This is my favorite variation on my go-to challah recipe, showcasing the nuttiness of spelt and pairing it with a noticeable smack of honey. It's also got avocado oil going for it, a neutral-tasting, healthy oil that really sings in savory baked goods.
I got the idea for this challah from a wonderful, savory cheese- and leek-stuffed version that appears in Erez Komarovsky's baking book (it's not been translated from Hebrew). Back in the nineties, Erez Komarovsky's bread-centered cafe, Lechem Erez, had a galvanizing effect on secular Ashkenazim, akin to Starbucks busting out of Seattle and presenting America with espresso. (He's since sold his share and it's now a franchise.) Back in the mid-nineties, the Mizrachi and Yemeni communities had all manner of outstanding flatbreads at their disposal--I mean: laffa, malawach, Iraqi pita, good luck choosing--while we Ashkenazim were stuck with lechem achid, "standard bread," a relic of Israel's austerity days. Then Lechem Erez opened up and suddenly Israel had its own artisanal, savory loaves, building upon European bread-baking traditions but teaming with Mideast flavors like oil-cured olives, fresh tomatoes, and nana (Mediterranean spearmint).
Spelt Flour & Substitutions
One of the favorite ingredients of the Israeli bread scene has been, since right around then, spelt--not only for its healthy profile, but for its lovely nuttiness. This premodern strain of wheat sits alongside its ancient cousins, like einkorn and kamut, but deserves to be appreciated in its own flavorful right. It's great in savory pie crusts, pashtidot, and, of course, challah. One of my kids has trouble deciding if he likes this spelt challah better than my regular challah, which is saying something, because this is the same kid who says Wacky Mac is, quote, the best dinner ever, endquote.
I generally don't see spelt flour on supermarket shelves, but it is not too difficult to track down. Whole Foods often carries it, as do similar retailers. (I get a sprouted version from Thrive Market.) If you have a kosher market near you, they'll often stock it, too.
If you don't want to track down spelt flour, you can substitute whole wheat flour in its place. Or, swap the spelt for another heritage flour, one with gluten. The flavor profile will change with these substitutions, but you'll get a hearty, chewy, well-flavored loaf to enjoy over Shabbat.
Kneading, Rising & Shaping
The steps for making the spelt challah are the same as a basic challah recipe; it's the ingredients and their proportions that make it different. As with any challah, you'll begin by mixing the dough, and, when it comes together, kneading it--in your stand mixer or by hand. Cover the kneaded dough and leave to rise for an hour or two, and, when it's risen, shape it by braiding. While heating up the oven, you'll leave the braided dough to proof under the kitchen towel. Then, brush with egg wash and into the oven it goes for 35-40 minutes, until lightly bronzed on top and well risen.
For a more detailed walk-through of these steps and lots of challah-baking tips, see my Perfect Challah post. Like the base recipe, this spelt challah dough does not use enough flour to qualify for the mitzvah of taking challah (spelt, being a variety of wheat, does count towards the total, but the overall weight is not sufficient). If you want to fulfill this mitzvah, you can double the recipe, in which case you'll separate challah--with or without a blessing, depending on which view you follow.
Spelt Challah with Avocado Oil + Honey (parve)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour - 375g
- 2 cups spelt flour - 250g
- ¼ cup honey - 60ml
- 1 ¼ cup warm water - 295ml
- 2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast - = 1 packet
- 3 eggs
- ⅓ cup avocado oil - 80ml
- 1 ½ Tbsp salt - 20g
For the egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp almond milk - 15ml
- 1 Tbsp honey - 15ml
Activate the yeast:
- Measure ¼ cup honey into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Add 1¼ cup warm water to the measuring cup – warm, meaning it's comfortable to touch with your finger. (You can use either hot tap water, or mix ½ cup boiled water with ¾ cup cold tap water.) Stir to combine the honey and water. Add the yeast to the honey-water mixture in the measuring cup, and stir again. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to get foamy.
Mix the dough:
- To your stand mixer bowl (or a large bowl, if mixing by hand), add the all-purpose flour and spelt flour. Fit the bowl onto the stand mixer with the dough hook. Pour the foamy yeast mixture from the measuring cup into the bowl, right on top.
- Add the eggs, oil, and salt to the mixer bowl as well. Stir together on the lowest setting.
- Once the dough has started coming together, turn up the speed to 2 and let the machine knead the dough for 10 minutes. (By hand, you'll want to knead for a bit longer, about 15 minutes.) Check every few minutes to see if the dough is too wet (like a cake batter) or too dry (crumbly or thumping loudly around the bowl). The consistency of the dough will change significantly as the machine kneads it. If the dough is too wet, add more flour to the mixer bowl, ¼ cup at a time. If the dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time
(it doesn't need to be warm).
Leave the dough to rise:
- When the dough is supple but not sticky and holds the indentation of your finger when you poke it, it is ready to proof (rise). Cover tightly with cling / beeswax wrap or a bowl lid and leave in a warm part of your kitchen, such as the inside of your (turned-off) oven. The dough will rise slowly and won't rise as much as challah made with all-purpose flour, but should be puffed and noticeably bigger after about 2 hours rise time, up to about 5 hours.
Shape and proof:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line one light-colored baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.
- Turn out the proofed dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using a bench scraper or a sharp knife, divide the dough in half. Set aside the half you're not working on, then further subdivide the portion in front of you. For a three-strand loaf, cut the first half into three roughly equal pieces, using the bench scraper or knife.
- Roll each of the three lumps of dough into a rope about 1" / 2.5cm thick and 12" / 30cm long and tapered at the ends. Lay the three ropes side by side, then bring the tapered ends together and press firmly to join. Braid (plait) the rope by bringing the right-hand strand over the middle – the rightmost strand has now become the new middle strand. Next, bring
the left-hand strand over this new middle strand. Repeat until you get to the end of the braid. Join the ends of the strands together at the bottom and tuck firmly under.
- Transfer loaves onto the prepared baking sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and leave to proof (rise in its final shape) for half an hour or so.
Bake the challahs:
- In a small bowl, whisk an egg with 1 tablespoon of almond milk and 1 tablespoon of honey. Brush over the challah with a pastry brush.
- Bake the challah for 35-40 minutes, until golden and well risen.