Recipe: Date-filled Challah
This is the bread we make for breakfast for Christmas every year. The best thing about it? I can make it the weekend before, stick it in the freezer, and then the morning of, while the boys are ripping paper off gifts, I can pull it out, and then when the presents are opened, we all have toasted (super yummy!) challah. Depending on the weather, you might need more flour. And, if you feel like it, you can fill it with whatever you want (e.g. nutella, fruit, cheese, pesto, etc), or with nothing at all.
Happy holidays and enjoy your present unwrapping frenzy!
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons malt or sugar
20 ounces (570 grams) flour (you can do half white wheat, if you’d like)
9 ounces water
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the bowl
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
20 ounces (570 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (5 1/2 ounces or 155 grams) stemmed and roughly chopped dried dates
⅛ -1/ 2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup -1/2 cup water
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Toasted walnuts 1/2 cups - 3/4 cups, chopped finely
1 large egg
1. Mix together yeast, malt and ½ of the flour and water. Let sit overnight or at least 8 hours.
2. Next day, add olive oil, eggs and remaining flour. Knead until well combined and smooth. Let sit 3 hours or until double.
3. Meanwhile, make date paste: In a small saucepan, combine the dates, 1/2 cup water, and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, and let cool to lukewarm. Set aside to cool.
4. Insert date filling: 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 and totally imperfect rectangle (really, the shape doesn’t matter). Spread half the date filling evenly over the dough, stopping short of the edge. Sprinkle with half the nuts. Roll the dough into a long, tight log, trapping the filling within. Then gently stretch the log as wide as feels comfortable (I take mine to my max counter width, a pathetic three feet), and divide it in half. Repeat with remaining dough and fig filling.
5. 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.
6. Transfer the dough to a parchment-cover heavy baking sheet, or, if you’ll be using a bread stone, a baker’s peel. 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.
7. Bake your loaf: Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash. Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 40 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if yours 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.
8. Cool loaf on a rack before serving.