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Tools needed for Sourdough Challah:
Baker’s Percentage Table:
How to Make Sourdough Challah Recipe:
1. Build the levain
2. Mix the dry ingredients
- 340g bread flour
- 40g granulated sugar
- 7g sea salt
3. Whisk the wet ingredients
- Ripe levain (125-150g)
- 60g warm water
- 40g neutral oil
- Two large eggs
- One egg yolk
4. Mix the wet and dry ingredients
- At first, the dough will stick to your hands, and it will be tempting to flour the dough more. Don’t! As you knead the dough, it will continue to hydrate the flour; the dough will come together. Adding more flour to the dough during kneading will result in dense challah.
- If the dough is unbearably sticky, only lightly flour your hands (not the dough itself).
- This dough is stiff; I would not recommend using a mixer so it doesn’t overheat.
Knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes until the dough is completely smooth, and you can perform the windowpane test on a portion of the dough.
What is the windowpane test?
The windowpane test is a valuable tool to know if you’ve developed enough gluten in the dough. To perform the windowpane test, gently pull up a small portion of the dough between your fingers. If the dough quickly tears, it has not developed enough gluten, as seen in the photo below before kneading.
The dough passes the windowpane test if you can stretch it into a thin, translucent film that light can pass through without breaking (like a windowpane!).
6. First Proof
Place the kneaded sourdough challah dough into a lightly oiled bowl for proofing.
Proof the dough until doubled and a noticeable amount of gas has formed in the dough. At 78ºF, this should take about five hours.
- Because this is an enriched dough, sourdough challah can take longer to proof. Ideally, place the dough in a warm & humid environment like a bread proofer or an oven with the light turned on.
- Unlike My Everyday Sourdough Bread recipe, this dough is unlikely to overproof unless left in a warm environment for hours longer than called for (in which case the dough can spoil). You will degas the dough when you braid it, so getting this first proof exactly correct is less critical than making a loaf of artisan-style sourdough bread.
7. Cold Overnight Proof
The cold-proof, or retard, slows down fermentation and will give the sourdough challah a more complex flavor. Proofing it overnight also allows you to bake it at a later time.
With the dough covered, place it in a cold refrigerator for an overnight proof of 12-18 hours.
Note: I haven’t proofed this dough for longer than a day in the refrigerator, but if you do, I would love to hear how it turned out in the comments below!
8. Shape & Braid the Challah
Braiding is perhaps the most intimidating aspect of making challah if you’re unfamiliar. Am I a challah braiding expert? Unfortunately, no, but I find this basic method works well and still provides an impressive loaf. I’ve opted for a four-strand braid for this recipe based on the size of the dough, but you’re welcome to braid it differently, of course.
If you’re looking for an easier-to-braid loaf, check out my sourdough babka recipe.
Degas and roll into ropes
Take the chilled dough out of the refrigerator, punch it down slightly with your hand to degas it, and turn it out onto a lightly floured workspace.
Divide the dough into four equal parts using a bench or bowl scraper.
One at a time, press each section of dough into a small, flat rectangle.
Gently roll up the dough from one side (it doesn’t matter which) until you have a short rope.
Using both hands and starting from the center of the rope, roll it out until it is 14-16” long. The rope should be skinnier on the ends.
Set aside and repeat with the remaining ropes until you have four ropes of equal length.
How to Braid a Four-Strand Challah
Please follow the braiding images below as I find the visual to be the most helpful to braid challah, but you can also follow the written instructions below:
- Set the four ropes parallel to each other and pinch the four furthest ends of the ropes together (image 1).
- Move the rope furthest to the right and bring it up and over to the left of the other three ropes (image 2).
- Place the previously furthest rope to the left and bring it up and over to the right of the other ropes. Essentially, the two ropes traded places. (image 3).
- Place the rope on the top left down and in between the two ropes on the bottom (image 4).
- Replace the rope that was in the top left with the rope furthest to the right on the bottom (image 5).
- Place the rope on the top right down between the two ropes on the bottom (image 6).
- Replace the rope that was in the top right with the rope further to the left on the bottom (image 7).
