Sourdough Whole Wheat Challah Bread feels like a wholesome but decadent treat, and is a great recipe for freshly milled whole wheat.
The moisture of the starter, the water, oil, and honey absorb into the whole wheat flour beautifully where the flavor is intensified by the long fermentation so that it is retained during the baking process.
In this post, learn how to make it, information about using fresh whole wheat, and why sourdough and whole wheat are a perfect combination.
What is challah?
The word challah means “bread” in Hebrew, but it often refers to bread used for religious or ceremonial purposes.
A portion of the challah is set aside in observance to the Law.
For the weekly sabbath or shabbat, two loaves are baked because when the people of Israel received manna from God they received a double portion on the day before the sabbath so they could eat the second portion and rest on that day.
You can read about the meaning of challah in more detail here.
Why use sourdough in whole wheat challah?
Sourdough and whole wheat were made for each other.
Whole wheat needs the long fermentation and enzyme activity from the sourdough starter to create a soft, fully hydrated dough.
Quick conventional yeast cuts this process short resulting in a drier bread, dense texture, and flat flavor.
Biting into this sourdough whole wheat challah bread is one of the most incredible sensations!
The texture is soft, full without a hint of dryness.
And the flavor that is developed over the long fermentation is incredible.
Starter notes for whole wheat challah
This bread uses a specific starter recipe or levain.
A starter is a general term in baking, which can be confusing.
You would take a portion of your sourdough starter to make the starter specific to this recipe. This is often called a levain.
The starter (or levain) used is very thick. It is not the typical 100% hydration starter.
If yours seems too dry, add a tiny bit of water and make sure you are kneading it by hand rather than mixing with a spoon.
Learn more about what a general sourdough starter is here.
Shaping sourdough whole wheat challah
I use a 2 rope braiding process for two long loaves.
Here is a video I created a year ago sharing some of the process: challah shaping video, shaping description starts at 4:24-6:00 Also, you can see the process of the two-strand challah shaping in this video: Sourdough Whole Wheat Challah with Two Strand Braids
Choosing and troubleshooting whole wheat flour
The way whole wheat absorbs can vary.
This variation in whole wheat flour has to do with what type of wheat it is, the growing season, the climate, and many other factors. Read all about flour here.
There is even variation between store bought and freshly milled flour.
The dough is stiff but should not be dry.
If there are dry spots after kneading, add a few drops of water.
You can find places to buy fresh milled whole wheat flour or wheat berries on this page.
Ways to enjoy sourdough whole wheat challah
This bread is irresistible for a Friday shabbat, Saturday breakfast, or any time!
Sharing this challah with family feels warm and inviting. It tastes like home.
I especially love making challah, particularly this whole wheat version, into French Toast… if any makes it to day 2 or 3!
I can’t wait for you to enjoy the most delicious Sourdough Whole Wheat Challah ever!
Need more help?
If you want a super easy way to make and enjoy sourdough bread, you can learn about my Once-a-Week No Knead Sourdough online course here.
I also have a Intro. To Sourdough online course if you are ready to gain a solid foundation for sourdough, the traditional way, to learn all the basics, language, techniques, and the process from start to finish to make sourdough bread.
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Sourdough Whole Wheat Challah Bread
- Food Scale
- Mixing Bowl
- Dough Scraper
- Rolling Pin
- Parchment Paper
- Baking stone (substitute flat baking sheet)
- Bread peel (or substitute flat baking sheet)
- Metal pan for steaming
- Water spray bottle
- Pastry brush
- Cooling Rack
Firm sourdough starter (levain) to be made the night before:
- 35 g Very active, fully fermented starter, refreshed 8-12 hours earlier 2 T.
- 80 g Water 1/3 c.
- 135 g White Bread Flour (all-purpose is okay) less than 1 c.
For final dough:
- 100 g Warm water (room temp is okay, temp will affect fermentation speed) 7/8 c.
- 2 large eggs plus one additional egg for glazing, to be used later
- 55 g Oil 1/4 c. (I use avocado oil for a more neutral flavor, olive oil would work great as well, for health and quality reasons I wouldn’t recommend any other oils)
- 65 g honey (or 60g sugar) 3 T.
