After the success of the Fig Challah, I decided to try a savory challah… just because. This recipe is a revised version of the one I posted earlier from smittenkitchen.com; after three iterations, I tweaked the proportions, simplified the method, and (of course) there are no figs.
This recipe makes one large loaf that serves 16, and takes about five hours start to finish – more rising time than I’m used to, but definitely worth it. It works very well to mix the dough and knead it, and then put it in the fridge overnight closely covered with plastic wrap sprayed with oil or Pam. The cold fermentation adds to the flavor. Just make sure to bring it up to room temperature before shaping for the second rise.
7g (1 packet / ¼ ounce / 2 tsp) active dry yeast
150g levain (sourdough starter) or poolish (equal quantities water and flour with a pinch of yeast, set aside for two hours or overnight in the fridge)
40g (1/8 cup) honey
250g (1 cup) warm water, hand hot
75g (1/3 cup) olive oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs
10-12g (2 tsp) kosher salt
300 g all-purpose flour
200g bread flour
1 large egg, beaten (for the egg wash)
Coarse or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling; I used Everything Bagel seasoning from Trader Joe’s
Electronic scale the measures in grams and ounces; electric handmixer
Boil your kettle and turn the oven on to low/warm. Stand a medium-sized mixing bowl on your electronic scale, zero out, and add the honey. Carefully pour in 250g boiling water, and stir until the honey is dissolved. Set aside while you measure out the flours and salt in a separate bowl. When the water is hand hot, add the dried yeast and levain or poolish; mix well and set aside in a warm place until frothy. I suggest your oven – but make sure to turn it off first!
Put the bowl with the yeast mixture on your electronic scale, and zero out. Add 75g olive oil, and the two eggs. Beat with an electric hand mixer, then add the salt and flour. Beat until the mixture starts to come together as a wet dough. Scrape the sides as you go. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with oil or Pam and set in a warm place for 20 minutes until squishy. This resting time allows the bread to autolyse; the fibers relax for better texture.
Turn the mixture out onto a floured counter, and immediately wash and dry the mixing bowl. Knead the dough enthusiastically for five minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, slightly sticky but no longer picking up flour. Spray the bowl with oil or Pam, drop in the dough, and cover closely with plastic wrap sprayed with oil or Pam. Set aside in a warm place for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in bulk. [This is when to put it in the fridge overnight, if desired. I like to split it in two – about 575g each – and chill in separate bowls covered with plastic wrap.]
If you fermented this overnight, bring it up to room temperature in the morning; this will take about an hour. Spread some flour on your counter, and dump the dough onto it. Fold over on itself several times and shape gently into a log. Using your electronic scale, divide the dough into quarters of equal weight. Fold in thirds, then shape each piece into a rectangle; cover all four pieces with a towel, and let rest for 20 minutes.
Roll or push each rectangle into a larger rectangle, about 12” x 16”. Roll each rectangle into a log, then gently stretch the log as wide as feels comfortable, about 30”. You should have four rolls/logs/ribbons/tubes about the same length.
Arrange two ropes in each direction perpendicular to each other, like a tight tic-tac-toe board – that is, two horizontally, and two vertically, going over-and-under where they meet in the middle. You should have an eight-legged woven-headed octopus. Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move that leg to its right — i.e., jumping over the leg next door. Take the legs that were on the right and, again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left. [This will make sense when you do it.]. If you have extra length in your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. Tuck the corners or odd bumps under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round. If you’re very particular, you can lift the whole thing into a spring form pan to hold the sides in place – but make sure you oil the pan and that there is enough room for the challah to rise.
Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet, or, if you’ll be using a bread stone, a baker’s peel. Beat the egg until smooth, and brush over the challah. Let the dough rise for another hour, but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375°F.
Before baking, brush the challah one more time with the egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt (or with the Everything Bagel seasoning). Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if your challah starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time. The best way to check for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer — the center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.
Cool the challah on a rack before serving. It will cut more cleanly if perfectly cool, but hey, challah is designed for pulling apart and eating warm, so that whatever works for you.
This challah contains olive oil, so it will actually stay fresh longer than most white breads. Storage is not a problem, even though it’s a large loaf; I usually distribute portions to my neighborhood bread group, but IF any is left over, it does freeze pretty well. Slice whatever remains, and wrap 2-3 slices in plastic wrap, then pop into a ZipLok bag. Bring it up to room temperature before making into the very best French toast you can possibly imagine.
Note: I use a POOLISH instead of sourdough starter, because it’s easier to keep going and makes a less ‘sour’ result. To start a poolish (or ‘polish; as my autocorrect insists on calling it), make a thick paste of 200g flour – all-purpose or bread flour, or a combination of the two – with water (at room temperature). Add a good pinch of dried yeast, and beat incorporating air until the paste is sloppy but smooth. Leave it at room temperature for an hour or so to activate. Store in the fridge, and feed with more flour+water paste every day or so, depending how much you use in your (daily) bread-making. Baguettes require 250g, and other types of bread take 150-180g per batch. Feed your poolish every day, keep it in the fridge, and bring out an hour before you need it so that it’s live and bubbling (and room temperature) before adding to the yeast mixture. Set aside yeast+poolish in a warm place until it’s actively frothing.