Whole wheat sourdough challah, fragrant with olive oil and honey, is a nourishing bread – rich, flavorful and worth the extra effort it takes to lovingly prepare the dough, roll out the strands and intricately braid the loaves. While typically prepared from refined white flour, vegetable oil or margarine and refined white sugar, challah is, indeed, a loaf for special occasions – but preparing this traditional bread from wholesome ingredients elevates challah beyond the mundane to something that truly nourishes the body and spirit while satisfying the tastebuds.
In this version of challah, we use soft white wheat flour. Soft white wheat is a whole grain, differing from hard red wheat which is typically used for breads, in that it is softer, with a lower protein content and is better suited to preparing pastries. When transforming your family’s favorite treats and sweets made from refined white flour, to more nutrient-dense whole grain alternatives, choosing whole soft white wheat flour enables you to maintain the baking qualities of white flour while nourishing your family with the myriad vitamins and minerals typically found in whole grains. Of course, whole grain is rife with antinutrients including enzyme inhibitors which inhibit good digestion as well as food phytates which bind up minerals in the digestive tract inhibiting your body from fully absorbing all the micronutrients whole grain can offer so the proper preparation of flours and breads is essential not only for improving flavor, but also in protecting from mineral deficiencies. Fortunately, sourdough fermentation as called for in this recipe for whole wheat challah dramatically improves the nutritive qualities of whole grains by neutralizing enzyme inhibitors and degrading phytic acid.
Using Freshly Ground Flour
If you’re serious about bread baking, you might also consider purchasing a grain grinder for your home (see sources). After whole grain is milled, packed and allowed to sit in bulk bins or on the shelves of your local grocery store, nutrients are lost – vitamin E and other vitamins slowly degrade the longer the flour sits. When you grind grain fresh, not only is the flavor vastly improved, but many of the fragile vitamins and enzymes remain intact. Bread, like this whole wheat challah, becomes a true luxury when prepared from freshly ground flour.
Where to Find a Sourdough Starter
This recipe requires a sourdough starter, instead of baking yeast, to leaven the bread. I use this recipe for sourdough starter
- 1 quart proofed sourdough starter (buy sourdough starter here)
- 7 cups whole soft white wheat flour (divided, plus extra for kneading)
- 1 cup filtered water
- 5 eggs (divided)
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 tsp unrefined sea salt
- ½ cup unrefined extra virgin olive oil (plus extra to grease the bowls) (buy organic olive oil here)
- poppy seeds (to dress the challah)
- Stir one quart proofed and bubbly levain with four cups soft white wheat flour and one cup filtered water. Pour the levain and flour into the basin of a standmixer equipped with a dough hook and mix until the dough forms a solid lump, cleaning the sides of the bowl, about three minutes.
- Transfer the dough to an oiled mixing bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel and allow it to rest for twelve hours.
- After the dough has rested for twelve hours, whisk four eggs, one-quarter cup honey, one teaspoon unrefined sea salt with one-half cup unrefined extra virgin olive oil.
- Transfer the dough back to the mixer equipped with a dough hook, pour in egg mixture and remaining three cups soft white wheat flour. Mix together until the dough forms a solid lump, about four minutes, then transfer to a floured surface for kneading.
- Knead the dough, adding additional flour as necessary, until it becomes smooth and pliable, about six to eight minutes.
- Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and allow it to rise until doubled in bulk, about one to two hours.
- After the dough has doubled in bulk, divide it into two equal portions. To make one loaf, divide one portion of the dough into three portions, then divide each of those three portions into two portions. You should have six equal portions of dough for one loaf of challah.
- With the palms of your hands, roll each of the loaf’s six portions of dough into a strand about twelve inches long and one and one-half inches wide. You should have six equal strands of dough for one loaf of challah.
- Braid the six strands of challah. (Register for Happy & Healthy Holidays to view the video tutorial on braiding a six-strand challah, available December 1st).
- Prepare the second half of dough in the same way as you prepared the first.
- Beat the remaining egg with two tablespoons water and brush it on the loaves.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Allow the loaves to rise again for about an hour, brush with egg wash a second time and dress with poppy seeds.
- Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit until golden, about forty minutes.
- Cool loaves completely before serving.