Growing up, each member of my family entered our neighborhood ice creamery’s annual, yet now defunct “create your own ice cream flavor” contest. We never won – all of our creations seemed to feature Cheerios prominently – but it sparked some creativity in the kitchen.
So, when I learned to bake challah several years ago, it seemed only natural to start experimenting challah flavors as well – in this case, fortunately, there were no Cheerios involved. I started out with the classics like cinnamon raisin and progressed to the less-classic, but more decadent, chocolate chip. To satisfy my family’s deep love for all things garlic, my sister and I concocted a sautéed garlic challah that didn’t quite work out (it left us with terrible breath until the next shabbos dinner).
But, the best recipe, by far was my father’s idea: a challah baked with sundried tomatoes, black olives, and fresh basil. What we now fondly call “Mediterranean Challah” has become a family staple, which is perfect for a festive and flavorful accompaniment to a shabbos meal in the sukkah this week. The recipe I use makes six loaves – though it can easily be halved. The loaves also freeze well.
Makes 6 loaves
3 packets of active dry yeast
3 cups lukewarm water
3 eggs (2 for the dough, 1 to coat before baking)
½ cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
½ tablespoon salt
½ cup honey
12 cups of flour (I use 6 cups whole wheat and 6 cups white flour, but you can make it any combination or all white flour, just don’t do all whole wheat because it makes the challah too dense and difficult to knead)
5-10 sun dried tomatoes (Ones soaked in olive oil are best, but dry ones work also)
¼ cup black olives
Large handful of fresh basil
1) Pour warm water into yeast and wait about 3 minutes.
2) Mix sugar into the liquid and let sit for another minutes, and then add oil honey and salt.
3) Slightly whip the eggs in a separate bowl and add to the liquid mixture.
4) Add 3 cups of flour at a time to the liquid mix, stirring after each set of cups.
5) As you add the last few cups, begin to knead with your hands. Bring the dough ball to the table and knead.
6) Let sit for 5 minutes, and then knead till dough is soft and smooth. Cover with a slightly damp and oiled cloth. Let rise for 2-4 hours.
7) While dough is rising, finely chop the sun dried tomatoes, black olives, and basil.
8) After the dough has risen, smash down the ball and add the Mediterranean ingredients as you knead. After they are thoroughly mixed in, separate the dough into 6 smaller balls.
9) Everyone has their own way of braiding challah, so at this point you should braid the challah. (I like to roll each ball into two separate ropes and do a braid with two strands and braid up, but your own variations will work well too).
10) Use the remaining egg to make an egg wash by mixing the egg in a bowl and brush over the braided loaves. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 375 (time and temperature vary with each oven.)