Fig, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt Challah + bonus french toast

From the Smitten Kitchen

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I purchased some dried figs on a whim earlier last week (this is how all delicious stories begin, right?), and was looking for a recipe to use them in. I was also planning a special treat for dinner, as one night last week it was just Myla and I. This fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah was the perfect solution to both dilemmas. And what better indulgence than homemade french toast with pure Wisconsin maple syrup? I served this french toast with brussels sprouts, of which Myla ate 15 (if you know Myla, you know I underestimated the amount of brussels sprouts to steam) and so I was left with 5 (though few, they were tasty). I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this pairing, except you know, toddlers and nutrition and mommy guilt required me to do so.

This may look fancy, but it is relatively easy to make. I whipped up this bread the day before Nathan left, and this two day old challah made the perfect french toast and was delightfully divine. A fig and orange paste is woven into the rich layers of this lightly salted and browned loaf. The first night, I kept it simple and served it with pure Wisconsin maple syrup, but for our traditional Sunday morning pancake breakfast, I strayed from tradition and made this french toast yet again and served it with ricotta and honey. Both delighted my palate and required two slices to satisfy my taste buds.

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Here goes!

Whisk the yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into warm water, and let it stand for a few minutes, until foamy.

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Mix the wet ingredients with a whisk…

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…then add the salt and flour.

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Mix everything together with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together.

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Turn the mixture out onto a floured counter, and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until a smooth and elastic dough is formed.

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Transfer the dough to an olive-oil coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 hour,

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or until almost doubled in size.

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Meanwhile, make fig paste: In a small saucepan, combine the figs, zest, water, juice, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.

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Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the figs are soft and tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, and let cool to lukewarm.

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Process fig mixture in a food processor until it resembles a fine paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Set aside to cool.

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Insert figs: After your dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured counter and divide it in half.

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Roll the first half of the dough into a wide and totally imperfect rectangle (really, the shape doesn’t matter).

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Spread half the fig filling evenly over the dough, stopping short of the edge.

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Roll the dough into a long, tight log, trapping the filling within.

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Then gently stretch the log as wide as feels comfortable (about 3 feet), and divide it in half. Repeat with remaining dough and fig filling.

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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.

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Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move the leg to their right — i.e., jumping it.

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Take the legs that were on the right and, again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left.

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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. 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.

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Bake your loaf: Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt.

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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.

Cool loaf on a rack before serving.

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Yield: 1 large loaf

Ingredients

Bread

2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast

1/4 c plus 1 tsp honey

2/3 c warm water (110 to 116 degrees F)

1/3 c olive oil

2 large egg

2 tsp flaky sea salt or 1 1/2 tsp table salt

4 c all-purpose flour

Fig FIlling

1 c stemmed and roughly chopped dried figs

1/8 tsp freshly grated orange zest, or more as desired

1/2 c water

1/4 c orange juice

1/8 tsp sea salt

Few grinds black pepper

Egg Wash

1 large egg

Coarse or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Directions

Whisk the yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into warm water, and let it stand for a few minutes, until foamy. Mix the wet ingredients with a whisk, then add the salt and flour. Mix everything together with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together. Turn the mixture out onto a floured counter, and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. Transfer the dough to an olive-oil coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make fig paste: In a small saucepan, combine the figs, zest, water, juice, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the figs are soft and tender, 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 fine paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Set aside to cool.

Insert figs: 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 fig filling evenly over the dough, stopping short of the edge. 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.

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.

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.

Bake your loaf: Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt. 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.

Cool loaf on a rack before serving.

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BONUS RECIPECHALLAH FRENCH TOAST ADAPTED FROM INA GARTEN

Yield: Four slices french toast (from two 3/4″ slices of fig challah)

Ingredients

3 large eggs

1 c whole milk

1 tsp grated orange zest

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 T honey

1/4 tsp kosher salt

Fig challah

Unsalted butter

Vegetable oil

To Serve

Pure maple syrup

-or-

Good raspberry preserves and sifted confectioners’ sugar

-or-

Ricotta and honey

Directions

In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, orange zest, vanilla, honey, and salt. Slice the challah in 3/4-inch thick slices and cut in half. Soak as many slices in the egg mixture as possible for 5 minutes, turning once.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a very large saute pan over medium heat (I used the griddle pan for my middle fifth burner on the cooktop; it was nonstick and I did not need the butter/oil). Add the soaked bread and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. If needed, place the cooked French toast on a sheet pan and keep it warm in a 250 F oven. Fry the remaining soaked bread slices, adding butter and oil as needed, until it’s all cooked. Serve hot with maple syrup, raspberry preserves and confectioners’ sugar, or ricotta and honey.

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Published by

girlkneadsbread

My adventures with bread and the deliciousness of life.

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