Sourdough Challah

sourdough challah six strand

Finding a solid sourdough challah recipe has been on my bread baking list for awhile. While I have a sourdough enriched sandwich bread recipe that I love, the appeal of challah to me is that it’s dairy free and the dough is easy to shape into beautiful braids — perfect for holiday celebrations! Leftover challah also makes excellent French toast, bread pudding, bostock…basically, I’m never sad to have a few extra slices!

After trying a few different recipes/methods, I’ve finally landed on one I like. The dough handles beautifully; and so long as you use fresh starter, there is barely, if any, a hint of sourdough tang. The formula is based on Maggie Glezer’s sourdough challah recipe, with a few adaptations to the flour mix and fermentation times. I’ve also been experimenting with add-ins and substitutions, so stay tuned for more challah-based recipes soon!

pumpkin challah
A few notes:
  • As with all bread recipes, proper fermentation is key to success. Although I’ve provided general timings which work in my kitchen, keep in mind they may vary greatly depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the strength of your starter. I’ve tried to provide visual cues to help you along — as they say, watch the dough and not the clock!
  • The original recipe called for all bread dough, but I prefer a mix of bread, all purpose, and whole grain for a balance of softness, chew, and flavor.
  • There are many ways to shape challah; I particularly like the 6-strand braid, 4-strand braid, and round challah. For best results, weigh out the dough into even portions for the most even-looking braid.
  • To make pumpkin challah, replace the 60g warm water in the final dough ingredients with 75g pumpkin puree. I like to use maple syrup as the sweetener in this variation. Pumpkin provides more color than flavor in this variation (see photo below), though for extra “pumpkin spice” you can spread the filling from this sourdough cinnamon raisin bread on the rolled out dough before shaping the dough into logs (replace the cinnamon with pumpkin spice). Make sure to firmly seal the seam and ends or liquefied sugar will leak out of the braid!
  • Like other enriched sourdough recipes, this recipe takes time — though most of it is hands-off. I like to break the work into the following 3-day schedule:
    • Day 1, right before bedtime: prepare stiff levain.
    • Day 2, morning: mix dough and ferment until doubled. Refrigerate dough once doubled.
    • Day 2, right before bedtime: shape challah and let proof at room temperature overnight.
    • Day 3, first thing in the morning: bake challah.
    • Note: If you want to mix and bake all in one day, you could shape and proof the dough right after the dough has doubled. Proof time will likely be a little shorter since the dough doesn’t have to warm back up to room temperature. I personally prefer the above schedule because I find cold dough easier to shape and I like having the bread freshly baked in the morning.
sourdough pumpkin challah cut

Sourdough Challah

Makes one large loaf (or two smaller loaves, or many buns) | Adapted from Maggie Glezer via The Fresh Loaf

Ingredients:

For the stiff levain:
  • 40g very active, fully fermented 100% hydration sourdough starter, refreshed 8 to 12 hours earlier
  • 52g warm water
  • 108g bread flour

Mix all ingredients together and allow to ferment at room temperature for 8-12 hours, or until ripe (it should triple in volume).

For final dough:
  • 60g warm water
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing
  • 10g fine sea salt
  • 55g olive oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 65g honey or maple syrup
  • 250g bread flour
  • 100g AP flour
  • 50g whole grain flour
  • All of the levain
  • Sesame / poppy seeds or pearl sugar, for garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together all ingredients from water through honey/maple syrup until combined.
  2. Add the flour and levain (torn into several pieces to make it easier to incorporate). Use a silicone spatula or your hands to mix until ingredients are roughly combined.
  3. Mix the dough on a low-medium speed (3 or 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) until smooth, about 5 minutes. You can also do this by hand, which should take 8-10 minutes. The dough should be on the firm side but still easy to knead.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Ferment at room temperature until doubled. This took me about 4 hours, but will depend on the temperature of your kitchen and strength of your starter.
  5. Fold the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 12.
  6. When you are ready to shape, remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide equally into the number of pieces desired on a lightly floured surface. (I like to do 6 pieces for a 6-strand braid or 4 for a round challah.) Loosely round, then cover and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Also, whisk the remaining egg with a pinch of salt for the egg wash.
  7. Working one at a time, roll each piece into a thin sheet (about 1/8″ thick) — the shape isn’t important, but aim for an even thickness. Roll up tightly like a jelly roll, pinching the seams and ends to seal. Repeat with other pieces.
  8. Roll each piece into ropes of even lengths (I aim for 24-26″), tapering the ends. Braid as desired (see notes above).
  9. Transfer shaped loaf to the prepared baking sheet. Brush the entire surface with a coat of egg wash, then cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap. Cover and refrigerate the remaining egg wash; you will need it later.
  10. Allow the loaf to proof at room temperature until at least doubled and very puffy (but still defined). This takes me 8-10 hours at cool room temperature. About half an hour to 45 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Right after preheating the oven, uncover the loaf and brush with another coat of egg wash.
  11. When the oven is ready, brush the loaf with a final coat of egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame/poppy seeds or pearl sugar, if desired.
  12. Bake for 35-45 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking, or until the top is well browned and the loaf registers 200F. (Tent with foil if the loaf is browning too quickly). Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

35 thoughts on “Sourdough Challah

  1. Hi Ruth, this recipe looks great! A quick question–any thoughts on what’ll happen if I do a cold proof longer than 12 hours? Like maybe even closer to 20? I’m dying to try this recipe but want to fit it into my work schedule. Thanks!!

