Sourdough Challah (photos & recipe)
I baked my first challah last Thursday and wanted to share.
I was unsure what to expect but it was so much fun. I’d been meaning for some time to bake a recipe from Maggie Glezer’s book, A Blessing of Bread, which is a wonderful compilation of traditional Jewish recipes from around the world. Floyd has written a very nice review of the book here.http://www.thefreshloaf.com/bookreviews/ablessingofbread 
I decided to start with Glezer’s own personal recipe for sourdough challah. I love making sourdough and was interested to see what the texture of this bread would be compared to a yeasted challah which I have eaten only a couple times.
The recipe seemed easy to me despite the fact Glezer calls it expert. I’m not sure why but, again, I’m new to challah. The dough was so easy to mix together and then, as Glezer puts it, the time involved is mostly waiting after that.
She says to bake it to a dark brown which I did. I’m not sure if it is considered too dark or not but it was really a beautiful color and I do typically bake my bread darker as she instructs in Artisan Baking.
The crumb was amazing to me. It was very creamy and soft and almost reminded me of an angel food cake. It has remained moist to this day (5 days later) as there are only two of us to eat and can’t quite get rid of all the bread I bake. I am going to cut very thick slices of what is remaining to freeze and later use to make French toast.
I decided for my maiden voyage into challah bread I would make an elaborate braid. I used the six-strand braid version and got a lot of help from the video Glezer did showing how to do it. Gosh, the internet is awesome! Just as she said it makes a beautiful, very high loaf.Braiding Challah – Fine Cooking Video, Maggie Glezer
I’m posting the recipe so those of you who are new to challah as I am can have a chance to make it and perhaps will be inspired to buy this lovely book. For those who have made challah for years I’d love it if you tried the recipe and let me know your thoughts on it compared the some of your favorite traditional recipes.
More of my photos can be seen here:
Thank you to each and every one of you on this site that have been such inspirations in baking such as Floyd, Bill Wraith, Susanfnp, Mountaindog, JMonkey, Browndog, Bluezebra, Eric, SDBaker, Mini Oven, Dolf, Qahtan, Zainab and so many others. All you wonderful bakers have helped me incredibly along the way over the past few months that I have been baking so many thanks to all.
My Sourdough Challah - Maggie Glezer's personal recipe from her book, A Blessing of Bread
Sweet sourdough breads are delicious and well worth the time (which is mainly waiting time) if you are a sourdough baker. The sourdough adds a subtle tang to my challah, and the crumb has a moister, creamier texture that keeps even longer than the yeasted version. While it’s true that challah or, for that matter, all bread was at one time sourdough (the Hebrew word for leaven, chametz, means “sour”), challahs have definitely gotten sweeter and richer since the introduction of commercial yeast. To convert such recipes back to 100 percent sourdough, the sugar has to be cut back in order for the dough to rise in a reasonable length of time (sugar that is more than 12 percent of the flour weight inhibits fermentation), so this version will taste slightly less sweet than the yeasted one, a deficit completely overridden by the rich complexity of the sourdough. I have also changed the all-purpose flour to bread flour, which has more gluten, to counteract the starter’s propensity to loosen the gluten (the acids in the starter change the proteins, a natural part of sourdough baking).
Skill Level: ExpertTime: About 20 hours (about 8 1/2 hours on baking day)
Makes: Two 1-pound (450-gram) challahs, one 1 1/2-pound (680-gram) challah plus three rolls, or sixteen 2-ounce (60-gram) rolls
Recipe synopsis: Make the sourdough starter and let if ferment overnight for 12 hours. The next day, mix the dough and let it ferment for 2 hours. Shape the dough and let it proof for 5 hours. Bake the breads for 15 to 40 minutes, depending on their size.For the starter:
2 tablespoons (35 grams/1.2 ounces) very active, fully fermented firm sourdough starter, refreshed 8 to 12 hours earlier
1/3 cup (80 grams/2.8 ounces) warm water
About 1 cup (135 grams/4.8 ounces) bread flourFor final dough:
1/4 cup (60 grams/2 ounces) warm water
3 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams/0.3 ounce) table salt
1/4 cup (55 grams/1.9 ounces) vegetable oil
3 tablespoons (65 grams/2.3 ounces) mild honey or a scant 1/3 cup (60 grams/2.1 ounces) granulated sugar
About 3 cups (400 grams/14 ounces) bread flour
Fully fermented sourdough starter
Evening before baking - mixing the sourdough starter: Knead starter into water until it is partially dissolved, then stir in the flour. Knead this firm dough until it is smooth. Remove 1 cup (200grams/7 ounces) of the starter to use in the final dough and place it in a sealed container at least four times its volume. (Place the remaining starter in a sealed container and refrigerate to use in the next bake.) Let the starter ferment until it has tripled in volume and is just starting to deflate, 8 to 12 hours.
Baking day - Mixing the dough:
In a large bowl, beat together the water, the 3 eggs, salt, oil, and honey (measure the oil first, then use the same cup for measuring the honey — the oil will coat the cup and let the honey just slip right out) or sugar until the salt has dissolved and the mixture is fairly well combined. With your hands or a wooden spoon, mix in the bread flour all at once. When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface, add the starter, and knead until the dough is smooth, no more than 10 minutes. (Soak your mixing bowl in hot water now to clean and warm it for fermenting the dough.) This dough is very firm and should feel almost like modeling clay. If the dough is too firm to knead easily, add a tablespoon or two of water to it; if it seems too wet, add a few tablespoons flour.
The dough should feel smooth and very firm but be easy to knead.
Fermenting the dough:
Place the dough in the warm cleaned bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough ferment for about 2 hours. It will probably not rise much, if at all.Shaping and proofing the dough:
Line one or two large baking sheets, with parchment paper or oil them. Divide the dough into two 1-pound (450-gram) portions for loaves, one 1 1/2 pound (680-gram) portion for a large loaf and three small pieces for rolls (the easiest way to do this without a scale is to divide the dough into quarters and use one quarter for the rolls and the rest for the large loaf), or sixteen 2-ounce (60-gram) portions for rolls. Braid or shape them as desired, position them on the prepared sheet(s), and cover them well with plastic wrap. Let proof until tripled in size, about 5 hours.
Meanwhile, 30 minutes before baking, arrange the oven racks in the lower and upper third positions if using two baking sheets or arrange one rack in the upper third position if using one sheet, and remove any racks above them. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/gas mark 4). If desired, preheat one or two baking sheets to double with the baking sheet(s) the loaves are on. Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt for glazing the breads.Baking the loaves:
When the loaves have tripled and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush them with the egg glaze. Bake rolls for 15 to 20 minutes, the 1-pound (450-gram) loaves for 25 to 35 minutes, or the 1 1/2-pound (680-gram) loaf for 35 to 45 minutes, until very well browned. After the first 20 minutes of baking, switch the loaves from front to back so that they brown evenly; if the large loaf is browning too quickly, tent it with foil. When the loaves are done, remove them from the oven and let cool on a rack.