Sourdough Whole Wheat Challah Bread

This recipe is featured in the Holidays section of my book Everyday Bread Baking. You can learn more about my books here: https://livingbreadbaker.com/books/

amazon cookbook link

Once I began using freshly milled whole wheat, I was excited to see how it would transform a recent family favorite: challah bread.

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.

Biting into this sourdough whole wheat challah bread is one of the most incredible sensations!

When you make this, take care to notice a few things:

  1. 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.
  2. The way whole wheat absorbs can vary. Especially if you are using store bought instead of freshly milled like I am using. The dough is stiff but should not be dry. If there are dry spots after kneading, add a few drops of water.

This bread is irresistible for a Friday shabbat, Saturday breakfast, or any time! I especially love making it into French Toast… if any makes it to day 2 or 3!

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, here is a short video of the two-strand challah shaping: Braiding Challah Bread from Two Strands

I can’t wait for you to enjoy the most delicious Sourdough Whole Wheat Challah ever!

The whole wheat I used in this bread was purchased from Moon Family Farm in WA and milled on my mockmill. You can buy wheat directly from them or you can buy it freshly milled by Cairnspring Mill.

Sourdough Whole Wheat Challah Bread

I love the soft texture of challah bread, but this sourdough whole wheat challah bread has incredible flavor and texture. I especially love using fresh milled whole wheat.
Course: Breakfast, Side Dish
Author: Jenny Prior

Equipment

  • Food Scale
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Spoon
  • 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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  • 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!
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