This Moroccan challah is called pain petri (kneaded bread) because the women who made it traditionally spent a lot of time kneading the dough to achieve a smooth, light loaf. They formed the bread at home and then baked it in public ovens, a practice that lived on in Morocco until recent years. Even in the late Middle Ages, when bread could be easily purchased from a baker, Jewish women still made the pain petri as one of the three blessings that a woman performs for the Sabbath. (The other two are to light candles and to go to the ritual bath, or mikveh.)
These Moroccan-style loaves are graced with the flavor of anise seed, and here's the best part: They can be made in about an hour, start to finish.
You can make 2 larger challahs, or you can twist two cylinders of dough together to make one long braid and twist that into a round challah. Either way, the baking time will be a bit longer. The recipe can be halved easily.
Yield: Makes 4 challahs
- 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil
- 7 to 8 cups flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 heaping teaspoons anise seeds
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds (see NOTE)
Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees, and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Put the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook, and pour in the water. Stir; when the yeast has dissolved, whisk in the 2 whole eggs, then add the oil.
Add 7 cups of the flour, the salt, sugar and anise seeds to the bowl, and beat for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary. Form into a round loaf, then poke a 1-inch hole all the way through the center. Let the dough rest uncovered on a floured surface for about 10 minutes.
Use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.
If needed, re-flour the work surface. Flour your hands.
Roll one of the pieces of dough into a cylinder about 20 inches long. Use the palms of your hands to flatten it, then roll it into a rope about 2 feet long, making sure there are no seams in the dough. Bring the two ends next to each other and twist to form a loose spiral. Place on one of two lined baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces of dough, placing 2 on each baking sheet.
Beat the 2 egg yolks in a bowl, then add the water. Stir well, and brush all of the mixture over the loaves. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped.
Cool before serving.
NOTE: Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring or shaking them frequently, just until fragrant and lightly browned.
Adapted from "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous," by Joan Nathan (Knopf, 2010).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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