The following is excerpted from Israel Eats by Steven Rothfeld, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith.
This challah, the cover image of Israel Eats, was sitting on a low wood table when I arrived at the home of Erez Komarovsky, a celebrated Israeli chef, in Mattat, a community in Northern Israel. He refers to it as a “salty yeast cake,” and it truly melts in your mouth. The dough needs to rise overnight in the refrigerator, so please plan ahead for this tour de force.
Challah with olives, anchovies, and oregano
6 cups (750 g) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1⁄2 teaspoons Red Star Platinum Yeast or other active dry yeast
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 to 1 1⁄2 (240 to 350 ml) cups water
1 cup (2 sticks; 240 g) butter, chilled, cut into squares
1 to 2 (2-ounce; 60 g) cans anchovies (preferably Spanish or Portuguese), drained but not rinsed, chopped
1⁄2 cup (90 g) coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives
1 1⁄2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
Combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a bread hook. Make a well in the center. Add the egg and 1 cup (240 ml) of the water to the well; mix on low speed until the dough starts to hold together but is not too wet or too dry; add up to 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) water if necessary. Gradually mix in the butter and continue mixing until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Oil a large bowl. Transfer dough to the oiled bowl. Cover and refrigerate to rise overnight.
Transfer dough to a floured work surface and punch down, then roll out into a rectangle approximately 15 to 18 inches (40 to 45 cm) long and 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) wide. Press the anchovies, olives, and oregano into the dough. Cut the rectangle into 3 even strips. Set strips on a pastry board or a long sheet of parchment paper. Take 1 strip of the dough and gently flip it over so the anchovy- and olive-studded surface is face down. Using clean hands and starting from the middle and working outward, roll dough away from you into a strand that is approximately 18 to 20 inches (45 to 50 cm) long with a 1-inch (2.5 cm) diameter. Keep the strand as even as possible. Set first strand aside and repeat to make 2 more strands of equal length. To braid, lay the strands side by side and start from the center: grab the bottom edge of the right strand and bring over the center strand so it crosses at the middle, making that strand the center strand. Bring the left strand over that strand. Repeat until the end is reached. Pinch ends together and tuck them under the braid. Turn the pastry board or parchment paper around and repeat the process with the other half of the braid. Cover the challah and let it stand at room temperature until doubled in volume, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Set challah on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes. (As ovens vary, start checking the bread at 25 minutes and then every 5 minutes until the bread is golden brown.) Let cool completely before slicing.
Steven Rothfeld is a photographer specializing in luxury imagery. His food photography has recently been featured in French Comfort Food and Le French Oven (both by Hillary Davis). He divides his time between photography destinations throughout the world and his home in Napa Valley, California.