Makes 2 loaves
Challah is rich and eggy, and more often than not, neutral or a little bit sweet—day-old challah makes the best French toast! This moist but tender loaf is savoury, but instead of reaching for rosemary or thyme, we added cedar to give it a decidedly Canadian herbaceousness. Yes, that cedar (Thuja occidentalis). Your hedge might be made of it! Don’t be intimidated by braiding; even if your loaves are not perfect, they will still be beautiful, delicious and an impressive centerpiece on any table.
4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (that’s a little less than three 7-g pkg)
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup + 1 tsp sugar
6 1/2 cups flour + more for dusting work surface
2 tsp sea or kosher salt
2/3 cup canola oil + more for oiling bowl
5 free-run eggs, divided
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tbsp finely minced fresh cedar fronds + more for garnishing (optional)
1/2 cup soft goat cheese (chevre)
6 green onions, trimmed, finely chopped white and tender green parts
1 tbsp runny honey Large flaky sea salt, for garnishing
In medium bowl, stir together yeast, water and 1 tsp of the sugar; let stand until aromatic and foamy, about 5 minutes.
In large bowl with wooden spoon or in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook, blend flour, salt and remaining 1/4 cup of the sugar.
In medium bowl, whisk together oil and 4 of the eggs.
Add activated yeast and egg mixture to flour mixture; stir by hand, or blend on low to medium speed, until combined.
Continue to knead with dough hook if using stand mixer, or transfer dough to lightly floured surface and knead by hand; add more flour in tiny increments as needed to make smooth but slightly sticky dough, about 10 minutes.
Place dough ball in lightly oiled large bowl; move dough around to cover in oil. Cover with plastic wrap or damp tea towel; let rise somewhere warm until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Line 2 sheet pans or cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In medium bowl, combine melted butter, scallions, cedar, pepper and goat cheese to form paste.
Punch down dough and divide into 6 equal pieces. Pat or roll out each piece into small rectangle, about 5 by 3 inches. Using the back of spoon or spatula, divide and spread cheese mixture evenly onto each rectangle. Fold dough over, lengthwise, like closing a book, to contain cheese inside each rectangle. With hands, roll filled dough into long ropes, about 10 to 12 inches long.
You will use 3 ropes per loaf. To braid loaves, transfer 3 ropes to each parchment-lined sheet pan. For each loaf, starting at 1 end, pinch ropes together, then tuck that end under; braid ropes, then tuck other end under.
In small bowl, whisk together honey and remaining egg; brush over loaves. Sprinkle generously with large flaky salt, and a bit more minced cedar (if using).
Bake until golden, about 35 to 40 minutes, but take a look at the 25-minute mark. If loaves are browning too quickly, lightly tent with foil.
Serve warm from oven as is, or spread with more goat cheese and drizzle of honey, or smoked salmon.
TIP Since eggs are the main ingredient in this bread, and it’s yolks that give this loaf its distinct golden hue, splurge on the best, freshest pastured eggs you can find.
From Hudson, Quebec, now living in Port Hope, Ontario, Signe is a restaurant chef-turned-writer who tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes for LCBO’s Food & Drink, Manna Pro Hearty Homestead, The Harvest Commission, and Today’s Parent; she published her first book – Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes – in 2015.