Everyone loves homemade doughy challah. Finally, there’s a recipe for completely whole wheat challah with a rise that can fool anyone! Make this on Friday afternoon for a relaxing end to the week and a fresh loaf for the weekend.
On the surface, challah is just a loaf of bread. Ask anyone, though, and you’ll quickly learn that there’s much more to it than that.
I automatically associate challah with Shabbat. Sitting down for family meals. Removing the distractions of technology and focusing on real interactions with each other. Relaxing and reflecting on the week. This is the focal point of my week and one of my strongest connections to Judaism. Although I don’t want to overgeneralize, I do think that many other people also associate challah strongly with their religion, to whatever extent that may be. After all, it is one of the most identifiable Jewish foods around. We can get really stereotypical by dipping a piece in a steaming bowl of Bubbe’s chicken soup.
I crack myself up sometimes.
My family typically buys challah each week. By now we’ve sampled so many types that we really know what we like best. It wasn’t until I studied abroad for a year that I tackled baking my own challah for Shabbat. To my surprise and delight, it wasn’t hard!
Since then, I’ve been on a mission to find the perfect challah recipe. One that was 100% whole wheat, yet still rose like its white-flour counterparts. It had to be soft and doughy. And it had to be easy, so that I could do it without a mixer or bread machine on a busy Friday afternoon.
Many batches, taste tests, and heavenly-smelling kitchens later, I’m ready to share it with you.
Baking challah certainly tries your patience. Mixing and kneading the dough doesn’t take very long, but you have to let it rise twice, while your nose is assaulted by the incredible scent. Because I used to be so intimidated by bread baking, it’s only fair for me to give you the same courtesy someone once gave me, and break it down.
Let’s talk yeast. For whatever reason, I find that the yeast I bought in a jar activates better than the little packets. Could be a freak occurrence, but still not going to mess with what’s working for me. Whatever you choose, make sure to store it in the fridge or freezer so that it doesn’t die.
Thinking about it now, yeast reminds me of Goldilocks. If the water is too hot, she won’t like it; if it’s too cold, she won’t like it. It’s got to be just right. As long as you can hold my wrist under the water without feeling the urge to snatch it away, it’s about the temperature you want. If it’s too easy to hold it there, then raise the heat a bit.
Next, we have our flour. Challah made completely of whole wheat flour is notorious for not rising. You wouldn’t believe the amount of questions I’ve gotten from people who never in a million years think they’re not seeing a loaf that’s at least half white flour. Guess I know how to shock people’s socks off.
Here comes the fun part– mix and mingle, friends, mix and mingle. Let’s get those ingredients real well acquainted with each other, because we’re about to knead them together like nobody’s business. Kneading dough is a serious workout, but there are a few tricks to the trade. Make sure to flour your hands and whatever surface you knead on. I actually prefer to do it in the mixing bowl. Also, use the heels of your hands and fold the dough towards you, rotating it as you go so that you don’t just keep kneading the same part over and over again. This video does a good job of showing how to knead.
Finally, we’re ready to let it rise. The secret to getting well-risen whole wheat challah is to keep it warm. If it’s a particularly sunny day in the summer then I’ll leave it by the window. Otherwise, next to the oven or stove is generally good, because I usually cook something else while waiting. A fallback is to put your oven on a very low temperature and stick the dough in there for a bit, although I wouldn’t recommend that for the first rise.
When it comes to shaping the challah, a braid is classic.
Start from the middle of the braid, working your way down one end and then going up to finish the other. This method ensures that one end of your challah braid is not significantly thinner than the other. But get creative! I’ve seen some really cool shapes and you can really play around with it. I mean, it’s sort of like Play-Doh, except there’s no doubt this is edible.
And there you have it! Challah Baking 101.
I promise, you can and will get the hang of this. No matter what else might happen, Friday can’t be bad if I’ve got a batch of challah in the oven. Frankly anything homemade is better, but there’s an extra something special about homemade challah for me. It’s so deeply connected to my roots, yet I can also share it with someone from a totally different background, without the same roots, and know that they’ll love it just as much as I do.
Let’s break bread together.
If you try this recipe, I’d love your feedback. Leave a comment below, save it on Pinterest, or tag #lensesandlentils on Instagram to share!
- 4 cups whole wheat flour, plus ¼ cup extra
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2¼ tsp active yeast
- 1 cup warm water, divided
- ½ cup honey, plus 1 tsp
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 eggs
- In a small bowl, gently mix the yeast, 1 teaspoon of honey, and ¼ cup of the warm water. Let activate for 5 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Add in the remaining ingredients and yeast mixture. Mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add up to ¼ cup extra flour, doing so 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too sticky. Dough should be elastic and smooth.
- Knead the dough either in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface, for about 5-7 minutes.
- Lightly oil the bowl and place ball of dough back into it. Cover with a clean towel and put someplace warm.
- Let rise for 1 hour. Dough should just about double in size.
- Uncover and gently punch down dough. Divide in half and braid into 2 medium loaves, or 4 small loaves. Pinch and tuck the ends under. Place on lined baking sheet, cover with towel, and put someplace warm.*
- Let rise for 30 minutes. While dough is rising for the second time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Bake challah for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden and sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom of the loaf.**
- Best served warm. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight bag for a few days.
**Depending on the size of your loaves and your oven, you may need to play around with the baking time. I prefer my challah a little doughier, and tend to bake for the shorter time period.