- Repeat this alternating pattern (from images 4-7) until you reach the ends of the ropes (image 20).
- When you reach the end of braiding, slightly pinch together both ends of the challah to secure it. Barely tuck both ends underneath the challah to neaten up (image 21).
Note: While tempting, try not to stretch the ropes as you braid the dough or you will have an oblong, somewhat lopsided challah.
9. Final Proof
After the challah is braided, gently place it onto a half-sheet pan with a reusable silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
This sourdough challah gets a double egg wash (before and after proofing) for a brilliantly shiny and golden crust.
Thoroughly whisk one egg with a small whisk or fork in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to apply an egg wash over the challah. Refrigerate the rest of the egg wash for later.
Then, place the baking sheet in an ideally warm and humid environment to proof. The humidity will help keep the challah from forming a dry crust.
In a method I learned from proofing croissants, you can create a warm and humid environment for this challah by keeping it in an oven with the light turned on and with a small pan of just boiled water in the bottom of the oven.
If you have a small thermometer and hygrometer, place them on the pan to measure the temperature and humidity. I try to keep mine at 78ºF and 60-80% humidity.
Alternatively, you can also lightly mist the pan and cover the challah with plastic wrap.
Proof the challah until it doubles in size, is somewhat poofy, and feels full of air.
At 78ºF, proofing typically takes between 4 to 5 hours.
Perform “the finger poke test” to tell if your challah is fully proofed.
Take a floured finger and gently poke the challah. The dough is under proofed if it immediately springs back.
If the dough leaves a small indentation and slowly springs back, it is likely proofed! Does your poke leave a crater that doesn’t spring back? It might be over-proofed.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (if you were proofing the challah in an oven, be sure to take it out along with the water pan!).
While the oven is preheating, brush the remaining egg wash onto the challah.
Sprinkle the challah with a topping of your choice. Poppy and sesame seeds are both traditional and delicious! But feel free to get creative- everything bagel seasoning, flaky salt, fennel seeds, za’atar, etc., are all great.
Bake the sourdough challah for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through to evenly brown.
When done, the challah crust should be shiny and evenly golden brown. The bottom will be firm and should sound hollow if you thump it. If you’d like to check the internal temperature, it should read between 190-200ºF.
Finally, allow the challah to cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing or pulling it apart.
How to Serve Sourdough Challah:
There are many ways to enjoy this sourdough challah.
With its striking braid, it’s a beautiful bread to have at the center of your table. Slice or pull apart the bread and enjoy it on its own.
It’s also heavenly slightly toasted with butter and jam, or with flaky salt.
How to Store Sourdough Challah:
This sourdough challah is best on the day it’s baked.
Once cut, sourdough challah can dry out faster than some other types of breads. Wrap it in a tea towel and keep in a brown paper bag for a couple of days. If the challah hardens or dries out some, slightly warm or toast it.
Sourdough challah also freezes well! Cut slices and keep them in a freezer-safe bag for a couple of months at least.
Have extra slices? Sourdough challah is the perfect bread for making the best french toast or bread pudding.
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Sourdough Challah FAQs:
Have more questions about baking sourdough challah? Ask in the comments!
Can I double this recipe?
Yes! This sourdough challah recipe can be easily doubled or scaled to whatever sized challah you would like. To scale it to another size (six-braided challah, for example), please refer to the baker’s percentage table. Then, calculate each ingredient to be the same percentage as how much flour you use.
Why is my challah dry and dense?
Enriched breads like challah take longer to ferment. Therefore, it’s likely that the challah is under proofed if the dough or environment is cold. For the final proof, the dough should at least double in size. If you do the poke test, it should feel full of air and leave a slight indent.
Another reason challah can be dry or dense is if you add too much flour during kneading. As mentioned in the kneading section of the guide, only lightly flour your workstation and lightly flour your hands if the dough is extremely sticky. It will come together as you knead it!
Why is my challah hard?
Hard challah is often the result of adding too much flour during kneading or overbaking. Bake challah to an internal temperature of 190-200ºF.
