Whole Wheat Challah

I have been meaning to blog about this bread since before I started blogging. It is a variation on Peter Reinhart’s whole wheat challah from his Whole Grain Breads book.

What is different from his recipe? Mostly the way that I prepare the dough and bake it. The only change to the ingredients is to swap out the egg yolks and egg with 2 whole eggs.

Whole Wheat Challah
Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s recipe, with completely changed preparation method and 2 eggs substituted for 1 egg, 4 yolks.

18 ounces (4 cups) whole wheat flour
2 ½ t yeast
10 ounces water 1 ¼ cups
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar (1 ounce)
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) corn oil

Egg wash

Combine flour, yeast, room temperature water and eggs. Mix the dough. Add the syrup, salt and oil. Mix more. You can also just mix together all the ingredients at once (theoretically, the two step mixing helps improve gluten development, but either way works). Let the dough rise for two to three hours, flattening and folding the dough like an envelope every hour (the stretch and fold).  You can also let the dough rise in the fridge overnight.

Shape the bread and let rise for an hour and a half, or until fully proofed (if the dough is from the fridge, it will need 2 hours rising time). This dough rises highest in pans; free form loaves are going to be lower lying. Glaze with beaten egg while it is rising. Glaze again when fully proofed.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Stick the challah in the oven, drop the temperature to 375 or 350 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes.

Additional notes:

Heidi at 101 Cookbooks has posted a part whole wheat/part white flour version of this recipe, which Reinhart calls the transitional version. The all whole wheat version has an extra Tbl. of water in it, plus 2 more Tbl. oil.

I was thrilled with this bread when I first made it, and was not put off by the requirement to prepare the night before a seperate “soaker” and “biga.” This Reinhart’s “epoxy method”–so called because the soaker and biga combined together make a stronger, better dough than either individually.

One friday morning I awoke, ready to make challah and realized that I forgot to make the “epoxy” preferments the night before. Oops.  I just dumped all the ingredients into my Kitchenaid mixer and mixed the dough for all it was worth. Then, I turned (stretched and folded) the dough every hour for three hours, shaped my bread, let is proof and baked it. It was as perfect as with the preferments. Huh, that’s funny, I thought.

So I gave up the epoxy method for whole grain challah, but kept the basic recipe.

More recently, I have given the bread just a couple of rises over two hours before shaping, and it was still perfect.

The challah pictured above was made yet another way. Peter Reinhart’s latest book, Artisan Breads Everyday uses cold fermentation of the whole dough instead of preferments. The whole wheat recipes in this book skip the epoxy method. You mix the dough the night before, put it in the fridge, and then shape and bake the next day.

So, I tried making my dough the night before, letting it do all its rising in the fridge overnight, and then shaped it the next day.

I gave it a two hour rise per the instruction for white flour challah in Artisan Breads Everyday (there is no whole wheat challah in this book). The dough gets glazed with egg twice, and rises uncovered.

For baking, preheat to 400 degrees and then drop the temperature to 375 or 350. I find that 30-40 minutes is enough bake time.

The challah was as good if not better than any other version of this recipe that I have made before. The crumb was very open with variation in the size of the holes.

Other observations: this is a wet dough. It bakes more easily in a loaf pan, but my husband prefers the more low-lying free -form loafs pictured above. Better crust to crumb ration, he says.

The flavor is more savory, with hints of olive oil and just a touch of sweetness. It does not have the sweet, rich, eggy flavor of traditional bakery challah. I think you should double the oil and triple the sweetener if you want a moister, sweet, richer challah. My own, carefully tweaked white flour challah recipe has 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of oil to 22.5 ounces of flour. This whole wheat recipe has a mere 1 1/2-2 Tbl. of sweetener and 4 Tbl. of oil to 18 ounces of flour. We are liking the less rich taste of this bread, but you should know before you bake this that it is no more sweet than the average whole wheat sandwich bread.

As for the eggs . . . well, I have another thing to reveal. The original recipe calls for 4 yolks and a whole egg. This leaves you with four extra whites. So, I usually just use two eggs. This time, I had four yolks leftover from a meringue swan experiment. So, I went with the four yolks and whole egg.

Using the extra yolks doesn’t make a noticable difference in taste or texture or even color. Two eggs is fine.

Of course, I was using red whole wheat instead of white whole wheat. Perhaps the color would have been more effected with a lighter colored wheat flour. Maybe even the milder taste of white whole wheat would be more impacted by extra yolks. But, I doubt it.

Two eggs are enough. Going back to my own challah recipe, I use three eggs to 22.5 ounces of flour, and the challah is plenty yellow looking and eggy tasting.

I am sending this off to Yeastspotting!

Updates: After making this bread with an Israeli flour (Rubinfeld flour, distributed by Shibolim), I went back to white whole wheat and found the flavor too bland. I bought more Rubinfeld flour and the flavor of challah made with this flour is really fantastic. Conclusion: Use Rubinfeld flour!

I experimented with my mixing technique. Salt, sugar, and oil interfere with gluten development, so I tried mixing the dough with just eggs, water, yeast, and flour until the gluten was well developed before adding in the oil/sugar/salt. Holding back these ingredients until later in the mixing resulted in a dough with enormous rising power. I let the dough rise, then put it in the fridge. The dough rose enormously the first rise, then rose enormously in the fridge. It had a slight sourdough smell, and when I baked the bread, the resulting challah had a moist crumb sort of like artisan bread–not quite a custard crumb, but close.  Conclusion: you can change the texture of the dough to a moister, chewier texture with the double rise and overnight fermentation along with the two-step mixing technique.

The next time I made challah, I tried the same two-step mixing technique, but shaped the bread after letting it rise once. It took about an hour and a half to rise before shaping, and after shaping it needed about an hour. I put some of the dough in bulkeleh pans (large round pans the size of extra extra large muffins), and some I shaped free-form. I made six small loaves from the dough. The bulkelehs rose hugely, more than the free form loaves. Incredibly light challah. I think this soft dough needs the support of a pan to reach its full height potential. Conclusion: with the right mixing technique, an overnight fermentation and multiple rises are uneccesary. Using pans ensures the highest rise.

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6 Responses to “Whole Wheat Challah”

  1. YeastSpotting July 2, 2010 | Wild Yeast Says:

    […] Whole Wheat Challah […]

  2. Whole Wheat Cinnamon Raisin Kranz Cake « Pragmatic Attic Says:

    […] I was fascinated by Stefanie’s  idea of using a water roux to make dough lighter and fluffier. I wondered what it would do to my whole wheat challah dough. […]

  3. Israeli Kranz Cakes: Chocolate Halvah and Orange Date Almond « Pragmatic Attic Says:

    […] also used half a batch of whole wheat challah dough to make the orange date kranz coffeecake version suggested by Baroness […]

  4. Bejma: Tunisian Challah « Pragmatic Attic Says:

    […] Challah (Maggie Glezer) (plus Tamar Ansh’s round braiding technque) Tamar Ansh Round Braid Whole Wheat Challah (Peter Reinhart, but my variation) Lithuania Challah (Maggie Glezer) ABin5 Challah (Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day) Apple Honey […]

  5. Suzanne Says:

    wow! This turned out awesome – the best whole wheat challah I’ve found. I did change things in the “method” – I just threw all the ingredients into my bread machine and hit “dough” cycle – and the dough came out so big and fluffy, just perfect! Usually, my whole wheat challah attempts have been dense – but this one is really fluffy.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

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