Round Honey Raisin Challah
James Beard Foundation, NYC
1 large festive loaf
For the challah:
- 1 cup lukewarm water (around 120°F, or warm to the touch)
- 1/4 cup mild honey, such as acacia or wildflower, or sugar
- 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon peanut oil, Crisco, soybean oil, or unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
For the garnish:
- 1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
To prepare the dough by hand: In a large mixing bowl, combine the water and the honey or sugar and stir to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the liquid and set aside to proof about 5 minutes. The yeast should dissolve and froth if it is active. If it does not react this way, discard and purchase new yeast. (Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait to make challah.)
Using a sturdy wire whisk, beat in the eggs and the 1/4 cup oil or melted butter until frothy and well blended. Add 2 cups of the flour and the salt and continue beating to form a smooth batter. Switch to a sturdy wooden spoon and stir in 2 1/4 more cups of the flour to form a stiff dough.
Dust the work surface with some of the remaining 1/4 cup flour and turn out the shaggy dough from the bowl onto the floured surface. Using a dough scraper and your hands, knead the dough until it is smooth and holds its shape, anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on how strong you are and how rigorously you are kneading. If the dough is too sticky to handle, add some of the remaining flour in small doses, trying to keep it on the soft side. To knead properly, keep folding the dough in half on top of itself and pushing it down on the counter away from you to reform a sort of blob. Scrape it off the surface with the dough scraper and fold again. When you are finished, the dough should be smooth, not sticky; soft but elastic enough to hold its shape; and pale yellow in color without any evidence of unincorporated flour.
Alternately, to prepare the dough in an electric mixer: In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the water with the honey or sugar and stir to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the liquid and set aside for about 5 minutes to proof. The yeast should dissolve and froth if it is active. Using the paddle attachment, beat in the eggs and the 1/4 cup oil or melted butter until frothy and well blended. Add 2 cups of the four and the salt and continue beating to form a smooth batter. Switch to the dough hook. Add 2 1/4 cups flour and knead with the dough hook for 4 to 5 minutes, until a smooth, elastic dough forms. Dust the work surface with some of the remaining 1/4 cup flour and turn out the dough. Knead five or six times until soft.
Proofing the dough: Once kneaded, shape the dough into a ball by folding the edges underneath and stretching the surface. Place the remaining tablespoon of oil or melted butter in a clean bowl and distribute it over the surface with your hands. Place the ball of dough upside down in the bowl to coat the surface with grease and invert to right side up. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place (near a preheating oven, for example) until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour 45 minutes.
Remove the plastic wrap and punch down the dough with your fist to compress it to its original size. Re-cover and let sit for 15 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto the lightly floured surface. Sprinkle the raisins on the dough and knead slightly to incorporate. Pat the dough on the work surface with the palms of your hands to form a large rectangle, about 16 inches by 12 inches. Poke any stray raisins into the dough. Roll up the dough like a jelly roll along the longer edge to form a log about 18 inches long and 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
Starting at one end, roll the log into itself to form a turban or snailshell shape and transfer to a cookie sheet or pizza pan. Tuck the outer end underneath to secure it. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. When the dough has finished rising, brush the entire surface with the egg wash.
Place in the middle of the preheated oven and let bake for 20 minutes, until the surface begins to brown. Lower the temperature to 350°F, and continue baking for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the surface has turned a deep brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the bread should read at least 190°F when done.
Remove from the oven, transfer immediately to a cooling rack, and allow to cool completely before serving.