Friday, June 1, 2012

Whole Wheat Challah

It's Friday. It's been quite a week. Did I mention we found an apartment in Toronto? Did I forget to tell you that? Well, we did! We'll be moving at the beginning of July. More details (and excitement) to come!

Today I offer you my favourite challah recipe. I try to bake challah a couple of Fridays each month for Shabbat. It's so easy to do (really) and enjoying fresh bread from your own kitchen is a delight I hope you'll share with me. Try it once, just to see.

Deb's recipe makes challah of the exact perfect consistency and I didn't really want to mess with it, but I did anyway, just a bit. I desperately wanted a whole wheat challah that didn't handle or taste like a brick.  I found that substituting half (or almost half) of the all-purpose with whole wheat in this recipe worked perfectly. Almost too perfectly, really. Usually there are so many other adjustments when it comes to cooking with whole wheat, but not here. I'm not asking any questions. Don't mess with what works, right? I also added honey instead of sugar because I just love honey that much.

Do I have any bread making tips? Not really. I love using my stand mixer for the kneading, and I suggest you do the same if you have one. Some bread making purists might disagree, and I'd even understand if they did. Kneading bread by hand is one of my favourite things do, except that I'm five foot two and I'm too short to knead on most surfaces. You need to get above your dough when you're kneading and I can't find a good place here at mum's to do that. Instead I turn to my mixer, which is almost as delightful. One note, though, and Deb warns of this, too: the full recipe as listed below is a bit too much for a standard size mixer. Since I often only make half of the recipe, it isn't a problem.

You'll thank me when your house smells of baking bread. Also, and I just have to say this, you don't need to be a Jew celebrating Shabbat or a holiday to make challah. It's traditional in Judaism to use challah for special blessings, but basically it's just delicious bread. I think it's the reason my non-Jewish family embraced my conversion. Now, please, go make this!

Whole Wheat Challah
Adapted only slightly from Smitten Kitchen

Makes two loaves

1 1/2 packages dry yeast (or 1 1/2 tbsp)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup oil (olive or canola)
1/2 cup honey
5 large eggs
1tbsp table salt
4 cups whole wheat flour
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
sesame or poppy seeds (if, that is, you won't be sharing this with Alyce)

Dissolve yeast and sugar in 1 3/4 cup warm water (I do this right in the bowl of my mixer).

Whisk oil into yeast mixture, then beat in  4 eggs, one at a time. Add honey and mix again.

Gradually add the flour, about 1 cup at at time, kneading in your mixer for about ten minutes, or until the dough isn't too sticky, feels nice and soft, and stretches without breaking.

On a floured counter, knead by hand for a few minutes, just for good measure. Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for an hour. (You can also, as Deb suggests, let it rise inside an oven that has warmed up to 150 degrees and been turned off. I like doing this.)

After an hour, marvel at how much your dough has grown.

Punch the dough down in the centre and marvel at how much your dough has deflated. Cover it back up and let it rise for another 30 minutes.

Braid your challah however you like. I'll let you read how Deb explains braiding or you can watch someone else show you here. You'll be taking your dough, splitting in half, and then making either three or six long strands out of each half. From these strands you'll braid together a beautiful challah no matter what other people say. Oddly braided challah is delicious no matter what. Maybe even more so.

Beat 1 egg and brush it over your braided challah (don't throw out the rest You'll be brushing your loaves again soon). If you want to freeze them, as Deb suggests, you can do it now. Wrap up your loaves tightly with plastic wrap and slip them in a freezer bag. If you're not freezing them, you can cover them again and let them rise another hour.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Once they are all done rising, brush again with the egg wash and sprinkle seeds on if you like them. Bake for 30-40 minutes, but I suggest you start checking around 25 minutes. Over-baked challah doesn't do anyone any favours. You'll know it's done with the incredible smell in your house, and by tapping the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, you're done. Really, take the time to tap the bottom (just put an oven mitt on so you don't burn yourself!), you won't regret having perfectly baked challah.

Cool loaves on a rack.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone!


  1. You know what we love for our challah? Robin Hood Multigrain bread flour. It makes a seedy challah that everybody likes. But we can only get it in Canada, so we have a Canadian relative periodically drive it over the border for us. Which means, you should try it sometime. Because you could just get it at the grocery store. I mix that half and half with all purpose, or sometimes half multi-grain, 1/4 all purpose, 1/4 wheat.

  2. Thanks, Elizabeth! I am going to put that on my list for the next time I'm at the store. Can I mail some to you?!