Why did my challah tear or split when baked?
Challah braids can tear when they bake if the braid is too tight. This splitting can also occur if the dough is under proofed.
Can I add whole wheat to this recipe?
Sure! I made this recipe with about 10% whole wheat flour; it was very good but denser. With a large percentage of whole wheat, add more water so it doesn’t become too dense.
How many slices of sourdough challah does this recipe make?
Depending on the length of your challah, this recipe makes about eight 1-inch slices– perfect for a french toast weekend brunch.
Sourdough Challah Recipe
- Build the Levain:Mix together the sourdough starter, bread flour, and warm water in a clean and empty jar. Cover and let sit in a warm location for about five hours until doubled, bubbly, and ripe.50 grams Sourdough Starter, 50 grams Bread Flour, 50 grams Warm Water
- Mix the dry ingredients: When your levain is ripe, mix together the bread flour, granulated sugar, and sea salt.340 grams Bread Flour, 7 grams Sea Salt, 40 grams Granulated Sugar
- Mix the wet ingredients: In a separate bowl, whisk together the levain, warm water, neutral oil, eggs, and egg yolk until thoroughly mixed.60 grams Warm Water, 40 grams Neutral Oil, 2 Eggs, 1 Egg Yolk, Levain
- Mix together the wet and dry ingredients: Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Use a spatula to mix together the ingredients until most of the flour is hydrated and the dough comes together into a sticky and shaggy ball.
- Knead:Place the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. With lightly floured hands, knead the dough for 8-10 minutes until it is completely smooth and the dough develops enough gluten to pass the windowpane test. The dough will start off extremely sticky but will come together as it is kneaded. Flour as minimally as possible.
- First Proof:Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and proof in a warm location for about 5 hours at 78ºF. Proof the dough until it is doubled and there is a noticeable amount of gases built up in the dough.
- Overnight Proof:Place the covered bowl in a refrigerator to proof overnight for 12-18 hours.
- Degas and Shape into Ropes:The next day, slightly punch down the dough to degas it. Dump the cold dough onto a work surface and divide it into four equal pieces.One at a time, press each piece into a small, flat rectangle. Gently roll up the dough from one side until you have a short rope.Use both hands and starting from the center of the rope, roll the rope out until it is 14-16 inches long. The rope should be skinnier on the ends. Set aside and repeat with the three remaining pieces of dough until you have four that are of equal length.
- Braid:Please follow the braiding instructions and images in the guide above as I find they're the most helpful.Lay the four equal ropes of dough parallel to each other and pinch one end together. Braid the challah following the pattern in my guide (or if you're braiding in another pattern). Don't braid the challah too tight and try not to stretch the ropes as you braid the dough.When you reach the end of the braid, pinch both ends of the dough and slightly tuck both ends underneath the challah to neaten it up.
- Final Proof:Transfer the shaped challah onto a half sheet pan lined with a reusable silicone baking mat or parchment paper. For an extra shiny crust, this dough will get two egg washes. Whisk together one egg and use a pastry brush to apply the egg wash to the challah. Reserve the remaining egg wash for later in a refrigerator.Place the half sheet pan in a warm and humid location* to proof for about 5 hours at 78ºF. Proof the dough until it is doubled in size, is somewhat poofy, and feels full of air.1 Egg
- Bake:Preheat oven to 350ºF (177ºC).While the oven is preheating, brush the remaining egg wash onto the challah. Sprinkle toppings of your choosing onto the challah (sesame or poppy seeds are excellent).Bake the sourdough challah for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through to evenly brown. When done, the challah should be shiny, evenly golden brown, the bottom will be firm and sound hollow if tapped, and the internal temperature should read between 190-200ºF.Cool on a wire rack for at least one hour before serving.Sesame or poppy seeds
- This sourdough challah is best served on the day it’s made. With any remaining challah, store in a brown paper bag or wrapped in a tea towel and bread bag. Warm or toast up slices if slightly hardened. It also makes excellent Sourdough Challah French Toast.
- Slices can be frozen in a freezer-safe bag for at least two months.