Faith is a powerful thing. Faith is tied to religion. Different religions come with certain rules and traditions that have shaped people’s lives on our planet for thousands of years. In Judaism, they have a resting day called Shabbat, which starts Friday evening at sunset. Invariably intertwined with observing the Shabbat is the braided bread Challah. This is my recipe for sourdough challah.
Disclaimer! This is not an article about religion or my views on it, but if you are a regular reader you know I always like to look into the backstory of the things I present here.
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So what is this challah about?
Challah is a bread in Jewish cuisine that has a special ceremonial purpose. The bread is often as part of Shabbat and other major Jewish holidays.
The word challah is Hebrew but is known in Jiddisch under a variety of different names in different dialects like khale, barches, bukhte, dacher, or berkhes.
The bread is related to Kalach in Russia and Eastern Europe, which is also an enriched bread, braided but often circular. They are often used as part of worship as well, for Christmas or Easter.
Classically challah is topped with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or anise. Not uncommonly raisins and/or saffron are also added to the dough.
The dough is an enriched dough, but unlike brioche, it does not contain milk or butter, because it’s normally prepared parve, which means it’s both without meat and dairy. Instead, it relies on fat from vegetable oil, eggs, and honey or sugar to get the rich luxurious texture.
The formula in this sourdough challah recipe
The challah bread is made with enriched dough. It’s enriched with oil, honey, and eggs.
To minimize the sourness of the starter I am using a stiff levain, which is made from your regular 100% hydration starter (to minimize the need for having multiple starters). A stiff starter can grow as high as your regular starter.
It uses this formula:
|39g||starter (100% hydration)||35.1%|
The dough itself is made using bread flour, a bit of water, quite a lot of egg, honey, oil, and salt.
The hydration of this dough is not possible to calculate because of the high percentages of additions, but it feels like a lean dough of somewhere in the range of 55-60% hydration. Tacky, but not sticky.
This is the formula:
If you want to play around with the formula, you can do so in my bread calculator.
Conclusion of this sourdough challah recipe
There is no doubt, that this bread is a looker. The braids break up the surface and the toasted sesame seeds and the deeply caramelized crust look absolutely gorgeous.
The bread itself feels light. The crust is thin, super soft, and smells wonderful.
The crumb is incredibly soft, filled with tiny holes. You can see the gluten structure in the crumb from the braids, which makes it break up in circular patterns.
The taste is great. You can taste the nutty notes from the flour and it has an absolutely wonderful mouthfeel. This is not bread for the weekdays, but a weekend bread.
It’s perfect with some gorgeous butter and a sprinkling of coarse salt.
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This is my recipe for sourdough challah. I hope you will try to make this gorgeous and delicious bread.
If you make it and share it on Instagram, please tag me as @foodgeek.dk so I can see what you made. That would make me very happy.
- 53 g sourdough starter
- 150 g bread flour
- 76 g water
- 413 g bread flour
- 62 g water
- 186 g eggs about 4 large
- 57 g neutral flavored oil e.g. rapeseed, peanut, sunflower
- 67 g honey
- 8 g salt
- 207 g levain
- sesame seeds
- poppy seeds
- kosher salt
Making the stiff levain – the evening before
- Mix everything for the levain build. Knead it so that it's thoroughly mixed.
- Put it in a glass container and press it flat.
- Put an elastic band around the container where the top of the levain is, so you can monitor how much it grows.
- Leave it to grow the night over until it's reached its peak. It takes somewhere around eight to twelve hours.
Mixing the dough – around 8:00/8a.m.
- In a large bowl add 62g water, 186g eggs, 8g salt, 57g oil and 67g honey. Mix it until the salt has dissolved.
- Mix in 413g bread flour by hand until you have a shaggy ball.
- Add 207g of the stiff lavain and knead by hand until you have a firm and smooth dough. About 8-10 minutes.
- The dough should be tacky but not sticky. If it seems a bit too wet, knead in a bit of flour. If it seems to dry, knead in water by the tablespoon.
Bulk fermentation – around 8:30/8:30 a.m.
