Fig Challah Bread — Take Three

As a rule, there’s not much better than freshly baked bread (and the delightfully comforting, house-filling scent that comes along with it). This fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah that Smitten Kitchen recommended? Not an exception to that rule. (And come on — how could I resist giving bread that has a fig/orange zest layer a try?)

Truth be told, this was my third attempt at this recipe. The first two times, I couldn’t get the yeast to rise at the very beginning of the process, but today all ingredients were feeling cooperative.

I’ve only made bread a handful of times, and definitely need more practice in the art, but today’s attempt turned out pretty delicious — albeit not quite as lovely as the Smitten Kitchen version.

Ingredients (for bread)

  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

Ingredients (for fig filling)

  • 1 cup stemmed and roughly chopped dried figs
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • Black pepper, to taste

Ingredients (for egg wash)

  • 1 large egg
  • Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Directions

  • Whisk the yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup hot water and let it stand for a few minutes, until it becomes 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.
  • If you’re like me and don’t have a dough hook attachment for your mixer, at this point turn the mixture out onto a floured counter and knead it for about seven minutes, until a smooth and elastic dough forms. Transfer the dough to an olive oil (or non-stick cooking spray) coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for one hour, or until almost doubled in size.
  • While the dough rises, make your fig filling. In a small saucepan, combine the figs, zest, 1/2 cup water, juice, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm. Process fig mixture in a food processor until it resembles a paste and set aside to cool.
  • Once the dough has risen, place it on a floured counter top and divide it in half. Stretch each half into a wide rectangle (doesn’t have to be exact) and spread with fig filling, careful to be sure the filling stops short of the edge. (I made the mistake of adding too much filling because I wanted to use it all, which makes the next step rather tricky and messy.)

  • Here’s where my attempt differed from the Smitten Kitchen version. She suggested rolling each dough rectangle into a long, tight log, trapping the filling within. then gently rolling the log as wide as feels comfortable and divide it in half. Then she was able to braid hers into a lovely intertwined loaf. Because I added too much fig filling, I ended up with two rather short fig-filled pieces of dough which I just wrapped around each other like a two-strand “braid.” It wasn’t nearly as pretty, but it tasted just fine! (Next time I’ll try to go for the more elaborate loaf.)

  • Transfer the dough to a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Beat egg and brush half the egg over the bread. Let rise for another hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and brush dough with the remaining egg wash. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 35-40 minutes. If the bread starts getting dark too quickly, cover with foil to keep baking even.
  • While baking, enjoy the to-die-for aroma that will begin wafting throughout your kitchen. Cool baked bread on a rack — but I’d also strongly recommend trying a slice (or two) of just-out-of-the-oven challah (with a bit of butter).

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