Yields 6 loaves
4 tablespoons dry yeast
2 tablespoons organic sugar
4 cups (1 liter) warm water
5 pounds (2.25 kg) organic white flour
One 12-ounce (350 g) container of date honey (silan)
1½ tablespoons sea salt
1 cup (230 ml) olive oil
1 cup (150 g) finely-diced dried figs
1 cup (150 g) raisins
2 cage-free organic eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons pomegranate syrup, in egg wash
1) In a medium-size bowl, combine the yeast with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and the warm water. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to start activating. Yeast activation should take about 10 minutes; it will be bubbling and foamy.
2) Set 1 cup (125 g) of flour aside. Sift the remaining flour, and salt into a large bowl. Form a well in the center.
3) Pour the date honey (silan), yeast mixture and oil into the well. Combine all the ingredients, using a spatula. When it begins to form a dough, it is time to knead. At this point, you can remove the dough from the bowl and knead on the kitchen counter if it’s easier for you, or directly in the bowl.
4) To knead the dough: Grab the side of the dough furthest away from you and fold it toward yourself. Fold the dough in half and use your body weight to push the dough into itself. If you find that the dough is sticking too much to the surface and preventing you from kneading properly, dust the dough with flour. Give the dough a quarter turn (90 degrees). Grab the other side and fold it in half. Again, with a lot of weight behind it, push the newly folded half into itself. Repeat this process for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, silky, elastic and the dough does not stick to the surface.
5) After the dough is thoroughly prepared, lay it on the counter top while you grease the bowl with a fine layer of oil. Next, turn the dough in the oil several times so that the dough is greased lightly on all sides.
6)Cover the bowl with a large plastic garbage bag or kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 1 hour.
7) Make the blessing on Hafrashat Challah .
8) Knead the dried figs and raisins into the dough again for a few more minutes and then divide dough into 12 equal parts. Use the remaining cup of flour, as needed, to flour the surface area, and hands to prevent sticking.
9 )With a rolling pin, roll out 6 of the balls into nice smooth strands – as long as you can, and then continue to extend the strands with your palms, out really long– about 4 feet (1.2 m). This will form the “frame” of your pomegranate.
10) On a piece of parchment paper that has been placed on a greased baking sheet, shape the long strand into an S-shape.
11) Roll out the rest of your dough (the remaining 6 logs) and cut them into 1-inch (2.5 cm) size pieces. Roll each piece in your palms, into the size of a golf-ball. You will use these as pomegranate “seeds.”
12) Place about eight “seed” dough balls into the lower half of the S. This will form the body of your pomegranate. Then take the upper half of the S and reshape it into the top of the pomegranate, in a zigzag, making sure to pinch the ends closed.
13) Repeat with the other strands and balls to form the other five pomegranate challahs.
14) Don’t let this challah rise as long as you normally would, as it would completely lose its shape. Limit the second rise to just 15 minutes. Pinch the ends again before glazing the challah with egg-wash.
15)If you cannot bake the challahs immediately, then this is the time to wrap the shaped dough in plastic wrap to prevent drying. You can store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. On the day of baking, remove the dough from refrigerator and let stand on kitchen counter until it comes to room temperature, about one hour.
16) Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Mix the beaten eggs with the pomegranate syrup. Brush your challahs with beaten eggs and sprinkle with barley grits.
17) Bake in your preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until loaves turn golden brown and shiny. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
18) Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Wait at least one hour before serving. If you are freezing the challah, wrap in waxed paper and foil. It can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Dahlia Abraham-Klein is the author of “Spiritual Kneading through the Jewish Months: Building the Sacred through Challah.” Her new book, “Necessary Mourning: Healing the Loss of a Parent through Jewish Ritual,” is now available.