This year, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year starts at dusk on Sunday, October 2nd and ends at dusk on Tuesday the fourth. We love any holiday that celebrates with a big feast, and Rosh Hashanah featuring tables covered with chopped liver, bagels and smoked salmon and cream cheese, braised beef brisket, and apples and honey served with fresh baked challah is certainly no exception. Recently our friend, Toronto chef and writer Deborah Reid told us about an amazing recipe for a spiced challah bread by American writer Charlotte Druckman, author of “Stir, Sizzle, Bake”a cookbook that celebrates baking in a cast iron skillet. Regular readers of this site are aware that we are slightly obsessed with cast iron skillet cooking so we were instantly intrigued by this recipe, especially after seeing the photos of said challah that Deborah had made!
Challah is the traditional braided egg bread eaten during Sabbath, but on holidays like Rosh Hashanah a round “crown” challah signifying the continued cycle of the new year is prepared; sweetened with honey to ensure a “sweet” future, Ms Druckman’s “Pain d’épice” also gives a nod to the flavours of late December. As she puts it in this article in The Wall Street Journal “…the challah d’épices,… is the kind of thing you might dream up if you’re a Jew who celebrates Christmas. Pain d’épices is a sweet, spiced loaf—gingerbread’s French cousin. I created a yeasty challah version and upped the spice factor with a fragrant glaze.”
Whether or not you celebrate Rosh Hashanah, this challah looks like the perfect bread for an afternoon tea, and if there is any leftover, Druckman also tells you how to use it up in a recipe for bostock, the delicious rich breakfast bread soaked in syrup and topped with frangiapane. But that’s another story! Below is the recipe for the spiced challah as found in the book and the WSJ article.
Pain d’épice- Spiced Challah
ACTIVE TIME: 1 ¼ hours TOTAL TIME: 5 hours MAKES: 1 challah loaf
For the dough:
3¼ cups unbleached bread flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup rye flour
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1¼ teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 star anise pods, ground
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter, plus softened butter for greasing
¾ cup warm water (110 degrees)
⅓ cup buckwheat honey
2 large eggs, plus 3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons coarse salt
For the glaze:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup buckwheat honey
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
1 star anise pod
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- Make dough: In a large bowl, whisk together flours, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, white pepper, star anise, nutmeg and cloves. 2
- Grease a separate large bowl with butter. In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and let it cool a few minutes. Pour melted butter into greased bowl. Add flour mixture, warm water, honey, eggs, yolks, orange zest, yeast and salt. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, mix ingredients until they come together into a dough. (As it gets harder to stir, you may want to work with your hands.)3.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface and set greased bowl aside for use in next step. Knead dough until smooth and pliant, 10 minutes. Dough will be sticky when you start kneading, so dust more flour onto work surface as needed. Once dough stops sticking to surface, it’s ready.
- In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat and let it cool a few minutes. Place kneaded dough back in greased bowl and brush with melted butter. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, set in a warm place and let dough rise until it doubles in volume, 90 minutes.
- Punch down dough, cover again and let rise until it doubles in size again, at least another 45 minutes. Meanwhile, in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, melt remaining butter over low heat. Remove from heat and brush melted butter over bottom and sides of pan to coat.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and, using a bench scraper or sharp knife, split it evenly into halves. With your hands, roll one half into a thick, footlong rope. Do the same with the second half. Coil first rope into a circle and place in center of buttered skillet. Then wrap second rope around first, tucking edges of outer rope under inner coil to connect the 2 ropes.
- Butter a piece of plastic wrap and cover dough pan. Let dough rise once more for 45 minutes.
- Place a rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Make glaze: In a small saucepan, combine butter, honey, orange juice and star anise pod. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and stir in cinnamon and ginger. Let glaze cool in saucepan a few minutes, leaving star anise to steep. Brush dough liberally with glaze (about 2 tablespoons), reserving the rest.
- Bake bread until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when you knock on it, about 35 minutes. As soon as challah comes out of oven, brush it with another liberal coating of the glaze (about 2 tablespoons). Leave challah in skillet for a couple of minutes to set before transferring to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes. You should be able to lift the challah out of the pan quite easily with a spatula. Reserve leftover glaze and any leftover challah for making bostock.