Monday, October 19, 2009

Jessamyn's Sephardic Challah

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This bread is three-for-three. It's easy to make, despite the braided shape which looks harder than it is, it's stunning to look at, and it's absolutely delicious. The recipe makes two loaves. I took one of them to work, and my co-worker Teddie told me that it was so good she could happily eat the whole loaf. (Although she didn't).
The recipe is from an article in the November edition of Food & Wine called "Inside Hot Bread Kitchen," about - what else? - the bakers at New York's Hot Bread Kitchen, a bakery in Queens. A woman named Jessamyn Waldman founded the bakery as a way to help women immigrants acclimate to the United States, learn English, and provide job opportunities. The article includes recipes for tortillas, gorditas, and Palestinian Spinach pies, but it was the challah that caught my eye. This is Sephardic, not the better-known Ashkenazic challah. I never knew that regular challah was Ashkenazic, but it's worth knowing if only because it gives you a reason for saying Ashkenazic, which is so much fun to say.
This bread uses the direct method, which means more yeast, less time, and, usually, less flavor, but I figured that the caraway and sesame seeds would give it enough flavor to make up for it, and indeed they did. It was supposed to have anise seeds too. I usually like to make a recipe the first time with no additions, subtractions, or substitutions. But there are only a few things I like anise seeds in, and bread isn't one of them. I remember the first time I made Swedish limpa bread, and I had a big argument with myself about whether to use aniseed. My follow-the-directions self won the argument, but my real self wished that she hadn't, so I decided to dump the anise seeds and the devil take the hindmost. If you use "Ashkenazic" and "the devil take the hindmost" in one sentence today, you might (or might not) win a fabulous prize.
Back to bread--you will want to have a heavy-duty mixer for this recipe, since you must knead it by mixer about ten minutes. If you mixed it by hand, I hate to think how long it might take. But after ten minutes, it's an elastic but not sticky mass.

It rises nicely and after just an hour or so, it's ready to stretch into a 30-inch rope.

The rope gets shaped into a coil, with one end of the rope forming the center of the coil. This is much easier than braiding.

Brush the coils with a beaten egg, let sit uncovered for 30 minutes, brush again, and sprinkle more seeds on top.

The double egg glaze gives the bread such shine that it's hard to get a bad picture of it.

But you can make anything look pretty. (Actually, this is so not true!) The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. The bread tasted great fresh from the oven, but most any bread does.

But it also tasted delicious several hours later, as an accompaniment to a pureed root vegetable soup, as toast on Monday morning, and as day-old bread brought into the office, where people were so enthusiastic about the bread that it was finished before the chocolate cake that Jessica brought in from her mother's birthday party. It's just a fine bread to have in your repertoire.


--Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine

3 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
5 cups (780 grams) bread flour
2 1/2 Tblsp. (50 grams) olive oil
2 Tblsp. (40 grams) honey
1 Tblsp. (16 grams) kosher salt
(One egg, for glaze)

1. In a skillet, toast the sesame and caraway seeds for a few minutes over moderate heat. (You may reduce the amount of sesame and caraway seeds and add anise seeds if you like).

2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour and yeast with the olive oil, honey, and water, and mix on low speed until a very soft dough forms. Add the salt and all but 1 Tblsp. of the seeds and mix on medium-low speed, until dough is soft and supple, about 10 minutes.

3. Transfer dough to large oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until dough has doubled, about one hour.

4. Put parchment paper on one large or two small baking sheets. Dust parchment with cornmeal, if desired. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press to deflate. Cut the dough in half and let rest for five minutes. Roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope, and let rest for another five minutes; then roll each rope into a 30-inch rope. Beginning with one end of the coil, which will be the center of the coil, work outwards, forming each rope into a coil. Tuck the end under the coil.

5. Transfer coils to the baking sheet or sheets and cover with plastic wrap for about an hour, until nearly doubled.

6. Preheat oven to 400 F. Whisk the egg with one Tblsp. water. Brush over the loaves and let stand uncovered for 30 minutes. Brush again with egg wash and sprinkle with the reserved seeds. Bake the loaves in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, until they're golden brown. Transfer to racks and let cool completely before slicing.


Melinda said...

Those are stunning! I want to try a piece of that bread. I think this sounds like a good bread for me to make for Boxing Day or New Year's morning.
I love anise seed ground fine. Smells luscious when it is baking. But I agree about biting into a 'ole whole hard anise seed. Not nice.

I haven't seen this recipe in all my million of baking books. Thanks for sharing it because I am going to make it. It looks beautiful and I love beautiful bread!

breadbasketcase said...

It is lovely, isn't it? I like it when I bake bread that looks like it came from a real bakery. You could add ground anise seed, I guess, but it was so good without it! I'm so happy when I find a new recipe I want to make--glad you're going to try it.

jini said...

hey you two.....i love the looks of this bread and the combination of sesame and caraway seeds sounds wonderful nutty and delicious! i think i will be baking it. thank goodness for the wonder of the k stand mixer!!

breadbasketcase said...

