This is it, guys. The end of November. The end of alleged “bread month” on my blog. And how many bread recipes did I post this month? One. Yep, one.
I couldn’t very well let that be the case. So here it is guys, the final week of November, and I’m post my second bread recipe of the month in honor of “bread month”. But oh, it’s a good one for sure. It’s fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah from Smitten Kitchen:



So I’m going to say something that’s probably going to cost me a lot of readers. I’ve never been Smitten Kitchen’s biggest fan. Blasphemy, I know, considering Deb, the blogger behind Smitten Kitchen, is considered a god amongst food bloggers.
But truth be told, I always thought she was a bit, well, overrated. Looking at, nothing really stands out to me as incredible — I mean, don’t get me wrong… the pictures, her recipes, her blog design — all of it is fine. But that’s just it. Everything is simply that. Fine. Dare I say… average? In the golden age of bloggers and beautiful home-taught photographers (like Tartelette or Roost or Cannelle et Vanille or What Katie Ate), why is Smitten Kitchen the one blog getting all the credit?
But then I had the opportunity to hear Deb speak at Powell’s, a local Portland bookstore. And that was when it (realization? understanding?) ran me over like a garbage truck — she was so warm, funny, and gracious, it was impossible to dislike her. Despite my initial skepticism, I was charmed. So I went home that night and read through her recipes and anecdotes. Flipping through her blog, I realized that warmth and kindness she radiated in person shines through in all her posts, something that is incredibly hard to do. I have to admire her for that.
I also came to the bizarre realization that I hadn’t ever really cooked anything from Smitten Kitchen. Here I was, holding a grudge, and I didn’t even really have much basis for it. Deb gets a lot of credit for testing, testing and testing recipes until they’re perfect and foolproof. So if that’s the case, how would her recipe for challah fare?



I chose to try Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for challah because I’d always been a little bit scared of making bread. And challah isn’t just any sort of bread, with its complicated braided shape and eggs in the dough. But I must say, this recipe really is foolproof. The loaf it produced had a moist and open crumb with beautiful swirls of orange-soaked fig:



As for weaving the challah braid itself, Deb includes step-by-step photos that make the process go by so much easier. Believe me, I’m not a craftsman at all — I don’t know how to knit, sew, and I’ve certainly got no eye for patterns. To wit, last year, I took a hat-weaving class for kids (yep, it’s a long story) and all the seven-year-olds in the class (yep, I was the only one above the age of 7 in the class) were able to weave their hats easily while the instructor spent most of his time walking me through the motions over and over again (and yep, my hat was still the worst one in the class). 
But with Deb’s clear instructions and even clearer instructions, I was able to produce this beautiful braided loaf:


So yep, I get it now. I now know why everybody loves Smitten Kitchen and Deb Perelman. She’s not a god, no no no — it’s just that her truly foolproof, anybody-can-do-this recipes produce delicious and beautiful results that make you feel like a god. Or at least, that’s certainly how I felt when I pulled this beautiful loaf out of the oven. Like a god. Of bread. 
I’m posting the recipe here, but you should really head over to her blog (or buy her cookbook) for step-by-step pictures of the challah weaving process. Because in Smitten Kitchen, I trust.

Get the Recipe: Fig, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt Challah

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For the Challah Dough

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (or, one 7-gram packet) active dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup water, warm (between 110 and 118 (F))
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup honey, separated
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

For the Fig Filling

  • 1 cup dried figs, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange zest, freshly grated
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • few grinds of black pepper

For the Egg Wash

  • 1 large egg
  • flaky sea salt, for sprinkling


  • a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment and a dough hook
  • plastic wrap (like Saran)
  • A food processor
  • a dough scraper


For the Challah Dough

  • In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer, whisk 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast and 1 teaspoon honey with 2/3 cup warm water and let stand for a few minutes until foamy.
  • Once foamy, add the remaining 1/4 cup honey, 1/3 cup olive oil, and 2 eggs.
  • Add 2 teaspoons salt and 4 cups flour and use the paddle attachment to mix all the ingredients together until a dough is formed and begins to hold together.
  • At this point, switch to a dough hook attachment and run at low speed for 5 to 8 minutes until a smooth and elastic dough is formed.
  • When the dough is finished kneading, transfer to an olive oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
  • While the dough is proofing, make the fig filling.

For the Fig Filling

  • In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup dried figs, 1/4 teaspoon orange zest, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.
  • Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the figs are soft and tender (about 10 minutes).
  • Remove from heat, and let cool to lukewarm. Process fig mixture until it resembles a fine paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Set aside to cool.

Putting It All Together

  • After your dough has risen, turn it out onto a clean, floured counter and use a dough scraper to divide it into two even halves.
  • Roll the first half of the dough into a wide rectangular shape and spread half the fig filling evenly over the dough, stopping short of the edge.
  • Starting from the longer edge of the rectangle, roll the dough into a long and tight log, trapping the fig filling within. Then, gently stretch the log to as wide as it feels comfortable (mine was around three feet long) and divide it in half. Set these two smaller logs (ropes) aside.
  • Repeat with the remaining dough and fig filling, ultimately ending up with four ropes.
  • (I highly suggest heading over to Smitten Kitchen for this step:) Arrange two ropes in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a tight tic-tac-toe board. Weave them so that one side is over, and the other is under where they meet. Now you've got an eight-legged octopus. Take the four legs that come from underneath the center, and move them over the leg to their right, jumping over that piece of rope. Take the legs that were on the right and again, jump over each leg before, this time to the left. Continue to do so until you run out of rope. Tuck the corners or odd bumps under the dough with the sides of your hand to form a round.
  • Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet. Beat one egg until smooth, and brush over the braided challah loaf. Let the challah rise for another hour, but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat the oven to 375 (F).
  • Before baking, brush the loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 – 40 minutes. If the bread starts to brown too quickly, cover with foil for the remainder of the baking time. When the loaf is ready, an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the bread should read 195 (F).
  • Cool loaf on a cooling rack before serving.


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