This is my first month participating in Progressive Eats, a virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. This month is hosted by Coleen Hill, the author of The Redhead Baker. We’re featuring dishes with a citrus theme. At the end of the post you will find all the delicious recipes including drinks, appetizers, main course, sides dishes and dessert!
Every Friday night, Jews around the world celebrate Shabbat. At sundown, 24 hours of rest and reflection begin in a ritualistic way – with candle lighting, breaking and sharing of the challah bread, and blessing and drinking of the wine. What’s not to love?
Traditional Challah Bread
Traditionally, a home-cooked dinner with fresh baked bread is served on Friday night, prepared before sundown. But modern frenetic life gets in the way of this wonderful ritual. In reality, many of us just want to go out for dinner or order in pizza by the time Friday rolls along. And making challah bread from scratch that requires two rises? That just isn’t realistic in most busy homes.
The No-Rise Alternative
This bread is the solution. I learned how to make it from the doyenne of Jewish cooking, Joan Nathan, in a private cooking class at the home of my friend and fellow blogger, Dana of Foodie Goes Healthy. Joan learned this recipe in France while writing her cookbook Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous. And what a revelation it is. We managed to make this bread in the course of the cooking class from dough prep to fully baked while prepping three other dishes. Why? You can make the dough in a mixer, let it rest for ten minutes, form it into a loaf and put it straight into the oven. Really! And it works every time.
A Sneak Peek into our Cooking Class: Joan explains a 6-strand braid!
Have time to make the dough but not bake it? No problem, form the loaf, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Bake it later. Or put the dough in the fridge unformed, take it out later and form it, egg wash it, and bake it.
Growing Accustomed to Anise
I was skeptical when I first saw anise in the recipe. Anise tastes like licorice, which was not my favorite flavor. My taste buds have evolved. In this bread, it perfectly compliments the eggy sweetness in an almost mystical way, nearly disappearing during the baking process. Most people taste the bread and can’t quite place the flavor but can’t stop eating it. Be sure to buy anise and not star anise, which is a spice that actually looks like a star and is often used in Chinese cooking.
Everything is Better with Citrus
My contribution to this recipe is the addition of orange. It occurred to me that anise and orange would marry well together – confirmed by a quick look in The Flavor Bible and yes, a quick Google search. And while I described challah bread as ritualistic for Shabbat, I think we under-use this eggy loaf when considering what bread to serve with any meal. It’s wonderful for sopping up extra juices and receives butter beautifully. Did I mention leftovers make the best French toast and bread pudding you will ever eat?
For this orange version of the loaf, I reduced the amount of anise from the original recipe to allow the orange to shine a bit more. I also used Cara Cara oranges because they were available, but it is not necessary – do not run from store to store trying to find them. Any orange will do the trick.
As for the seeds on top – Joan taught us how to make those fun circular dots but you can skip the seeds entirely, use different seeds, or just sprinkle them on. I incorporate a seed called nigella along with the light sesame seeds. They are often used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking (you’ll see them in Indian stores labeled “kalonji”). Poppy would work well too and is the more obvious choice.
Grab a Slice of Life
Bread is often called the staff of life. I just know it makes the house smell good, warms your soul, and always brings people to the table. Don’t let time stand in your way. Try this recipe and you’ll be baking bread every week whether you celebrate Shabbat or not.
- (2) ¼ oz packages active dry yeast
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 medium size oranges (Cara Cara if available)
- 2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg for egg wash
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 7 to 8 cups flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon anise seeds
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, nigella seeds, or poppy seeds
- Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven if you plan to bake two loaves at once or in the center of the oven for one; preheat to 375 degrees, and line 1 or 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Prep your orange juice and zest. To make a full tablespoon of zest you’ll probably need to zest more than one orange, depending on the size. If you zest both and have extra zest, you can put the excess in a small container or Ziploc bag and freeze it for future use. Squeeze the juice from the oranges – it should come close to 1 cup. If not, you can add store-bought orange juice to make a cup or just use a bit of extra water. Add hot water to the orange juice to equal up to two cups. Mixing the hot water with the cold juice should yield lukewarm liquid, which is what you want to mix with the yeast.
- Put the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook, and pour in the orange juice and water. Whisk it (by hand) so the yeast dissolves. Let this stand for a couple of minutes to be sure you see some bubbles or action in the yeast mixture so you know your yeast is alive and well. Then whisk in (by hand) the 2 eggs, and the oil.
- Add 7 cups of the flour, the salt, sugar, anise seeds, and orange zest to the bowl, and beat with the dough hook for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary. I always end up using just the 7 cups of flour. In my heavy duty mixer, it takes only a minute or two for the dough to come together. But don’t go by time, go by look and feel. Smooth and elastic. If you poke it, does it spring back? Does it feel smooth or wet and sticky? If too wet and sticky, add a bit more flour.
- Remove the dough from the mixer bowl, form into a round loaf, then poke a 1-inch hole all the way through the center. Let the dough rest uncovered on a floured surface for about 10 minutes.
- Use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. You can just eyeball it. (Short on time? Make one large loaf with a simple 3 braid look and in this case, just divide it into 3 pieces at this point.)
- If needed, re-flour the work surface. Flour your hands.
- If you made 6 equal pieces, roll each piece of dough into a rope about 14 inches long. I form the dough into a cylinder then roll it out with the palms of my hands to about 14 inches long. If it’s uneven, I just squish it with my hands to even it out a bit but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Really. Repeat with all 6 pieces so you have 6 ropes of dough. Now you can create two loaves of 3 stranded braids each or one large loaf using the 6 strand braid method.
- If you divided the dough into 3 equal pieces, roll out each piece into a rope about 20 inches long.
- Now braid your challah – whether doing 3 strands or 6, start by pressing together the ends of the strands at one end. Then braid as you would braid someone’s hair until you reach the end of the strands. Then squish the ends together and fold under if you want to hide them. Move the braided loaf onto the parchment lined baking tray. Don’t be afraid to manipulate the loaf to even it out. It all ends up looking beautiful no matter what!
- If you want to do a 6-stranded braid, I included the video of Joan teaching us how to do it in my blog post above.
- If you are baking the bread right away, continue with the egg wash and seed placement. If not, cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge until you want to bake it. (Note – if you put it in the fridge, I recommend taking it out and bringing it to room temperature before you egg wash it and bake it.)
- Beat the extra egg in a bowl and brush it all over the loaves. Sprinkle the seeds on top or put your mixture of seeds into a small bowl. Then dip your finger into the leftover egg mixture, then into the seeds, then place the seeded finger onto the loaf to create the dots. It’s fun and looks great but if you are short on time, just sprinkle the seeds on and that will look fantastic as well.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes longer. If baking two loaves at once, 15 minutes into the 350 degree baking time, rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 15 minutes more, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped.
- Cool before serving.
A progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, a theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.
Progressive Eats Citrus Menu
- Bubbly Blood Orange Campari Cocktail from Mother Would Know
- Muhammara with Blood Orange from Pastry Chef Online
- Orange and Anise Scented Challah from OMG! Yummy
- Chicken Milanese with Citrus Salsa from Healthy Delicious
- Citrus Salad with Honey-Tarragon Vinaigrette from All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
- Lemon Rice – South Indian Rice With Lemon from SpiceRoots
- Blood Orange Upside Down Cake from Creative Culinary
- Chocolate Hazelnut Orange Cake from Food Hunters Guide
- Meyer Lemon Mousse from The Redhead Baker
- Raspberry Topped Lemon Souffles from That Skinny Chick Can Bake