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Sourdough Challah (photos & recipe)

zolablue's picture
zolablue

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 ChallahFine Cooking Video, Maggie Glezer

http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/videos/braiding-challah.aspx?

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:

http://zolablue.smugmug.com/gallery/3500289#197395950

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: Expert

Time: 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 flour

For 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.

Comments

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I'd have dreams about that loaf too!   Wow!

treeowl's picture
treeowl

I made this recipe yesterday. It worked, but I had two problems. One is that the braids, which looked really pretty all through proofing, lost almost all definition in baking, so the surface was almost flat, with just some split seams. I gather this might be from braiding too tight and/or from the very short bulk fermentation in this recipe. I'll have to try looser next time, unless I can use a longer bulk without messing up the texture or making it sour.

The second problem was bigger: the bread didn't taste eggy! Disaster! As it proofed, it filled the kitchen with the delicious eggy smell of chocolate chip cookie dough, but then that smell wasn't in the bread. I fermented the dough (bulk and final) in the oven with the door cracked and the light on. Could the warmth have caused too many delicious volatile flavors to depart? What temperature should I use for this?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

before the bread.  Easy solution.  And yes, loose braids are key, go wide with the dough while braiding trying not to pull on the ropes.  Keep elbows and arms loose too and this will transfer to the braid.

treeowl's picture
treeowl

There were no cookies. The dough just smelled like chocolate chip cookie dough because of the high egg content. My yeasted challah, with very similar proportions, has a much eggier flavor.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

What if you have some cookies and serve them after baking the bread?  You can pan off some old cookies fast that way!  :)

Hmmmm.   Very high temps will burn off aromas.  Did you leave the room and come back before tasting?  To clean the nose sensors?

mister schu's picture
mister schu

Followed this recipe to the T (sugar instead of honey) a couple weeks ago and found the resulting dough to be extremely wet after mixing. I'm not sure why it felt that way. I ended up adding 30g flour before I was able to knead by hand, though maybe the slap and stretch method would have been doable if I'd been committed. I also found 350F to be a little low, my crust did not get any color at that temp (baking 1 1-pound loaf and 8 rolls), so I turned it up to 375 for the end of the bake. Flavor was great, with a very nice crumb, but they did seem to dry out very quickly.

I just mixed this recipe up again this morning and omitted the water. The mixture was a much more comfortable consistency. This time I'll bake at 375 for the full duration. Will report back after baking.

DenRuff's picture
DenRuff

This is very similar to my tried and true Challah recipe, but with the sourdough starter and natural levin. I have a mother starter which is about 7 years old and started here in El Paso Texas. It took 6 hours for this bread to rise which was not surprising, but the crumb is really nice and the taste is oh sooooo goood! I was expecting this to be good but it exceeded all expectations.

IgorL's picture
IgorL

for the holidays!  I never tried baking challah, even though some of my friends and my sister do it all the time.  They all use commercial yeast, but I am hooked on sourdough :-) so I am happy I found this recipe!

I typically use a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook for the initial mixing of doughs.  Can a mixer be used here as well, to avoid that "dough sticking to the hands" problem, or does it HAVE to be done by hand?  Planning to feed my starter Thursday night, so I'll have it ready to go on Friday morning.

breadysuit's picture
breadysuit

I tried this recipe today and my loaves totally lost definition while proofing. Not sure if it's cause I over proofed? Or cause there wasn't enough gluten development? Haven't cut into them, waiting until RH tomorrow night. Here's a pic of the two the recipe made and a bonus pic of a successful sourdough mini-loaf (20% rye)

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treeowl's picture
treeowl

Could possibly be under-fermented in bulk. But another major possibility with this recipe is that you braided too tightly. You have to be very loose.

breadysuit's picture
breadysuit

maybe? the recipe only calls for a 2 hour initial rise and then a longer full rise after shaping.. perhaps you're right about the braiding. i thought that tighter would be better! i'll know if i try it again. Here's a pic of the crumb. It's a bit dryer than I'd like, as well.. not overly, but not as tender as I think it should be.

breadysuit's picture
breadysuit

this loaf also didn't get the same rise in the oven that the other did (i'm giving the better one away to my mom). Maybe it had to do with oven position, mine got a little overbaked. 

Sallynip's picture
Sallynip

I just made this and the bread came out pretty but it is a bit dry to my liking. I have only had challah a few time in my life. The smell and taste is good, the crumb is good but not as moist and soft as I like. But since it is a lower hydration ratio I suspect this is expected.

Sallynip's picture
Sallynip

IgorL's picture
IgorL

Not sure if you can fix it now.

IgorL's picture
IgorL

I baked it twice already.  The bread is definitely "edible", but nearly not as fluffy as the store-bought (or bakery-bought) challah I am used to.  I also made mine with honey instead of sugar, and it creates a certain aftertaste, which I like in other honey-based bakes, but certainly didn't like in my challah.