- Place the dough in a clean bowl and let it ferment somewhere warm for 2 hours. It will probably not rise at all; this is fine.
Shaping and final proof – around 10:30/10:30 a.m.
- You can bake this as a 1000g loaf or divide it into two smaller 500-gram loaves. You can divide them into 16 60-gram rolls if you want to make challah rolls.
- Braid or shape the dough. Watch my video to see how you do a classic Challah shape.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let proof until tripled in size, about 5 hours.
- Around 4½ hours into the proof, gauge the dough. If it's almost tripled and when poked, the dough only springs back a little, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
Baking – around 16:00/4:00 p.m.
- Gauge the dough again. Poke the dough with a wet finger. The dough is ready to be baked, if it makes an indentation that doesn't spring back. If not, wait a bit more.
- Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Make an egg wash by mixing an egg with a pinch of salt.
- Brush the bread with the egg wash.
- Sprinkle with the topping(s) of your choice. I used sesame seeds.
- Baking a large loaf takes about 40 minutes, smaller loaves take about 30 minutes, and rolls take 15 minutes.
- If your oven heats unevenly, you may want to turn the sheets halfway during baking, to get even browning.
- For the bread to be done, the internal temperature should be around 99°C/210°F.
- When the loaves/rolls are done, remove them from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Hi! I have made this three times. Twice, completely by the book. Both of those times resulted in a DELICIOUS loaf, but with little-to-no braid definition. The first time I thought it was because I had braided badly, but after practicing and doing it again, I think it has more to do with the extended raise after braiding. For my third try, I changed a few things. Kept all the ingredients the same, but did a bulk rise for 5 hours, braided it, and then let the shaped loaf proof for two hours. This resulted in much tighter braid definition, and more of a classic (non-sourdough) challah shape. Just wanted to let you know 🙂
You need to work your gluten more. Make sure the dough passes the windowpane test 🙂
The hydration for this challah is not in the 55% to 60% range. If you are getting that high a count for your percentage, you are counting ingredients that are not part of hydration, as they do not hydrate the flour. Oil, honey and eggs do not count towards the hydration percentage. The only ingredients that count towards calculating the hydration percentage is water/flour in the levain, the flour and water added to the dough.
53g mature SD = 26.5 Water + 26.5 Flour
150g bread flour
413g bread flour
((26.5 + 76 + 62) / (26.5 + 150 + 413)) = 27.9%
Please reread what I wrote. I said you cannot effectively calculate the hydration, but it feels like a bread in the 55-60% range 🙂
What do you mean by neutral oil? Also, any specific type of honey you recommend?
Neutral flavored oil 🙂
Can you bulk ferment in the fridge? When do you know the bulk ferment is over?
Yes, and it’s the same as at room temperature. When the dough has grown 25% 🙂
Thank you for the recipe.
Can I bake the next day I proof and shape the dough?
Yes, let it proof for about 3 hours and then put it in the fridge until the next day.
Be aware that the bread may be tangier.
If I don’t have honey on hand and want to sub in sugar how much should I use ?
Use about the double amount of granulated sugar and add about 10 grams of water.
Sune, I love this recipe! I tried it yesterday and it turned out perfect, OMG it was amazing. The video was so helpful, as I couldn’t imagine how to do the braids, but as soon as I saw it, it was so obvious and easy. I love the bit of sourdough tang in the aftertaste. I might add a tiny bit more honey or a stronger honey just to give it a touch more flavour. We lean towards a very mild clover honey here in urban North America and I’m thinking maybe your bees produce something different in Denmark! Thank you so much!
Yes, we have some very nice honey here in Denmark. I get one from a local producer 🙂
This is a wonderful recipe. The directions are thorough and spot on. It is the best and easiest sourdough bread I have made so far. Thank you for the detailed, easy to follow, precise instructions.
Thank you <3
The weight of water is different in the top section vs the directions at bottom. How many grams of water for the stiff levain here?
There’s a bit extra in the recipe, so that you are sure you have 207g when you need it 🙂
Wow! I made your recipe and used your methods as closely as I could and my bread turned out fantastic! I wish I could show my photos.
Awesome! Go to the Contact page and send the picture through the form.