The last time my friend Nadine and I collaborated to make the Communion bread for her church, the passages were about sowing seeds and eating rich foods. At first we discussed making brioche, but then I realized that challah would be much more appropriate. After all, Jesus was Jewish, and even though he and his disciples ate unleavened bread at the last supper, they certainly would have enjoyed an enriched bread for other holiday celebrations. And that means challah. The seeds were easy enough to work in. Sesame challah is an actual Thing, so not only did I sprinkle the tops of the loaves liberally with sesame seeds, I also added tahini, or sesame paste, to the dough itself. Nadine’s congregation enjoyed a wonderful communion celebration and happily ate the leftovers after church. And that’s how we like it.
The tahini swirl challah I’m sharing today is based on that communion bread, hence the Throwback Thursday. I also incorporated another element from a recent post. The lovely, lightly sweet Sukkar bi Tahin or Beirut Tahini Swirls I made for Cookbooks&Calphalon a few weeks ago are swirled with a simple 1:1 mixture of tahini and sugar that bakes up smooth and creamy and delicious. After checking with a Jewish friend to see if it’s okay to add a swirl to a challah (she said yes), I married the tahini swirl element with my tahini challah, and Tahini Swirl Challah was born!I do want to give a shout-out to the fine folks at King Arthur Flour who originally posted the recipe for Classic Challah, based on a Lora Brody recipe, on their site. If you look at their recipe, you can see the similarities. Truly, the only modifications I made to that recipe were to add tahini and adjust the amount of oil and to reduce the amount of yeast by 1/3 to encourage a slower rise and more flavor. I also give mine a total of three rises. It helps to yield a more delicate crumb and a bit more flavor, but it’s not strictly necessary. You can absolutely shape yours after the first rise. Consider the second rise an Optional Step.
You can also leave the swirl out of this bread if you want plain challah. And I can tell you that the challah is lovely on its own. The light sesame flavor that permeates the loaf almost reads as peanut butter, and it is perfect with thick schmears of jam. I’m afraid if I tried it with honey I’d never stop eating it, but honey would make a perfect accompaniment. (UPDATE: I had it toasted with honey. For photographic purposes, mind you. Lord, it’s good.)
I baked the swirl-less loaves in 6″ round cake pans. You can of course bake them in any shape you see fit.To get a really dark and shiny crust, don’t bother to mix any water with your egg for the egg wash. Beat an egg very, very well and then brush on a thin coat. Wait about 5 minutes and then brush on another coat before adding the sesame seeds.
If you'd like to braid the loaf rather than make a coiled loaf, simply divide the dough in thirds or fourths, roll each piece out into a long rectangle, spread with the tahini mixture and roll up. Pinch the seams well, let them rest for a few minutes and then braid as desired.
All ounce measurements are for weight and not volume.
- 4.5 oz warm water
- 3 oz (1/4 cup) honey
- 2 oz tahini (3 Tablespoons)
- 2 oz vegetable oil (4 Tablespoons)
- 2 large eggs
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt (or 1¾ teaspoon kosher salt)
- 17 oz all purpose flour (I use King Arthur. If you use a different brand with a lower protein content, you may have to reduce the amount of water by ½ oz or so)
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- ¾ cup tahini
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg, well beaten
- white sesame seeds for sprinkling
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk together the water, honey, tahini, oil, eggs and salt.
- Add all the flour on top of this mixture and then top with the yeast.
- Attach the dough hook and mix on low speed until the dough comes together. It may seem a little wet, but just give it some time.
- Once there is no more loose flour in the bowl, increase the speed to medium low and knead for 7 minutes. Do not add any flour yet. Be patient.
- Look in the bowl with the mixer on. There should be no dough sticking to the sides of the bowl. There may be a spot in the very bottom of the bowl, maybe 1½" in diameter where the dough is sticking. If that's what you see, you're good. Feel the dough. If it is soft but not sticky, you're good.
- Only if the dough feels a little dry or is not sticking in the bottom of the bowl even a little bit, add another tablespoon of water. If the dough is sticking in the bottom of the bowl more than in a small circle, add a tablespoon of flour. Don't do any more than that. Take a deep breath and trust that all will be well.
- Whether or not you needed to add water or flour (I have given you the measurements that made perfect dough for me. You may have to adjust by a tiny bit), let the dough knead for another 5-7 minutes until it is smooth and when you pull on a piece of it, it stretches out farther than you think it should be able to. The dough will feel a tiny bit grainy because of the tahini. Otherwise, it will be smooth and gorgeous.
- Form the dough into a ball, and oil the top of the ball. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.(To make a "warm place," I boil water in the microwave and then move the mug of hot water to the back corner before shoving the bowl inside and shutting the door.)
- (Optional Second Rise: Once the dough has risen, press out all the gases, give it a couple of kneads by hand to redistribute the yeast, then reform into a ball. Oil it a bit then cover again and let rise in a warm place until doubled again. This time should only take about 1½ hours or so.)
- Press out the gases and then roll out the dough into a rectangle about 20-24" long and maybe 8" wide.
- Evenly spread the tahini mixture onto the dough, leaving about 1" of space on one long end and ½" on the sides.
- Starting from a long end, roll the dough up into a cylinder and pinch the seam really well to seal.
- Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for about 10 minutes.
- Roll the dough cylinder gently to lengthen it to between 28"-30" long. Letting the dough rest will make it easier to do this. Again, cover and let rest for about 5 minutes before coiling it up, seam side down. Tuck the end of the dough under the coil. Cover and--you guessed it--let rest for another 5-10 minutes.
- Roll fairly gently with a rolling pin to flatten the coil just a bit. Place the coiled dough on a piece of parchment paper. Oil the top, cover it and let rise in a warm place until puffy, about 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F. If you have a baking stone, place it on the middle rack and let it get good and hot. Preheat the oven for at least 45 minutes before baking.
- When the dough is puffy, brush it very well with the beaten egg (twice to get a very dark and shiny crust) and sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds.
- Slide the seeded dough, parchment and all, onto the baking stone. Bake for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, it should be a very deep, nutty brown.
- Tent the bread with foil and continue baking for another 20 minutes or so, or until the internal temperature is 195F-200F.
- Let cool on a rack until at least warm. Don't slice it hot, though, or you'll end up with a gooey mess.
- Taste the magic.
It would thrill me to no end to know that some of you might enjoy this at your Rosh Hashanah celebration. Or any time at all.
I will leave you with a few more photos, just to make sure you’re good and hungry. Please make this bread. Toasted, it is especially divine!