Sunday, 14 December 2008

Transitional Whole Wheat Challah

Challah (pronounced hal-la), is the Jewish Sabbath and celebration bread. The traditional version of challah is made from a rich dough of white flour and a combination of whole eggs and additional yolks.

Tradition doesn't stipulate that it has to be made with white flour. It is the eggs that define challah, not the flour. This version uses a combination of whole wheat flour and white flour to make a beautiful and tender multigrain braid.

During the holidays, it's hard to find time to dedicate to baking bread. This recipe takes a couple days to make from start to finish, but it's really not hard or time-consuming. You can time it to fit in your schedule because most of the time is used for the fermentation. I did a good bit of the preparation during commercials while I was relaxing watching TV.

Transitional Whole Wheat Challah Recipe
Makes: 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves
Preparation: 2 days
The recipe is from Peter Reinhart's
Whole Grain Breads.

Day 1:
Soaker and biga, 20 minutes set up and mix; overnight autolyse

Day 2: 2 hours to de-chill biga; 12 to 15 minutes mixing; 2 to 3 hours fermentation, shaping, proofing; 40 to 60 minutes baking


  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, preferably fine grind
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 7 tablespoons filtered or spring water, at room temperature (about 70 degrees F)
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 4 egg yolks

Final Dough:
  • Use all soaker
  • Use all biga
  • 7 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar or 2 tablespoons sugar or brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • extra whole wheat flour for adjustments
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water plus a pinch of salt for egg wash
    poppy seeds or sesame seed for topping (optional)



Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.

Note: If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.


Mix all of the biga ingredients together in a bowl to form a ball of dough.  Using wet hands, knead the dough in the bowl for 2 minutes to be sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed and the flour is fully hydrated. The dough should feel very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead it again with wet hands for 1 minute. The dough will become smoother but still be tacky.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

About 2 hours before mixing the final dough, remove the biga from the refrigerator to take off the chill. It will have risen slightly but need not have risen significantly in order to use it in the final dough.

Final Dough:

1. Using a metal pastry scraper, chop the soaker and the biga into 12 smaller pieces each (sprinkle some extra flour over the pre-doughs to keep the pieces from sticking back to each other)

2. Combine the soaker and biga pieces in a bowl with the 7 tablespoons flour and the salt, yeast, honey, and vegetable oil. Stir vigorously with a mixing spoon or knead with wet hands for about 2 minutes, until all of the ingredients are evenly integrated and distributed into the dough. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky; if not, add more flour or water as needed.

Note: You can use a stand mixer for this recipe, I just prefer to do it by hand whenever possible.

3. Dust a work surface with flour, then roll the dough in the flour to coat.  Knead the dough by hand for 3 to 4 minutes, incorporating only as much extra flour as needed, until the dough feels soft and tacky, but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean, lightly oiled bowl.

4. Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute to strengthen the gluten and make any final flour or water adjustments. The dough should have strength, yet still feel soft, supple, and very tacky. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared bowl, rolling to coat with oil.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1 1/2 times its original size.

5. Gently transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface with a plastic bowl scraper (try not to rip or tear the dough). You can make 1 large braided loaf or 2 smaller loaves, or you can cut as many as 16 smaller pieces for dinner rolls.  For braided challah, use a metal pastry scraper to cut the dough into 3, 4, 5, or 6 equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you want to make; do not rip the dough -- make clean cuts.

Roll the pieces into short ropes about 3 inches long.  Cover loosely with a cloth towel or plastic wrap,

Let rest for 5 minutes, then roll each piece into a longer rope, about 10 inches long.

Braid the ropes. I made the 3-braid loaf.

How to make a 3-braid loaf:

Lay three equal strands side by side

Start overlapping one of the outside strands over the middle strand.

Take the opposite strand and lay it over the new middle strand.

Continue this pattern until you run out of dough. Pinch the end closed.

Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and repeat the pattern. The loaf is now ready to pan and proof.

6. Place the braided loaf on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat.  Brush the egg wash on the loaf, mist the top of the dough with pan spray (optional) and cover loosely with plastic wrap, or place the pan in a plastic bag. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

7. Brush the dough with egg wash a second time, then top with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. Leave the dough uncovered to continue rising for 15 more minutes. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

8. Place the challah on the middle shelf, reduce the heat to 325°F (163°C), and bake for 20 minutes.  Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.

Check the bread and rotate again if it is baking unevenly. Continue baking for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the bread is a rich brown all around, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers at least 195°F (91°C) in the center.

9. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

I hope you enjoyed learning how to make this festive bread.

Happy Baking!


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