Challah (pronounced “haa-laa”) is a traditional Jewish bread, made with eggs, flour, yeast and water.
I’ve never been particularly fond of challah. I guess it’s because I have images of those rock-hard challah loaves that are sold in supermarkets (grocery stores), which have a shelf life of 1+ months … eek! We’ve even bought freshly baked (from scratch) challah from a bakery in West Seattle, but again I wasn’t overly impressed.
The only reason I chose a challah recipe this week, was because it looked pretty. There, I said it!
I’m glad I tried it. Peter Reinhart’s work on whole-grain breads is pretty spectacular. The resulting challah was amazingly soft, in fact, _INCREDIBLY_ soft. It was still tender and moist the following day!
As you can tell (from the photo above), I need work on learning to shape my challah braid properly. The instructions in the recipe were highly confusing!
This is a long-winded recipe, but it’s to be expected if you want a really good and palatable 100% whole-wheat bread. Due to my habitual laziness in making bread, I’ve adapted the recipe considerably. It must be noted that since it’s a Reinhart recipe, it’s quite pernickety. An example – it asks for 56g (2 oz) egg yolks. However, I fully recommend you purchasing a good set of digital kitchen scales when baking bread.
100% WHOLE WHEAT CHALLAH
Makes 1 x 950g (2 lb) loaf
Adapted from “Whole Grain Breads”, by Peter Reinhart
For the soaker
- 227 g (1 ½ c) whole wheat flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 180 ml water (¾ c) water
For the biga
- 227 g (1 ½ c) whole wheat flour
- ¼ teaspoon dried active yeast
- 120 ml (½ c) spring or filtered water
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 large (2 oz, 56g) egg, lightly beaten
- 56 g (2 oz) egg yolk
For the final dough
- All of the biga
- All of the soaker
- 75g (½ c) whole wheat flour, more as needed
- Pinch of salt
- 7 g (2 ¼ teaspoon) dry active yeast
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
For the egg wash
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water and 1 pinch salt
For the topping
- Sesame seeds or poppy seeds, as needed
1. In a stand mixer with dough hook attachment, make the soaker by placing the flour, salt and water into the bowl. Blend using the dough hook until a tacky dough is formed, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and allow to sit overnight (up to 24 hours) at room temperature.
2. In the same bowl of the stand mixer, make the biga. Place the flour, dried active yeast, water, oil, beaten egg and egg yolk into the bowl. Blend using the dough hook until a tacky dough is formed. Knead on medium speed for 8-10 minutes. Cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and chill overnight.
3. When ready to proceed, add the soaker to the biga in the stand mixer bowl, together with the remaining ingredients – flour, salt, dry active yeast, brown sugar and vegetable oil.
4. With the dough hook attachment, knead the dough until a well combined dough is formed. Allow to knead for a further 8 minutes on medium speed. Cover and allow to prove for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the dough has almost doubled in size.
5. Punch the dough down and divide into 3, 4, 5 or 6 equal sized pieces (depending on what type of braid you want).
6. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope of at least 25 cm (10 inch) long. Follow the instructions for the braid you want:
3-braid: Lay all three strands side by side. Starting in the middle – overlap one of the outside strands over the middle, take the opposite strand and lay it over the new middle strand. Continue until you run out of dough. Pinch the end closed. Rotate the loaf and repeat the pattern.
4 –braid: Connect four strands at the top. Number the strands 1 to 4. Overlap the strands in the following order 4 over 2, 1 over 3, and 2 over 3. Repeat until you run out of dough. Pinch off the ends.
5- braid: Connect five strands at the top. Number the strands 1 to 5. Overlap the strands in the following order 1 over 3, 2 over 3, and 5 over 2. Repeat until you run out of dough. Pinch off the ends.
6-braid: Connect six strands at the top. Number the strands 1 to 6. Overlap the strands in the following order 1 over 6, 2 over 6, 1 over 3, 5 over 1, and 6 over 4. Repeat until you run out of dough. Pinch off the ends.
7. Transfer the braided loaf onto a parchment paper lined baking tray (pan). Brush with egg wash and cover with a lightly greased piece of cling film (plastic wrap). Allow to prove in a warm area for 30 minutes.
8. Remove the cling film (plastic wrap) and brush again with the egg wash. Top with poppy seeds (or sesame seeds) and let sit in a warm area for 15 minutes uncovered.
9. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
10. Place the challah on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and then reduce the heat to 160°C/325°F. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate by 180 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes or until evenly browned and it sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.
11. Allow to cool before slicing into. Enjoy!