Challah pairs with almost any food and the umami flavor of za'atar blends beautifully with both challah and the sweet-tartness of apricots, so think of this recipe as a special goes-with-all bread. Certainly this is a beautiful Shabbat bread, but it also makes a wonderful grilled cheddar cheese sandwich.
The beautiful presentation of this bread may make you think that its even more complicated than a multi-strand braided challah. Actually it's easier than a braid, based on the way a babka is assembled.
Challah, like most yeast breads can be made in one four-five hour session or adjusted to be made in two separate baking sessions. The key to baking delicious bread is not to rush the dough - if you have no time to wait, place the dough in the fridge to "retard" the proofing and just hold off finishing the bread. Time gives the dough time to proof, improving the flavor and texture. Challah is more or less an egg and oil enriched white bread, among the simpler breads to bake. The dough is easy and forgiving to work with. This bread is "layered" - various strands of dough are filled and wrapped around each other. Giving the dough ample time to proof will help avoid uneven rising in the oven with areas that are left hollow with air spaces.
The bread is mixed, kneaded, proofed and shaped like any loaf bread. You can take a break and chill it while proofing which will, in essence, give you the opportunity to take an 8-12 hour break before resuming working with the dough. The unusual effect of this bread - where the filling rises to the top and almost looks to be inside-out is achieved by cutting the length of rolled dough ropes before twisting. The technique is shown in the short video below.
Measuring cups, spoons
Stand mixer or hand mixer with large bowl
Adequate work surface
Flexible bench knife/scraper
3 baking pans: this dough will make 3 (5x9) loaves or round cake pans (the dough will make 2 huge challahs)
8 oz (2 scant cups) white whole wheat flour
8 oz (2 scant cups) bread flour
4.5 tsp (2 packages) instant yeast
12 oz (1 1/2c) warm water - see posting on measuring ingredients and yeast .
4 large eggs
2.5 tsp kosher salt
4 oz (1/2 c) olive oil
And 5 (1/2 c) honey
20 (5 scant cups) all purpose flour (plus another 1 oz if needed because the dough looks very wet)
small amount of all purpose flour for dusting your work surface
4 oz minced dried apricots
4 oz apricot jam or marmalade, slightly warmed (to make it spreadable)
1 oz (4 Tbsp) za'atar mixture *
2 oz (6 Tbsp) olive or other vegetable oil
1 oz (3 Tbsp) vegetable oil mixed with 1 oz (3 Tbsp) honey - for glazing the breads before baking
4 oz (1/2 c) olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
4 oz (1.2 c) honey
* Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture, readily available in larger kosher sections, Middle Eastern grocery stores. One on-line source is Pereg Spices.
1. Take a moment, pre-measure the ingredients into small bowls. Have them at the ready.
2. Add the white whole wheat flour, bread flour and yeast to a large standing mixer bowl or a large mixing bowl. Add the warm water, pouring it directly over the yeast, the mixture will almost immediately begin to bubble a bit. Mix at low speed until the flour is hydrated, between 2-3 minutes.
3. Combine the eggs with the salt. Add the eggs, honey, oil and eggs to the dough. Mix at a slow speed for two to three minutes until you have a fully wet shaggy mass.
4. Add the all purpose flour in 2 or 3 additions. Mixing at slow speed. When all of the flour has been incorporated the dough will still look sticky. Resist the temptation to add more flour. Mix at speed 4 (low medium) for 3-4 minutes. The dough should pull away from the side of the bowl. If the dough is still sticking, add no more than 1/4c all purpose flour and continue to mix.
5. Gather with a silicone bread scraper, grease the sides of the bowl and top of the dough with 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil. Turn a few times until covered with a sheer glisten of oil. Cover with plastic wrap.
7. Let proof (rise) for 45-60 minutes. If the dough has not doubled, let it rise for another 15 minutes. If you are an inexperienced baker and you want to check yourself, push your finger into the spongy warm dough. If the imprint stays and isn't immediately covered up by dough falling over the hole made by your finger, the dough is ready. I have found that during the first proofing if you allow the bread to proof a bit too long, no harm will come to the finished product. Gently knead the dough and de-gas, it will perform well for the 2nd proofing.
9. Combine the diced fruit with warm jam or marmalade.
10. Gently de-gas and turn the dough. Divide into three pieces, of approximately 21-23 oz each. Place the three divided pieces of dough on a work surface dusted with flour.
11. Prepare the baking pans by spraying generously with spray oil and dusting with corn meal or flour.
12. Divide each third in half. You'll be working with 2 pieces at a time. Cover the other pieces of dough with a damp cloth to keep from drying.
13. Dust a rolling pin and roll out one portion of dough into a rectangle, approximately 10 x 5. If the dough becomes difficult to roll out, let it rest for 5-6 minutes and then continue.
14. Spread 1/3 of the Za'atar mixture thinly covering the rolled out dough. Beginning at one of the long ends of the rectangle, roll the dough, creating a log of filled dough. Tuck in za'atar that may run out the ends.
15. Set the za'atar roll aside and repeat the process, using 1/3 of the apricot-jam mixture.
16. Line up the two rolls, Cut a deep slit down the center of each, exposing the layers of dough and filling. Be careful to not cut through the dough completely.
17. Overlap the two rolls at one end, pinch together. Twist each log over the over to form a twisted loaf. Place the twisted loaf into the prepared pan.
18. Repeat this process twice, making three loaves of dough. Let proof in a draft free place until about doubled in size - approximately 45- 60 minutes.
19. About 15 minutes before the 2nd proof period is over, preheat the oven to 380 degrees. Combine the oil and honey in a small bowl and lightly brush the proofed loaves with the mixture.
20. I can bake the three breads in my oven at 370 degrees, however, I prefer to bake no more than 2 loaves at a time. Slip two loaves in the oven (or three loaves if you oven is large enough and you have had success baking three at a time). Set the third loaf aside if you are not immediately baking. Don't cover the dough in the pan, it will stick to any covering you place on it.
21. Lower the heat to 360 - higher heat will cause the honey in the glaze to brown to quickly. Check after 20- 25 minutes, if they are in fact browning too quickly, cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil. Bake for approximately 10- 15 minutes more.
22. This is a dense bread with wet fillings, it will take a bit longer to bake than traditional challah. The crust will be golden deep brown and shiny. If you like to measure internal temperature of your breads, the center should be approximately 190 degrees. Touch the top and press lightly, the bread should feel firm.
22. Remove from the oven and cool the breads completely in the pans. If the breads stick to the sides of the pan when you are ready to remove them, slide a silicone spatula or knife along the sided of the bread and turn out.
Store the challah loosely covered for a day or two at room temperature. Otherwise, double wrap them and store in the freezer for up to 4 - 6 weeks. Remove the frozen dough from the bags prior to defrosting.
Enjoy other Bread and Babka challah recipes including My Challah , Apple Stuffed Challah or Sourdough Honey Challah