For the challah
½ cup lukewarm filtered water, plus 1/4 to ½ cup filtered water
1/4 cup sugar
1½ packets (3/8 ounce) active dry yeast
Just less than 9 ounces (scant 2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
Just less than 9 ounces (scant 2¼ cups) spelt flour
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for proofing
2 tablespoons honey
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg for the egg wash
2 to 3 teaspoons flaked sea salt, for garnish
For the filling
About 8 ounces fig jam, or as needed
1 pint (6 ounces) fresh figs, stemmed and cut into ¼-inch dice (may substitute 1 ½ cups dried figs, coarsely chopped)
For the challah: Whisk together the lukewarm water, ½ teaspoon of the sugar and all the yeast in a liquid measuring cup. Cover tightly with plastic wrap; let stand for about 20 minutes, until a head of bubbles forms and the mixture increases in volume.
Combine the flours, the remaining sugar and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough-hook attachment; beat on low speed for about 10 seconds, then add the yeast mixture, the ¼ cup of oil, the honey and 1 egg. Gradually add the remaining ¼ to ½ cup water (as needed); the dough will seem a bit wet initially. Beat for 10 minutes (low), during which time the dough will firm up and become elastic; stop once or twice to work the dough down the hook as needed.
Use some oil to generously grease a proofing bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a non-drafty place for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in volume.
Lightly flour a work surface. Uncover the dough and plop it out onto the surface. Use a bench scraper or large knife to divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Working with one at a time, roll out each portion to a rectangle that's about 12 inches long and 8 inches wide, checking to make sure it isn't sticking to the surface.
Use an offset spatula to spread one-quarter of the fig jam over each rolled-out portion of dough, leaving a ½-inch margin at the edges. Scatter one-quarter of the figs over the jam on each one. Starting with the long edge of the dough that's closest to you, tuck and roll the dough, making sure to blend in the seam at the end. The 4 filled ropes of dough should be the same length and of even thickness, so adjust them as needed.
Line them up with one set of ends facing you on the counter (north-south). Pinch together the four filled ropes at the top. Start to braid them: Starting with the rope on the far right, place it over the rope just to its left, then under the next one, then over the final one on the far left. Continue to braid in that way -- over, under, over, always working with the rope on the far right -- until you run out of length. Pinch together the bottom ends; tuck under the ends at the top and bottom of the braid.
Plump the challah along its length, cupping it gently from top to bottom with both of your hands. Do not squeeze/plump the challah from both tips, like an accordion; you want it to stay long.
Roll the bottom end of the braided challah like a snail, inward. Keep turning the rest of the challah inward until you achieve a round challah. Tuck the top edge (the outer edge of the looped challah) under the round.
Support the underside of the woven round as you transfer the dough to the pan or baking sheet. Tuck and shape it as needed. Cover with a clean dish towel; let it proof in a non-drafty place for 30 to 40 minutes. Do not overproof, or the shape of the challah may be adversely affected.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (If you like, set the proofing pan of dough atop the range while the oven preheats below.)
Once the dough has proofed a second time, beat the remaining egg well in a cup. Brush the top of the dough with the beaten egg, making sure not to let the egg drip down the sides (or the bread might stick to the sides of the pan). Immediately sprinkle with the flaked sea salt (to taste).
Bake (middle rack) for 50 minutes or until nicely browned and fragrant, rotating the bread from front to back halfway through the baking time. Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack; let it cool for 20 to 30 minutes before removing the pan's springform ring and bottom (if using). Cool the bread completely (keeping it on its parchment) before serving or storing.
Makes 12 servings
Notes: Spelt brings a rich, earthy quality to this braided holiday bread, filled with fig jam and chopped fresh figs. It's nice to cut this challah into long slices, which also makes for great toast.
Using a 9½-to-10-inch springform pan will help the bread keep its shape, but a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet will work, too.
Nutrition | Per serving: 310 calories, 6 g protein, 57 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 540 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 25 g sugar
From Shulie Madnick
© 2015, The Washington Post