I will try making the next one with sugar, but I wonder if the challah based on a sourdough starter is generally not as airy as one baked with commercial yeast. Anyone knows the answer to that?

treeowl's picture
treeowl

I use honey for my yeasted challah, and it gets rave reviews. Maybe it clashes with the sourdough flavors?

IgorL's picture
IgorL

that either the yeast - unlikely I think, since a yeast is a yeast - or the lactic acid bacteria in the starter somehow processes the honey with unexpected results with regards to flavor. 

IgorL's picture
IgorL

could you please share the recipe you use for your yeasted challah?  Thanks!

treeowl's picture
treeowl

My yeasted challah (makes two loaves):

Egg wash:

1 egg white

A pinch of salt

Dough:

670g King Arthur bread flour (depending on your taste, you can substitute a few dozen grams of all-purpose flour)

7g (one packet) instant yeast (I prefer Dr. Oetker brand, but unfortunately that's not certified kosher)

4 whole eggs plus one yolk

3/4 cup water (approximately)

1/4 cup neutral oil (usually canola)

1/4 cup honey (from Rosh Hashanah through Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, use 1/3 cup). The type of honey will have a significant impact on the flavor of the bread. I usually use something mild, but for the fall holidays I like strong wildflower honey that packs a punch.

2 tsp table salt or fine sea salt.

Instructions: combine flour with yeast. Use a whisk to combine wet ingredients until the honey is dissolved. Pour wet ingredients into dry. Aim for a total dough weight of 1200g, adding water to adjust. Mix quickly with the handle of a wooden spoon. Once the dough comes together, switch briefly to hand and dough scraper. Rest 5–10 minutes. Add salt and optionally another teaspoon or two of water. Knead in the bowl (hand and scraper) about 8 minutes. Rest 5 minutes, then form into a ball and let rise until doubled or so. I usually refrigerate the dough at this point and resume the next day, but you can definitely go straight on. If you refrigerated the dough, let it rest in its bowl on the counter to take off most of the chill (maybe 90 minutes?). Divide into six even pieces (or eight for round loaves). Preshape, rest briefly, roll into strands, and braid loosely. You may have to let the dough rest a couple times to get the strands long enough. Place the shaped loaves on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap or place in a proofing bag. Rise until puffy. Lightly beat egg white with salt and brush on loaves. Sprinkle densely with seeds. Bake at 360°F for 21 minutes. Check that the internal temperature has reached at least 170°F (the temperature will continue to rise briefly afterwards). Cool in the pan for ten minutes, then cool completely on a rack.

IgorL's picture
IgorL

for the recipe!

SisBecki's picture
SisBecki

I'm one of 4 admins for the 90K Sourdough Bread Baking group on Facebook. We'd like your permission to use your recipe to allow our members to come here so they can see the comments. We will give you full credit for your recipe and if you also allow us to feature your photo of your awesome loaf, you will have the credit for that photo as well, of course. We would like to feature your recipe in our April group bake. Please let me know before Wed., 3/31/21?

IgorL's picture
IgorL

Could you please post a link to your FB group?  I'd love to join!  Thanks! 

SisBecki's picture
SisBecki
dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

You didn't specify which recipe you want to post on FB. If it is the one in the OP, that is from a copyrighted book, "A Blessing of Bread,' by Maggie Glazer.

As far as posting a link to a TFL post, I don't belief you need permission. I do it frequently - although it is almost always to a post of which I am the author.

David

SisBecki's picture
SisBecki

@dmsnyder, I didn't see your reply at first, because you misspelled my name accidentally. For this post: Sourdough Challah: Am I allowed to post the recipe in our Facebook group, saying that it is from Maggie Glazer's book "A Blessing of Bread" and that I discovered the recipe on TFL under this member's blog? When a work is copyrighted, can't we refer to it and give attribution properly? It's only when we try to say that the recipe is ours that it is copyright infringement, correct?

MiriMiri's picture
MiriMiri

As a novice baker, I was confused by the note of not expecting any rise during 2 hour bulk fermentation, and then the proofing is very long, 5 hours at room temperature. So what is the purpose of bulk fermentation here?

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

"Proofing" is a confusing name for the process of fermentation after dividing and shaping bread dough. You should think of both bulk fermentation and proofing as fermentation. When you are making a loaf that is divided, shaped into ropes and braided, if you let fermentation go too long before shaping, you will have a puffier dough to deal with. It will be harder to roll into ropes and you will do a lot of de-gassing in the process.

The long "proofing" results in a loaf that has most of its expansion before going in the oven and does not have a whole lot of oven spring. Having baked under-proofed challah, I can tell you the result is more oven spring and more separation of the braided strands. Not good.

Hope this helps.

David 

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