So, one Friday night a couple weeks ago, I came home with the intense desire to whip up some challah.
This was a particularly unusual desire, as a) I had never made or even eaten challah before, and b) I have a propensity toward screwing up homemade bread, unless it is baked from my
bible Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book.
I’d been eyeing up the Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah in my Smitten Kitchen cookbook, the other book on my kitchen counter that is ripped at the corners of the paper cover, dusted with a thin coating of all-purpose flour, and marked every page or three with a chocolatey/saucy/doughy fingerprint.
I had no figs, but I did have chocolate chips, and I ventured that I could make anything taste good with a healthy sprinkle of them, so I pulled my bag of flour from the pantry and my KitchenAid stand mixer to the centre of the granite countertop and got to work.
This bread was the sort of thing that made me regret the thirty-one years of my life I’ve miserably suffered without its flaky crumb, centre moistened by melted chocolate and caramel-coloured, sea salt-speckled crust that melts on your tongue in a flavour burst so utterly welcome when contrasted with the richness of the dough. It made me feel deeply sorry for all my grain-free, paleo comrades, and delighted, as butter slipped into the long, narrow air pockets of my carefully braided bread, that I have not followed in their footsteps.
We sliced and buttered and then tore chunks off of this bread as Friday night darkened around us and we went about the routine of dinner, stories, bath time and bedtime. By Saturday morning, though it’s slightly drier, tougher texture would have made dreamy French toast, there were but a few chocolate streaked pieces left on the butcher block, to be eaten hastily with a slurp of morning coffee.
- 2 1/4 teaspoons traditional yeast
- 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey
- 2/3 cup warm water
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ~1 cup chocolate chips
- 1 large egg
- Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
- Whisk the yeast, 1 teaspoon of the honey and warm water in the bowl of your stand mixer and let the yeast sit, or proof, for about 5 minutes, or until it's foamy.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and, using the dough hook attachment, mix until well combined into a sticky dough - about 8 minutes.
- (you can also do this by hand with a bowl, a spoon, and 5-10 minutes of kneading on a floured countertop)
- Coat a bowl with olive oil to prevent sticking, and transfer the dough to the bowl, covering with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise about 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.
- When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured countertop and cut it in half. Roll the first half out into a rectangle and sprinkle the chocolate chips over it. Roll the dough into a tight rope. Very carefully stretch the rope of dough as far as you think you can from each end, and cut this longer rope in half. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
- For an excellent visual depiction of how to assemble the challah into a braided beauty, visit the recipe link to Smitten Kitchen on this recipe card. She does it much better than I.
- Once you've formed your challah, place it on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Beat the egg and brush half of it over the dough. Let the challah rise another hour.
- Preheat your oven to 375F. Before baking the challah, brush the remaining egg over the dough and sprinkle the top with sea salt.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, until deeply brown. If your challah is getting too dark, cover it loosely with aluminum foil for the remainder of the bake. The challah is done when a thermometer inserted into the centre of the dough reads 195F.