- 8 g Sea salt 1 ⅓ t.
- 400 g Hard Red Wheat Flour (mine was fresh milled and purchased from Moon Family Farm) about 3 c.
- 200 g of the fully fermented and active firm starter made the night before
- Make the stiff starter (levain): Knead starter into water until partially dissolved, then add flour. Knead dough until smooth. If starter still has dry spots, add water a half teaspoon at a time. Place in a covered container where it will ferment and increase 4x in volume. Let ferment 8-12 hours.
- Mix and autolyse: In a large bowl, beat together water, 2 eggs, salt, oil, and honey until well mixed and salt is dissolved. With your hands, wooden spoon, or using dough hook in a mixer, mix in all flour at once. Once no dry bits of flour are left, cover and rest for a long autolyse with whole wheat for 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
- Add the starter: After autolyse, it is time to add 200g of the firm starter. If using mixer, add the starter to the whole wheat challah dough and knead with dough hook until fully incorporated, scraping as needed. If mixing by hand, turn whole wheat challah dough out onto a work surface, knead in the starter until dough is smooth and the starter is fully incorporated.
- Bulk Fermentation: Prepare a clean bowl and place dough into bowl. Cover and ferment 2-3 hours.
- Stretch and fold: To further strengthen dough during bulk fermentation, pull up one quarter of the dough and fold it over the middle. Repeat this process with the other three quarters of the dough. Re-cover the dough. This step can be done up to 4 times for maximum development of dough strength, if desired. Recover the dough after each stretch and fold.
- Prepare a baking sheet: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, preferably one with no sides like a cookie sheet. Decide whether to make one large loaf or two medium loaves. For two medium loaves, divide the dough into two equal parts.
- Divide: Lightly flour aclean work surface and transfer the dough from the bowl to the work surface.Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (if making 2 loaves) or 2 equal pieces (ifmaking 1 loaf), either visually or by weighing the dough on the scale.
- Shape: Line two bakingsheets with parchment paper. Lightly flour the work surface and roll out 1piece of dough into a 5- by-15-inch rectangle (double the length if making 1large loaf). Starting at a long side, roll up the dough until it is curled intoa long rope shape. Roll and stretch the dough rope with your hands or hold the endsand gently shake and stretch the rope until it is about 18 inches long. Repeatwith the remaining pieces of dough.
- Braiding: Take two ropes of the dough and cross themover each other into an “X”shape. Take the upper two sections of the ropes of dough and pull down towardthe bottom so all four ends are pointed downward. Take four small pieces ofpaper and label each one with a number: 1, 2, 3, 4. Put the pieces of paperbelow the ropes of dough, from left to right. As you follow the braiding steps,move each number to align with the rope’s new position. To start: Bring1 over 2, 3 over 4, 4 over 1, 2 over 4, 1 over 3, 3 over 2, 4 over 3, and 1under 2. Tuck all the strands under and seal them against the loaf. The goal ofthe braiding is to have an alternating and even pattern that comes up higher inthe center of the loaf. Hold the ends of the loaf and stretch it if needed tohelp make the shape more even.
- Proof: Transfer the loaf or loaves onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap or a slightly moistened kitchen towel and proof at room temperature for 4 to 6hours, until the loaves are about tripled in size. Check proof readiness using poke test, poking dough should leave a slight dent.
- Preheat: 30-45 minutes before the end of the proofing period, begin to preheat oven to 350º F with a baking stone in the center of the oven--or bake on a flat baking sheet, and a metal pan of water filled halfway with water on the lowest rack to fill the oven with steam.
- Egg wash: Whisk 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of water and brush it onto the loaf or loaves. Sprinkle the tops with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, if you’d like.
- Bake: Carefully slide the parchment with the loaf or loaves onto the preheated baking stone. Spray some water on the walls of the oven to add additional steam then quickly close the door to trap the steam. Bake for 25 minutes with the steam. Remove the steam tray and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer or until the loaves are a shiny golden brown and have an internal temperature of 190°F.
- Allow to cool 20-60 minutes then enjoy the most delicious Sourdough Whole Wheat Challah ever!