What would we do without it? It'd be like going back to the washboard.

Doughadear said...

Can a loaf of bread look any better? Talk about perfection! If I had caraway seeds I'd be making it right now instead of the Heart of Wheat that I have planned for today.

Jenn said...

Marie - I was browsing blogs and stumbled upon this other one. Did not realize you have 2 blogs! Geez woman, you are an AWESOME bread baker. I'm very impressed. I think I might have read somewhere (perhaps on Rose's website) that you are a bread baker but that info has apparently slipped off my mind. This Sephardoc Challah looks super delicious. Btw, I just ordered Rose's Bread Bible from the library. I've borrowed it once but didn't make anything from it - I think it scared me.

Faith said...

All I can say is, those Sephardic women must have had great biceps, because they sure didn't have electric mixers back in the day! This sounds really good- not that different from the Ashkenazic recipe though except for the seeds, and maybe the olive oil is doing something great too- just saw a review of 'Olive Oil Desserts..." by Micki Sannar, that made me want to put olive oil into every cake I could think of...

breadbasketcase said...

I love challah, but I've had some that turned out really ugly. I love this spiral version--so much easier to make.

The Bread Bible can seem intimidating at first, because the recipes are so long, but it's just Rose talking to you, the way she does in the Cake Bible. I think cakes are way harder than bread!

Those Sephardic women probably did other physical stuff that gave them good biceps, triceps, and abs. Have you tried any olive oil cakes? I tried one, and didn't think it was wonderful, but it might just have been that recipe.

Jenn said...

Marie - now that you said that I think you're right. Back when I thought the Bread Bible looks scary, I haven't tried any of Rose's recipe. Now I have so I should give the Bread Bible another shot. Regarding your statement about cakes being hard, I have no doubt that you would be an expert in no time - seeing how you have nailed the bread baking skills :).

Anonymous said...

Like everyone else, I love the look of this bread and now that I am more into bread making I think I will probably have a go at this one too!

niji said...

I know you just said this... but This challah Really is good a day later? The challa (not sephardic) recipe i've useed before is completely delicious, one of the most decadent tasting breads i've ever made, but even 5 hours later it would start tasting dry. To the point where a challah made in the morning and eaten that evening would need a drink of water with every bite. I've stopped making it because of this. It isn't really very fun to make a bread, take it somewhere, and turn into a crazy baker going around saying "Eat the challah now! Now!"
Wild ramblings aside, this recipe sounds wonderful. Thank you for posting it and i look forward to making it. -- Sandy

breadbasketcase said...

It's definitely worth a try.

I took the day-old loaf to work with a little trepidation. Although there are some people at the office who will eat anything, there are others who have actual taste buds, and they all exclaimed over it. (Also, I tried a little piece myself just to make sure). I can't say anything bad about the bread except that the caraway seeds can get stuck in your teeth.

Faith said...


No, I haven't actually tried using olive oil in any cakes yet, so it's still theoretical. But I love Italian pastries and they seem to use olive oil in baking- I trust them. I don't think I'd try it for a flaky pie crust though.

And Sandy-
You don't need to worry about challah getting stale, you know why...FRENCH TOAST! It is the best bread for that...:)

pinknest said...

You had me at challah. Ashkenazic or not.

Jenn said...

Marie - you should come check out my blog. I made 2 breads this weekend - Olive Bread and Raisin Pecan Bread - from the Bread Bible. Also made cupcakes. Yes I basically didn't leave the kitchen!

Jenn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenn said...

oh the address is:

Mendy Greenstein said...


This looks wonderful. Maybe I will try this soon. My mother is sephardic and we have a wonderful round middle-eastern cracker with caraway seeds called Ka'ak that we love. Allspice, Tamarind, Caraway, Za'atar, these are the some of the sephardic soul-food flavors.

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh; your link to "devil take the hindmost" prominently featured a "Satanic Superstore" website; ostensibly where you can buy many EVIL t-shirts, key chains and such.

Ah, internet; from tasty challah recipes to the Prince of Darkness in two clicks. Happy Halloween!

breadbasketcase said...

I'd love to get your take on this bread. Do you think you'd add aniseed? It was pretty comforting to me, and I'm not sephardic at all.

That's great--I think that you could write a good mystery novel with "challah" and "prince of darkness" in the title.

Mendy Greenstein said...


Ah yes, Anise. Definitely Anise. Many a man in the middle east has nurtured his soul (or lost it...) with Arak, the middle eastern Anise liqueur.

When I try this Challah, G-d willing, I will post my thoughts on it on

evil cake lady said...

this really is a very pretty bread, from just-mixed-dough to risen spirals to the final baked product. i can see why it beat out the chocolate cake!

breadbasketcase said...

I love a photogenic bread!

jini said...

i did it i did it! i baked this bread today and we had it with chili blanco for dinner. and baking in one afternoon. can you believe it?
the bread was easy and truly delicious....loved the caraway flavoring. yum! thanks marie!

breadbasketcase said...

This grandmother role is really domesticating you! Glad you liked the bread, and the chili blanco sounds good too.