The first time that I made bread it was a total disaster, it didn’t rise, it didn’t taste very good, but boy, was it exciting. I find it fascinating to watch the yeast activate and froth up, and the dough rise and transform into something completely different. It really is an amazing process to watch and you realize how ‘alive’ your food is. It’s like magic!
Ever since that first time, I have attempted a number of different types of bread. One of the most fun and satisfying is to make homemade challah. For those of you who haven’t had Challah before, it is very soft and sweet (for a savoury bread) and, in my books, it really can’t be beat for french toast. And I will have to admin that the primary reason for me to make this bread was to use it for french toast over the weekend.
While plain Challah is great, Smitten Kitchen introduced me to the idea of stuffing your french toast with various pastes or adding fruit to it. I have seen raisin Challah before, but nothing as creative as fig and sea salt, which this loaf is a riff off of. I used Smitten’s base recipe (basically unchanged) for the bread but changed up the filling. The blackberry filling is subtly sweet and tangy and adds a nice twist to the bread. You can easily substitute another berry.
Challah with Blackberry Filling
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
If your yeast doesn’t froth up in the first step, please start over. It probably means that the yeast that you are using is too old and your bread will not rise! I have made the mistake in the past of ignoring the fact that this first step doesn’t work properly and end up with a very sad looking ‘bread’ at the end of everything.
I’ve included a number of photos below to guide you through the making and shaping of the bread. Personally, I found it all very confusing the first time, but let me assure you, even if it is not braided ‘properly’ it will taste just as good!
*Make this while your bread is rising for the first time.
2 cinnammon sticks
1/4 cup water
1/8 cup fresh orange juice
2 strips of orange peel
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Put all ingredients in a small saucepan. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. The mixture does not have to be thick and jammy, but you should be able to trace a line with a wooden spoon through the mixture and have it hold for a second.
Cool down mixture to before filling the bread. You can speed this up by putting it in the freezer for 10 minutes.
8g active dry yeast
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey
2/3 cup warm water
1/3 cup olive oil plus a bit to coat a bowl
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups (500g) all purpose flour
Add the remaining honey, oil, eggs and salt to the yeast mixture and whisk until incorporated.
Add flour slowly, incorporating as you go. You do not want to add too much flour, you just want a shaggy dough to form. Use the last bit of flour to flour your counter top to ensure that the dough does not stick while you kneed. I like to use the last bit of flour to flour my counter instead of adding more to ensure that I am using the most minimal amount of flour possible.
While the dough is rising, make your blackberry filling, so that it has time to cool down before you fill the bread.
Once the dough has doubled in sized, remove from bowl and cut in two equal pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll out one of the pieces in a large rectangle shape. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Spread half of the blackberry filling in the middle of the rectangle, leaving two inches of space around so that it doesn’t squish out everywhere. Roll your rectangle into a a long rope, with the filling inside. Stretch your rope as long as you can without the dough ripping (mine was about 2.5-3 feet long). Set aside and repeat with the second half of dough.
Cut both of your ropes of dough in two so that you have four equal pieces of dough.
Take two of the ropes and lay them next to each other. Take the third rope and weave it between the other two (lay it on top of the rope on the left and under the rope on the right). Take the last rope and do the same, but in the opposite way (lay it under the rope on the left and under the one on the right).
You will now have eight rope-ends of dough. There will be four ends that come out from under the plus sign in the middle (the right hand rope-end of each pair), take this end and bring it over the end to the right of it. Repeat for all four rope-ends. Now take the rope end that you just went over (originally the left of the pairs) and bring it over the rope directly to the left of it. Repeat until you have run out of dough.
Once you run out of dough, tuck the ends under your bread. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Apply an egg wash and let rise for another hour. About 45 minutes into the rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Add a final eggwash before placing your bread in the oven for 40-45 minutes.
After 15-20 minutes of baking, you may want to add aluminum foil to the top of the bread if it is getting dark too fast (I always have to do this, otherwise my bread burns). Once it is cooked (you will know when the bread sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom; also, you can press on the top and if it is too mushy it probably needs some extra cooking).
Remove your bread from the oven and let cool completely on a cooling rack before cutting into it.
Serve with butter or make some delicious french toast out of it!