The name of this blog is meant to be nonsensical. I hope it’s easy to remember, but it doesn’t hold any real significance. I do like vegetables, like carrots. I also really like dessert, like cake. I more often eat and cook the former, but I mostly daydream about the latter. And I really, really love things that fall somewhere in the middle, with spicy, salty, or sour elements to balance the sweetness.
So, what does this have to do with challah? I know it’s bread and totally not dessert because otherwise it would be pigeonholed as something to have after dinner and I most certainly endorse it as a part of any (read: every) meal. But I mentioned it because I knew immediately, from the moment I dreamed it up, that I would love this challah. It’s the sweetest, softest, and most flavorful challah I’ve ever had. The dough is enriched with eggs, honey, and olive oil — already the makings of a fantastic challah — but the ribbons of bittersweet orange marmalade and a breadth of earthy saffron take it to another level. It’s rich and complex. The sprinkle of crunchy sea salt at the end keeps the sweetness in check.
I wouldn’t try to pass this off as your standard challah. It’s challah pushed to an extreme. I’ve been calling it Spanish challah in my head, for the bitter Seville oranges used in the marmalade and the saffron my brother brought back from studying abroad in Madrid. Walking around Seville and Cordoba last October, I saw lots of the unripe green oranges hanging from decorative trees. The guidebooks warned that even if they had been ripe, they wouldn’t have made a very good snack since they are unpleasantly bitter and sour in their natural state. But they shine when cooked down into fragrant, sweet-with-a-hint-of-bitterness marmalade, which means I can be reminded of those trees every time I look in the fridge.
This challah is probably most at home at breakfast or brunch. It’s absolutely incredible warm or toasted with coconut oil and a sprinkle of salt. Of course, it makes excellent French toast.
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads, loosely packed
- ⅔ cup boiling water
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- ¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon honey
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt or kosher salt
- 4 cups flour
- ⅔ cup orange marmalade
- Crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle or your fingers. Pour boiling water over the saffron and allow it to steep until the water has cooled to feel very warm but not hot. Whisk in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of honey until completely dissolved. Set the mixture aside for about 5 minutes, by which time bubbles should be formed on the surface.
- Combine the yeast mixture, remaining honey, olive oil, and 2 eggs in a large bowl or stand mixer. Add the salt and flour and mix until the dough holds together. Knead on a floured counter or with a dough hook on low speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer to an oil coated bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set the dough in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
- Turn the dough out on a floured surface and cut in half. Roll one half into a large rectangle and spread half of the marmalade evenly over the surface, leaving a one-inch border on all sides. Starting on one of the long sides, roll the dough into a tight log. Stretch the log until it’s about 3 feet long and cut in half. Repeat with the other half of the dough and marmalade.
- (Consult the pictures above to see how the dough should look at each stage of the weaving. Know that it will taste good no matter how lopsided it turns out.) Place two pieces of dough parallel to each other on a piece of parchment paper. Place the other two pieces perpendicular to the first two, to form an eight-legged dough creature. Weave the top piece through the bottom ones, to make a tight square. Take the four legs sticking out from underneath the central square and jump them over the legs to their right. Take the legs that were just jumped and jump them in the other direction. Repeat there jumps until you run out of dough and tuck the ends underneath to form a round. Transfer the loaf to a baking sheet or pan, using the parchment paper to lift it.
- Beat the remaining egg until smooth and brush over the loaf. Let the challah rise for another hour. When appropriate, preheat the oven to 375 degrees
- Brush the challah with the egg wash a second time and sprinkle with flaky salt. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, covering it with foil if it begins to brown too quickly. The best way to know when your challah is done it to check the center of the loaf with an instant-read thermometer; pull it at 195 degrees.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen