A good measure of extra virgin olive oil imparts a beautiful pale greenish color to the crumb and gives this bread a moist texture and a flaky, brittle crust. This savory challah is quickly mixed and easily shaped and, thanks to the low-water/high-oil content, very easy to handle. Because this dough does not hold its shape as well as some other doughs, form it into a simple ring or round, or a single-strand braid*; fancier forms would be wasted here.
This bread is good served with any menu, but it goes particularly well with Mediterranean-style food. It also makes excellent croutons and toasts.
1 teaspoon (3 grams/ 0.1 oz) instant yeast (a.k.a. “Bread Machine” “Perfect Rise,” "QuickRise™,” or “RapidRise™”) 3 3/4 cups (500 grams/17.6 oz) unbleached bread flour, divided 1 1/4 cups (280 grams/9.9 oz) warm water 1/2 cup (110 grams/3.8 oz) good quality extra virgin olive oil 1 3/4 teaspoons (11 grams/ 0.4 oz.) table salt Sesame seeds for sprinkling
MIXING THE YEAST SLURRY: In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and 1 1/4 cups (150 g, 5.6 oz) flour, then whisk in the water until the yeast slurry is smooth.
Let the yeast slurry ferment, uncovered, for 10-20 minutes, or until it begins to ferment and puff up slightly.
MIXING THE DOUGH: Whisk into the puffed yeast slurry the oil and the salt. When the mixture is smooth and the salt has dissolved, stir in the remaining 2 1/2 cups (350 g, 12 oz) flour with your hands or a wooden spoon. When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface and knead it just until it is well mixed. (Soak your mixing bowl in hot water now, to clean it and warm it if you would like to use it for fermenting the dough.)
If the dough is too firm, add a tablespoon or two of water to the dough, or, if the dough seems to wet, add a few tablespoons of flour to it.
FERMENTING THE DOUGH: When the dough is fully kneaded, place it in the cleaned, warmed bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough ferment until it has tripled in bulk, about 2-3 hours, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
SHAPING AND REFRIGERATING THE DOUGH: Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or with foil, oiling the foil.
Divide the dough into one large loaf plus three rolls, or in half for two loaves, braid or shape them as desired, position them on the prepared sheets, and cover them well with plastic wrap. I highly recommend refrigerating the shaped loaves at this point for at least 8 hours or up to 48 hours.
PROOFING THE DOUGH: When ready to bake, remove the loaves from the refrigerator, and let them proof until tripled in size, about 2 1/2 hours.
Thirty minutes before baking, arrange an oven rack in the upper third position, remove all racks above it, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C, gas mark 7). If desired, preheat a baking sheet in the oven to double with the baking sheets on which the loaves are resting.
BAKING THE DOUGH: When the loaves have tripled and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush the loaves all over with water, then sprinkle them heavily with sesame seeds. Bake them on the preheated pans,
if you have followed this step. After 30 minutes, switch the breads from front to back and let them continue to bake for another 10−20 minutes. The rolls should be ready after 30 minutes, the smaller breads should bake for about 40 minutes, and the larger breads should bake for about 50 minutes. When the loaves are very darkly browned, remove them from the oven and let them cool on a rack.
Yield: Yields 2 one-pound challahs Or 1 one-and-one-half-pound challah and 3 two-ounce rolls
*Watch this YouTube video on how to shape a Single-Strand Braid