The traditional challah bread begins our Shabbat and holiday meals, as has been done in Jewish homes throughout the world for thousands of years. It is full of symbolic meaning dating to the Exodus from Egypt.
Most challah recipes today are loaded with white sugar and refined flour. But it is possible to make a healthy and tasty challah. I have tweaked Susie Fishbein’s Bread Machine Challah recipe from Kosher by Design by replacing the white flour and sugar for whole grain and honey, using coconut oil, and adding herbs and seeds for extra flavor. Fishbein’s recipe uses only the egg yolk- a perfect foundation for converting a recipe to wholegrain. The lecithin in the yolk helps to tenderize the dough; a technique used by Peter Reinhart in his whole grain Challah as well.
I like to use a six stranded braid to shape the dough, even when baking in a loaf pan. I learned this technique from Maggie Glezer’s book, A Blessing of Bread, where she explores a variety of Jewish breads from around the world and the rituals surrounding them. (You can also see her demonstrating the six stranded braid in this video.) I recommend this book for any home baker for the photos of the braiding and shaping variations for breads. It is also one of the few places I have seen a recipe for sourdough challah, which I have yet to master. I have been kneading my sourdough “discards” (about 1/2 cup) into the dough improving both flavor and texture.
To learn more about soaking, sprouting, and sourdough breads, check out this excellent Healthy Whole Grains online cooking class with over 50 video tutorials and over 100 recipes.
This recipe works with any kind of flour; white, whole wheat, sprouted grain, and spelt. You may need to adjust the liquid and/or flour quantities as you knead. Spelt flour always requires less water. The bread machine takes care of the initial kneading and first rise but is not necessary; a stand mixer or your hands work just as well.
Adapted from Susie Fishbein’s, “The Best Bread Machine Challah.”
I like to bake the braided challah dough in 2 loaf pans or 1 large and 4 small.
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
5 large egg yolks (reserve one white for bread glaze or use one whole egg for glaze)
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
4 1/2 cups organic sprouted whole wheat flour, or any other flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
Optional topping: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, anise seeds, dried rosemary or dill
- Place all ingredients in the bread machine and process on the dough cycle (my machine requires the liquid ingredients to be added first). Alternatively, mix the liquid ingredients in a stand mixer or by hand then add in the flour and knead until a smooth, uniform dough is formed. Allow to rise for 2 hours or until it has doubled in bulk.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Lightly flour a work surface. Divide the dough in half and shape as desired. If not using loaf pans, you can place the braided dough on parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover the dough and allow to rise for 45 minutes.
- Whisk the reserved egg white with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl. If you are using white flour for the challah, whisk a whole egg for the glaze to give the dough more color. Brush the challah with the glaze and sprinkle with desired topping.
- Bake for 30 minutes- less for smaller loaves- until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom or registers 195 degrees with an instant read thermometer.
- Let cool on a wire rack