Seven Species Challah

Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  24 slices (2 loaves total)
Prep Time:  1 hour Resting, RIsing, and Chilling Time:  4 hours Cook Time:  33 minutes

Seven Species Challah

This challah tells a story from the Book of Deuteronomy. When the Israelites crossed from Egypt into the Canaan, the Land of Milk and Honey, they found seven species of food: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey. These seven species continue to be an essential part of the foodways of the entire Levant. The Levant (a geographical and cultural region that includes , in alphabetical order, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, and southern Turkey) takes its name from the French “levant,” or rising—in reference to the sun that rises in the east. The same French word is the root of “levain,” the dough starter. But back to the challah (in case you haven't noticed, I love digressing into my historical geek): this recipe makes use of all seven foods, in an ancient bread-making method that begins with a fermented starter; it gets a boost from modern-day yeast-in-a-packet from the refrigerator case in your supermarket. It’s a hearty, delicious and mildly sweet loaf. Make sure to allow 1½ hours for the first rise and chilling time and an hour for the second rise.

Ingredients

½ cup plus ¾ cup water (see Kitchen Tip)

3¾ teaspoons (1½ envelopes, 11.5 grams) active dry yeast

5 cups (650 to 700  grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting

1 tablespoon (13 grams) granulated sugar

½ cup (65 grams) barley flour

2 teaspoons (10 grams) salt

2 tablespoons mild honey

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

½ cup olive oil

3 large eggs, divided

2 egg yolks

½ cup raisins

½ cup chopped pitted dates

½ cup chopped figs

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a kneading attachment, combine ½ cup warm water, the yeast, and ½ cup flour and mix at low speed to combine. Add the sugar, and mix to combine. Set aside for 5 to 7 minutes while it bubbles.
  2. Add the remaining 4½ cups of all-purpose flour, the barley flour, salt, honey, pomegranate molasses, the remaining ¾ cup water, the olive oil, 2 of the eggs, and the egg yolks, and mix at low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and knead in the mixer for 5 to 6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic and clears the sides of the bowl (it may cling at the bottom). If the dough remains very sticky after a minute or two of kneading, add a little flour, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough just loses its stickiness.
  3. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for about 90 minutes, until almost doubled in size; then refrigerate the dough for about an hour, just to chill it.
  4. The next day, line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Dust a work surface with flour, and place the dough on it. Add the raisins, dates, and figs and knead (see Kitchen Tip) to incorporate. Kneading may get a bit difficult, and if it does, cover with a piece of plastic wrap that has been greased with a little oil or nonstick vegetable oil spray, and set aside for about 10 minutes.
  5. Separate the dough into 6 equal pieces, each weighing about 258 grams. Roll each into a log or rope about 2½ feet long, with one end quite a bit thicker than the other. Grease a large piece of plastic wrap with oil or nonstick vegetable oil spray. Place 3 of the ropes in a container, cover with the oiled plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 15 minutes (see Kitchen Tip).
  6. Line the 3 remaining ropes up, parallel, on a work surface. Starting at the center point of the ropes, braid them, working from the center outward, first toward one end  and then the other side. Place the thick end of the braid in the center of your work surface and coil the braid tightly in a circle. Grease another large piece of plastic wrap with oil or nonstick vegetable oil spray and cover the coiled loaf with it. Proof the dough by placing it on one of the prepared baking sheets and let stand on the countertop for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  7. Remove the 3 remaining ropes from the refrigerator and let rest on the countertop for about 10 minutes. Braid and coil them into a second loaf, re-cover with oiled plastic wrap, and place on the second prepared baking sheet. Let stand on the countertop for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  8. Thirty minutes before the first loaf is finished proofing, preheat the oven to 375°F. Make an egg wash by mixing the remaining egg with about 2 teaspoons water in a small bowl or cup. Remove the plastic wrap from the first loaf and, with a pastry brush, brush it with the egg wash, covering the top and sides and getting in between the grooves. Bake for 32 to 33 minutes, until golden brown. When the second loaf has finished proofing, brush thoroughly with the egg wash and bake for 32 to 33 minutes, until golden brown.

Kitchen Tips

  • The water for your yeast mixture should be between 85° and 95°F. Yeast is a little living creature, and it needs special handling. You need warm water to activate it and get it started eating and bubbling, but if the water is too warm, you’ll kill it and it simply won’t work at all.
  • Kneading is a technique used to develop bread, pastry, and pasta doughs and make them smooth and easy to work. To knead dough, press it down firmly with the heel of your hand, fold it over, rotate a quarter-turn on your work surface (don’t turn it over), and repeat the process.
  • If your oven is big enough to bake two loaves at a time, form one, cover it with plastic, form the other, cover it, and let both stand for 1 hour. Bake both at the same time.
  • This recipe is inspired by Yocheved Hirsch’s Round New Year’s Challah from Nick Maligeri’s book, How to Bake.

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