By Nora Mounce
Adapted from TheSmittenKitchen.com
The closing of the year taxes each of us emotionally, regardless of cultural or religious affiliations. Differences in values and lifestyle often wash up in the tide of traditions, appearing harsh in thin rays of winter sunlight. But for all the strife, holiday nights where we break bread over candlelight are the memories that last.
Over the past 50 years, Israel has become the global leader in research on the many medical uses of cannabis, bypassing the deluge of bureaucratic red tape that stymies research in the U.S. Cannabis companies setting up shop in Israel are flourishing, but more importantly, researchers are discovering how to treat a range of modern diseases with cannabis. For patients who need to abstain from smoking, and observant Jews who can’t toke up on the Sabbath, edibles are key.
To close a turbulent year on a high note, bake a loaf of lightly sweet, medicinal challah bread to share with friends. I made a non-edible version of this bread years ago and was amazed at how easily it came together, resulting in a beautiful loaf that you’ll want to show off. For the edible version, I split the recipe in half, making two small loaves – one regular and one medicinal – the perfect offering to share at family gatherings. The circular shape of this challah is sometimes known as the “turban challah,” symbolizing the cycle of the year.
I think bringing the simple ingredients together, rolling out the long snakes of dough, and carefully weaving each into a basket-shaped mound, is therapeutic. Don’t be intimidated by making challah! The baking process is forgiving of your technique, as odd lumps and bumps expand in the oven, smoothing over any imperfections.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!
New Year Fig Challah Bread
Makes one small loaf
1 rounded teaspoon (1/2 packet) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons + ½ teaspoon honey
1/3 cup warm water
2 ½ tablespoons canna-olive oil
2 eggs, divided
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or ¾ teaspoons table salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup (2 ¼ ounces) dried figs, stemmed and roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon freshly grated orange zest*
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons orange juice*
pinch sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper
*A mandarin was the perfect size for plenty of zest and exactly the right amount of juice.
1 large egg, beaten
Using a stand mixer, whisk the yeast and ½ teaspoon honey into warm water and let stand until foamy, a few minutes. In the bowl, combine the yeast-water mixture with remaining honey, canna-olive oil and egg. With mixer on low, add salt and flour, and mix until dough forms a ball. Switch attachment to your dough hook, and run at low speed for 5 minutes. Place dough in bowl (prepare by spraying lightly with oil) and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
While bread is rising, make the fig paste. In a small saucepan, combine figs, citrus zest, water, juice, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook until the figs are soft, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool before processing in a food processor until smooth.
After dough has risen, turn dough onto a well-floured counter and divide in half. Roll the first half into a rough rectangular shape, about 10 inches tall and wide. Spread half of fig filling evenly over the dough, stopping short ½ inch from the edge. Starting from the bottom, tightly roll the dough, making a long snake, and pinching the horizontal edge closed with your fingers. Then, rolling and gently pulling, stretch the dough to almost 2 feet long (it’s surprisingly sturdy at this stage). Using a large knife, cut in half and set aside. Repeat with remaining dough and fig filling.
Now that you have four snakes, take a deep breath — it’s time to weave your challah. Lie two pieces of dough running vertical and two horizontal, crossing pieces over and under, over and under, like a tight tic-tac-toe board. Since we’re making a small loaf, we’ll only weave twice. Start by taking the four legs that come from underneath the tic-tac-toe board and cross each leg over the next leg to its right. Then, reverse, by taking the legs that were on the right and cross each over to the left. The challah should look roughly circular at this stage — if you have four braids coming from each corner, you need to back up and make sure you changed the direction of your weave. Now, unless you rolled out super long snakes, you’re probably done weaving – tuck all the loose ends underneath the loaf, and like you did earlier, pinch the edges tight. Don’t worry if it’s messy – the loose ends will fuse together in the oven.
Move dough to a cutting board or baker’s peel (pictured). Brush top with egg wash. Allow dough to rise for another hour.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush top of loaf with egg wash (yes, again – that’s how it get’s its beautiful glossy brown color). Sprinkle with sea salt if desired.
Bake for 35-to-40 minutes. The loaf should be a beautiful golden hue. Cool loaf on a rack completely before slicing. Enjoy!