As soon as I read Julia Moskin’s A Twist on the Traditional Challah article in the Food section of this week’s New York Times, I knew I was going to try my hand at the recipe. Hanukkah begins this Sunday and ends on Monday, December 14th, on the day of the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting and in this dark time of horrific news and sad commemorations, I welcomed the idea of baking a festive bread that would celebrate light. Also there is something deeply comforting in the shape of this challah. Almost like an embrace.
Noah loved bread but I can’t say for sure he would have liked this one. Kids are funny about seeds. About spices too. He might have though. He was adventurous that way. In any case I dedicate this challah to him because I know that, if not the bread, he would have greatly enjoyed the baking: the weighing of the spices and seeds, the pouring of the water, the whir of the mixer, the addition of yeast and salt, and most of all, at the end, just before baking, the delicate task of painting the loaves with watery egg yolk.
You’ll have no trouble finding the original recipe on the Times’ superb Cooking website under the name Sephardic Challah with Whole Spices. I am not using the exact same name in the post title because I actually ground the spices (I used coriander and anise as well as sesame) after roasting them instead of leaving them whole. Kids are not the only ones who have issues with seeds and I wasn’t sure the crunch of coriander or anise seeds would be a plus.
I made a few other changes:
- Because I love the flavor of the sprouted wheat flour I have been baking with lately, I used it in lieu of 20% of the all-purpose flour. The proportions thus became: 480 g all-purpose flour, 120 g sprouted wheat flour.
- To make the bread a bit richer, I used the two eggs (optional in the original recipe). But I had to add a lot more water than called for. Instead of 120 g, I used 240 g total before the dough became soft and pliable enough. The whole-wheat flour might account for part of that. Also (and despite the fact that yesterday was a rare rainy day here in California), our climate is generally so dry that the flour might just have been thirstier than the one used in New York.
- I burnished the crust a bit more than Moskin seems to have (from the picture). Just because I could. Since I had only used 30 g of honey, burning wasn’t a big concern.
The Man and I both love this challah. Neither too sweet nor too rich, it is a perfect breakfast or mid-afternoon snack bread. As suggested in the article, I would even be tempted to make it again without raisins or honey as an accompaniment to a favorite tajine.
Using Michael Kalanty’s guidelines, I will say this:
- The crust tastes roasted (no surprise there) and a tad sweet, almost caramelized. The sesame adds a surprising and pleasant tahini note.
- The crumb does taste sweet, especially when biting into the occasional raisin, with whiffs of anise and cardamom. Imagine a soft breeze carrying the breath of wild roses into an old walled garden and you will have an idea of how delicate the flavor of the spices is. I would say the spice proportions are spot on and I am glad I ground them.
- I can’t identify the taste of fermentation. It might be masked by the spices. Also the flavors may not have had time to develop since the bread takes so little time to make (less than four hours).
- I do discern the nuttiness of the sprouted wheat flour and like how it complements the sweet and slightly bitter taste of the sesame seeds. I wouldn’t say that the bread showcases the grain though.
- I can’t say I taste the olive oil (even though I used a fruity one). Actually a wonderful buttery fragrance permeated the house as soon as I put the bread in the oven. But once baked it had no buttery undertone whatsoever. At least none that I could pick up.
- The crumb is drier than brioche but more delicate than regular bread (probably because of the eggs). Any leftovers would probably make wonderful French toast on a weekend morning.
Happy Hanukkah to my many Jewish friends, near and far! You are always in my heart.