ tsp freshly grated orange zest
¼ cup orange juice – I just squeezed the orange I had zested, no idea how much juice it was
⅛ sea salt
Few grinds black pepper
1 large egg, beaten
Sea salt for sprinkling – I also used coarse sparkling sugar for sprinkling
See Smitten Kitchen’s website for instructions and excellent photos of the braiding process: