Sourdough Semolina Challah

Ah, Challah… is there another bread that is so sweet and rich and yelow?  I don’t think so, which is exactly why I thought I’d attempt to bake a loaf.  Now, I don’t do anything the easy way (as most of you have realized), so instead of merely breaking out the ol’ baker’s yeast I went with a sourdough starter.  I know what you’re thinking, “Jason, Challah isn’t supposed to be sour!”  Well don’t worry, turns out it ends up sweet and rich like you would think and not sour at all.  Perhaps it has a bit more complex/interesting of a flavor, but not sour at all.  So, want to get started?  Maybe a sneak peak at the final product:

I aint no Challah back girl.

I ain't no Challah back girl.

Oh yeah… that’s the stuff!  Now, the recipe I used was a slightly modified version of this one at the Fresh Loaf, in case you want to see it for yourself.

Let’s begin!  First you need to make yourself your custom starter, so the afternoon on the day before you bake grab out your mother (you do have a mother, right?) and feed her.  About 8 hours later (before you go to bed) mix the following together in a clean bowl with a lid:

  • 35 grams (2 tablespoons) of said starter
  • 80 grams (1/3 cup) warm filtered water
  • 85 grams (1/2 cup) semolina flour
  • 50 grams (1/2 cup) bread flour

You should have about a cup (200-250 grams, depending on how well you measured) now sitting in the bowl.  You’ll also note that it has the consistancy of a very thick clay.  This is totally okay.  I know, I know, but it is.  Now, take the bowl, put on the lid and set it in a corner for about 8 to 12 hours (enough for it to triple in size and get a sticky “dough” texture).  Here are some examples:

Dough before...

Starter before...

Dough after.

Starter after.

The next morning (and trust me, you want to do this first thing) you need to get the rest of your ingredients:

  • 60 grams (1/4 cup) warm (not hot!) filtered water
  • 3 large eggs (local if you can get ’em… the yellow color is top notch)
  • 8 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) table salt
  • 55 grams (1/4 cup) vegetable oil (not olive)
  • 65 grams (3 tablespoons) honey (if you don’t have any, you can use 60 grams/ 1/3 cup white sugar)
  • 250 grams (1 1/2 cup) semolina flour
  • 150 grams (1 1/2 cup) bread flour

In a large clean bowl, beat together the water, eggs, salt, oil, and honey (if you measure the oil first, then use the same cup for measuring the honey, the oil will coat the cup and let the honey just slide right out… amaze your friends) until the salt has dissolved and the mixture has combined. Mix in the bread flour all at once (use a wooden spoon or roll up your sleeves and use your hands). When the mixture is a thick shaggy mass, scrape it out onto your work surface, add the starter, and knead until the dough is smooth and combined (this will take a bit of work). Try not to knead more than 10 minutes (trust me, this should come together before the 10 min are up).

Now then, this dough is quite thick and like the starter last night, should almost feel like clay.  This is weird, but normal.  We want this. Now if the dough is too firm to knead easily (or crumbles), add a tablespoon of water to it.  Likewise, if it seems too wet (and you’re sticking to it), add a tablespoon flour.  In the end, the dough should feel smooth and firm but be easy to knead and not crumbly.  Take a look at what the various bits should look like:

Before the flour.

Before the flour.

After the flour.

After the flour.

After the flour.

After kneading.

All done!

All Done!

Okay… still with me?  Great!

Take that ball of dough you have and put it in a clean, oiled bowl.  Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and sit it in the corner of your kitchen (somewhere not too hot or cold).  Come back in two hours… go watch some TV.

<2 hours later>

Hello again!  Let’s continue!  Grab yourself a pan and line it with parchment paper (even if you have a baking stone, like me, do this part.  Makes it easier later).  Divide the dough evenly into two pieces of about 1lb each.  Time to braid!!  If you’re like me, you’ve never done this before.  If you have done this before, be proud of your skill… it’s not easy.

I decided to do two braids.  One is a standard 3 Braid (which Jess did) and one is a 6 Braid.  Tip: Don’t stop braiding until you’re done.  I got confused about halfway through (I stopped for a minute and forgot where I left off) and it wasn’t as pretty as it could have been.  D’oh!  Here’s the video I used to help me out:  Maggie Glezer – Braiding Challah.

So, what did they look like?  Well, mine had promise, but oh well, you can’t only count the wins, right?  Jess’, however, looks pretty nice (it’s already rising in the photo).

My 6 Braid.

My 6 Braid.

Jess 3 Braid.

Jess's 3 Braid

Okay, so you’re braided, dough on the pans and ready to go… what now?  Now we wait.  Awhile.  Cover your dough with some plastic wrap and leave your dough to rise for another 5 hours (it should about triple in size).  You heard that right… go rebuild your PC or play a game… you got time.

If you have a baking stone, make sure it is in the oven, if not, don’t.  30 minutes before baking, arrange the oven racks in the lower and upper third positions if using two baking sheets (no stone) or arrange one rack in the upper third position if using the stone, and remove any racks above them. Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Just before you’re ready to go, grab one last egg and beat it with a pinch of salt for a nice egg wash.

When the loaves look like they have tripled and do fill back in when gently pressed with your finger, brush them with the egg glaze.  If you’re using a baking stone, just slide the bread and parchment paper right onto the stone (it won’t burn, don’t worry). Turn the oven down to 450°F and bake the loaves for about 25 to 35 minutes, or until very well browned (not burnt, though). After the first 20 minutes of baking, turn the loaves around so that they brown evenly. When the loaves are done, remove them from the oven and let cool on a rack, but don’t cut ’em until they’re all the way cooled!  It should look something like this:

It's what is inside that counts.

It's what is on the inside is what counts, right?

Not bad for my first attempt.  The taste is wonderful… sweet and light and everything a good Challah is.  If you try this, feel free to share your pictures!!

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