The Fresh Loaf

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Challah braids losing definition during rise & bake

Jay3fer's picture

Challah braids losing definition during rise & bake

I don't think this is a sourdough question, because I've had this problem with other doughs also, though not in the last few years.  I'm wondering what factors influence whether the braids retain their definition during proof & bake.

This is my second time making Maggie Glezer's beautiful-looking sourdough challah; the first time, in February, I attributed the (aesthetic) failure of the bread to our cold house - it's usually under 20 degrees and frequently under 18 in the winter.  Not a problem right now... the house was over 25 degrees, more like 27-28 the entire time I was preparing this dough.

I revived my firm starter and followed the recipe exactly.  All steps seemed to go extremely, prodigiously well.  Yet despite the dough being very cooperative during braiding, the challah came out with no differentiation between the braids, just a weird-looking vaguely football-shaped loaf.

For photos and step-by-step, please visit my blog here.

I make a lot of challah and Can anyone give advice as to why the braids would fail so utterly, and how to make them beautiful like all the photos I've seen of this challah for next time?


Jennifer in BreadLand


ananda's picture

Hi Jennifer,

You are setting yourself quite a challenge to make Chollah using sourdough.   That said, some posters have produced magnificent versions using this method [txfarmer comes to mind, and I have a feeling David snyder too]; so, it can be done.

Perhaps if I just point out one or two difficulties with using the natural leaven, and link these directly to what seems to have happened to your lovely braiding?

One obvious starter is the increased proof time using sourdough.   This is bound to have some impact on the plaiting; it's just a matter of keeping that down to a minimum.

Here, I have a feeling that your dough structure is breaking down to quickly, and the yeasts are not working fast enough to compensate.   The Chollah recipe I use [see: ] relies on a very strong dough, with plenty of protein from egg, as well as the flour.   The dough is softish, and enough bulk time is used to allow the dough to relax before assembly.   But the yeast is kicking through using a ferment, and there are plenty of improving ingredients in there such as butter and sugar!   I don't know Maggie Glezer's formula, I'm afraid.   You could look at my formula, and compare it with the Glezer one, in the light of what I discuss above.

But a sourdough based dough is likely to break down due to its acidity, and combined enzyme activity.   So, you need to be confident your dough is not too acidic, and that the yeast element is working flat out.

Hope this is of help

Best wishes


Jay3fer's picture

Thanks, Andy, for your reply.  Your recipe looks delicious, and I love the idea of the pre-ferment to build up the yeast.

Just as an aside, and you may already know this, anything with butter and milk is not a "true" challah, since Jews don't traditionally bake with dairy ingredients, particularly for the Sabbath meal where meat is served.  Meat and milk are never eaten together.

I am frustrated - with this sourdough challah - that there is not more rising action during the bulk fermentation, because that's where it wouldn't mess up the shape.  But Maggie Glezer actually points out in the recipe that it won't rise much during the 2 hours between the full mix and shaping.

I think you're right that there is a combination of things going on:  yeast (starter) not quite active enough yet and, as I said initially, overproofing.

Perhaps next time, what I'll do is - besides buff up the starter for a couple of days - is prepare the final mix the night before baking and leave it to rise overnight, either in the fridge or at room temperature.

If this sounds like a decent plan, which temperature would you recommend for this "extended" bulk fermentation?

p.s.  I was surprised the braids vanished because I make a LOT of challah and even my "no-knead" challah (I fold it gently a couple of times during the bulk stage) retains its shape fabulously.

Thank you anyway - further advice much appreciated!

ananda's picture

Hi Jennifer,

You could quite easily omit the milk powder from my formula; it would work well without.

I'm not a "no-knead" baker, so it wouldn't be right for me to comment on this; all I know is a strict regime of S&F is required, but beyond that, this is a world I haven't been tempted to venture into as yet.

Personally, I would use the sour element as a flavour component, but also utilse ordinary yeast for greater leavening power.   Unless you really insist, ie have a strong desire for, chollah raised only with sour, that is?   There are lots of enriching materials in a chollah formula, and these really do inhibit yeast activity.   Restricting yourself to slower working natural yeasts makes it even harder for the dough.   Maybe you are just pushing it a bit far?   I would definitely agree that you need to feed your starter into a highly active state.   You'll just have to keep experimenting.

Meantime, here's some inspiration from txfarmer! see:

Very best wishes


ananda's picture


If you flour the strands, it will make it difficult to plait the chollah nice and tightly, as you cannot make use of the important friction between dough and work surface.   Additionally, any loose flour will remain thus, and will not bake out.   Some chollah recipes call for a tight dough, which is bound to make life difficult.   But if you are needing flour at the plaiting stage, then there is a good chance that the dough is too soft.



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Jennifer.

You obviously have way more experience than I with challah baking, but I have made Maggie Glezer's sourdough challah a couple of times with good success. See this: Sourdough Challah from "A Blessing of Bread"

Again, I suspect you know more about this than I do, but my impression is that, to get optimal braid definition, the tricks are to braid loosely and to guard against over-proofing.

Andy's thought about the dough being "too soft" is valid. This dough is less stiff than most challah doughs. However, rather than adding flour, I would compensate by how you handle it.

I hope some of the real challah mavens on TFL offer some additional suggestions for you.


breadmantalking's picture

I don't know the recipe you refer to, but it seems to me from the pictures that there may be too much leavening going on during the long rise. I have an excellent challah recipe on my blog (not sourdough, however) that always wins praise and is relatively easy. Here's the link:

The strands should not be overly floured since that will a) not bake out and 

b) dry the dough and make it dense and heavy.

Hope this was helpful. 

Regards, David at:

mrfrost's picture

This Challah whiz(video) also stresses that flouring(not overly) the strands is key to good braid definition. Although the sourdough almost surely brings other issues to the matter.

Comment at the 2:20 mark.


Jay3fer's picture

Thanks for all the feedback, and I will be sure to watch the video!

As mentioned, I do make lots of challah (and the braids are always lovely!), but I'm always interested in new recipes - especially one straight out of the heart of ירושלים!!!

J (

Jay3fer's picture

Extra gluten is a great idea also.  For last week, I just made my "old standby" - I was doing a 10-kid challah-baking workshop and wanted something EASY.  But I will keep all these tips lined up for the next time I haul out the sourdough.

@MrFrost:  My kids loved the video, and I attempted his 6-braid - which is the same as Maggie Glezer's.

Janknitz's picture

I haven't used Maggie Glazer's recipe but I have used Rose Levy Berenbaum's recipe based on Maggie's recipe.  The sourdough in that challah is not used for leavening or flavor per se, but is used as a dough conditioner--a pate fermentee or old dough, if you will.   There is also yeast for leavening.   The RLB dough is firm and braids beautifully, and holds its definition well. 

I never flour my ropes.  I spray oil very lightly on my marble board with my trusty oil pump and find that the slight tackiness helps me form the ropes baugette style and roll them to length.  I braid fairly tightly--too loose and the whole thing falls apart. 

I don't cover my challah dough after braiding.  I give it an initial coat of egg wash and let the challah proof at room temperature, then a second egg wash just before baking.  I think letting the air dry the surface a little during the proofing may "toughen the skin" and maybe that helps the challah to hold its shape and definition?   

This is not one of my better-looking ones, but it's OK.  Sorry for the thermometer in the picture, but you can see the definition of the braids is very good. 

breadsong's picture


I recall a post about Challah on TFL by this very talented baker:

I wonder if you re-posted your question on that thread if this baker would be willing to share how they achieved such a beautiful result?

Regards, breadsong