For the last four years, I’ve been making challah and giving it to neighbors and friends for Christmas gifts. The cinnamon-scented bread makes great toast for holiday breakfasts, and I usually kept a few extra loaves stashed in my freezer. I had a great recipe from the New York Times that made four gift-sized loaves at once – and left the kitchen smelling fantastic.
This year, that recipe failed me.
The first batch that I made didn’t rise. I tried again, using a new package of yeast and double-checking my measurements. Another bust. Ugh. I have no idea what went wrong. Maybe the recipe didn’t like Pennsylvania?
So I started over with a new challah recipe, this one also from the Times, but more recent. Success on the first try! This challah has a lovely orange scent and is sprinkled with toasted sesame and fennel seeds. It’s just as good as my old recipe, and great for gifts.
The silver lining on the failed batches of bread? They can be repurposed for chocolate bread pudding and french toast.
- 1 1/2 tbs. yeast (2 packages)
- 1 tbs. + 1/3 cup sugar
- zest of two oranges
- 1/2 cup of orange juice (fresh squeezed and strained to remove pulp)
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tbs. salt
- 6 cups unbleached flour, plus more for kneading
- 1 tbs. fennel seeds
- 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
- Dissolve the yeast and 1 tbs. of sugar in a cup of warm water in the bowl of a standing mixer.
- Using the paddle attachment, mix the orange zest, orange juice, and oil into the yeast mixture. Mix in two of the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the salt and sugar.
- Switch to the dough hook attachment, and add the 6 cups of flour, mixing in one cup at a time. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding small amounts of flour as needed until the dough is smooth, elastic, and still slightly stretchy.
- Place the dough in a large greased bowl, then turn it over. Cover the dough with greased plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place for an hour.
- When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Turn the dough onto a floured counter and knead it briefly. Divide the dough in half.
- Roll half of the dough into a rope of about 27 inches. Fold the rope in half and bring the ends of the rope together and twist them to form a spiral. Shape the spiral into a circle, tucking in the ends to make a circular loaf. (See the pictures below.) Repeat with the other half of the dough.
- Place the dough on a parchment-covered baking sheet, and place it in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Meanwhile, whisk the remaining egg with a fork. When the bread is finished rising, brush the tops of the loaves with the egg mixture. Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with the fennel and sesame seeds.
- Bake the loaves for 35-40 minutes, or until the tops of the loaves are golden brown. Cool the loaves on a rack.