Growing up, my mom had a fascination with Jewish culture. We are not Jewish by any means, but we would go to Shabbat services, along with yearly celebrations of Pur’im, Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and (my favorite) Hanukkah to name a few. Though each of these celebrations have very different remembrances and meaning, one thing that they all had in common was this: there was ALWAYS food. Always. (I probably shouldn’t say that that was my only favorite part about it all, but it wouldn’t be too far from the truth.)
I love cultures that center most of their gatherings around food. Maybe it’s because I love to eat, or maybe it’s because I love to cook… But I mostly love the significance of simultaneously feeding your body while feeding your soul with fellowship with other friends, family, strangers, and acquaintances.
This recipe is based off of a traditional Jewish braided bread, made for Shabbat and for special holidays. Traditionally, there are 12 strands of the braid to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and those are divided to make two loaves made of 6 strands each. This represents the double portion of manna that the Israelites would gather before the sabbath when they were wandering through the desert, and it would feed each family for the day it was made, and the next day (the sabbath) when work was not allowed.
All that to say, this is definitely not a traditional recipe…it’s a little bit of this and that, and also based off of smittenkitchen.com’s Fig Challah recipe. It is mildly sweet and a little salty, but mostly moist and tender and chewy all at the same time. And it’s awesome.
– 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
– 2/3 warm water (110-116 degrees)
– 1/4 cup plus 1 tsp honey
– 1/3 cup olive oil
– 2 large eggs
– 1 1/2 tsp salt
– 4 cups all-purpose to flour
– 1 egg for eggwash
– 4 Tbls butter
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 Tbls cinnamon
In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl, stir together yeast, warm water, and 1 tsp honey. Let stand for 3 minutes, or till foamy. Add and combine remaining honey, olive oil, and eggs. Switch to dough hook (wooden spoon if by hand) and add flour and salt. Mix with dough hook on low for 5-8 minutes, or turn onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Transfer dough to a bowl that has been oiled with olive oil, or remove dough, oil the mixing bowl, place dough back into bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for one hour.
Melt the butter in the microwave. Once the dough has almost doubled, turn out onto a floured surface and divide evenly in half. Roll out the dough in a rectangle roughly 6×12 inches and spread half of the butter evenly and to the edges. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar and spread half of that on the rectangle as well. Roll up by the long edge, and press the edge to seal it. Squeeze and stretch the log to as long as it will go without tearing (about 18 inches). Cut the log in half, and press the open edges together to seal as well. Repeat with second half of dough, so that you have four total logs.
Weave: Place the logs in a tight criss-cross pattern that looks like a tic-tac-toe board, with each log interlaced over the other. Take each piece and lace it over the next clockwise, always folding it over the log that is on top of it. Repeat going counter-clockwise, and keep going until it’s all folded in a nice little loaf. It’s not rocket science…do it however you like so that it ends up in a nice loaf-ish, and the edges are all folded under.
(Photo credit: smittenkitchen.com)
Brush with a beaten egg and let rise for another hour on a thick baking sheet, or on a floured pizza peel/wood cutting board if you are using a baking stone. Preheat the oven to 375* about 15 minutes before it’s finished rising.
Brush again with the egg wash, and put in to bake for 30-40 minutes.
Bake until the inside is around 190* (ie, at LEAST 35 minutes, most likely 40). If the top gets too brown, cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil. It will allow it to keep baking inside without getting too brown on the outside. But do make sure that it gets the beautiful deep brown crust… ahhh. Delightful. Let it cool (any seeping sugar will be very hot and possibly scald you) and then tear off a piece to enjoy.