    1. Hi Caryn! If you mean bulk fermentation (before shaping), I’m cautiously optimistic that you could refrigerate it for 20 hours. I would do the final proof at room temperature, though. I haven’t had much success cold proofing enriched doughs in general!

      1. I had something come up the day I was supposed to shape and ended up leaving it in the fridge about 36 hours. The loaf was a bit tougher than usual, but still very good!

  2. hi, I just put up the dough at it appears very sticky and on the looser side, a very different viscosity than a basic challah dough recipe (this is my first time making sourdough challah). Is that normal?

  3. incredible bread. I tried it today and the Crumb was amazing and i could still taste the sou/rness of my Starter. final proof only took about 3.5 hours as I live in Singapore. BONUS! look forward to trying your other recipes

    1. Ruth, for step 5) fold dough ?? U mean stretch n fold ? If yes, just 1 stretch n fold b4 I put in fridge . After fold, put in fridge 2-12hrs
      Thanks 🙂

  4. I would like to make this recipe but what type of flour is the “100g AP flour”.
    Thank you very much, for all the recipes you have on Instagram.

  5. Hi!
    Have you ever tried doubling the recipe?
    Also, my local stores are out of bread flour, but I have AP flour. Can I use only AP flour?
    Thanks!

    1. I haven’t doubled the recipe, but it should work in theory. I think all AP would work in this recipe, though you may not get as high a rise. You may want to hold back a 1-2 Tbsp of water to start.

  6. Ruth, do you think if I only use unbleached all purpose flour, and no bread flour at all, will it work well? There is such a shortage of flour right now, and all I can get is all purpose flour, or whole wheat, or spelt – just absolutely no bread flour.

    1. I’m cautiously optimistic that all AP would work in this recipe, though you may not get as high a rise. You may want to hold back a 1-2 Tbsp of water to start. If you try it, please report back!

    2. Have you tried it yet, Lisa? Based on our designated shopper’s success this morning, I’ll be giving it a go!

      Ruth – It will also be AP flour for the Stiff Levain – any adjustment there?

      Thanks!

  7. In the end, I located some bread flour so I used that where asked for in the recipe. The loaf turned out beautifully. My only change would be that I think the recipe asked for too much salt. I would cut that down. I put some spelt in for the whole grain option, and that was a nice addition. It makes a very large challah.

  8. All I had was whole wheat flour but I tried it anyways and it turned out amazing! All the time that went into it definitely paid off.

  9. Why roll out dough pieces flat and then roll them up into logs rather than just rolling dough pieces into logs? I’m looking forward to making this but wondering if this step is crucial or if I can save myself the work. Thanks!

    1. It makes for a more even crumb as it degasses the dough more thoroughly and lets you shape each strand more tightly. It’s not essential, but I do think it helps make a prettier loaf in the end.

      1. I’ve had bubbles in my challah before, so having this roll out and roll up technique was a great tip. I made it as directed, but it barely rose despite a first rise of over 5 hours and final proof of 10 hours, both at room temperature – about 8 hours in the fridge in between. The dough was pretty dense, a little sticky but didn’t seem overly wet and I didn’t want to dry it out with extra flour. I’m glad I didn’t since the bread is on the dry side. It did rise in the oven, but lost a lot of definition over the final proof. I know that a dryer dough can help maintain definition, but like I said – the bread was already on the dry side. I’m not sure what went wrong here. The levain more than tripled in size, and another bread I made the same day from the same starter turned out beautifully. I might give this another shot, or might wait and hope I find yeast again somewhere.

        1. It sounds like the dough needed a warmer environment. It really should double during the first rise, otherwise the bread will end up dense.

  10. To add sweet potato to this recipe, should I follow what you said about adding pumpkin? Or can I add a little more mashed potato because potato is drier than pumpkin is? I made this challah without adding anything last week and it was my best sourdough challah yet! (I have been trying many different recipes and was delighted to find that this one worked beautifully) The only issue is that during the overnight rise before baking, my braids always get a little flat. Is there a way to combat this?

    1. Hi Penny, I’ve never added sweet potato to this recipe so I can’t give you a definitive answer. I would say to add the same amount of potato to start and perhaps be prepared to add more liquid if the dough feels too dry. As for the braids flattening, it could be that the dough is a little overproofed or the braiding is too tight (which causes the strands to grow into each other and loose their definition). If your kitchen is quite warm it’s probably overproofing, due to the long rise. I’d try finding a cooler spot or checking on it a bit sooner. Hope that helps!

  11. Hello! I’d like to try this with butter instead of oil – any tips or warnings? Thank you! I already made it once with OO, it was amazing even made by this novice!

    1. Hi! I haven’t tried it with butter, but I would probably knead in room-temperature butter after mixing the other ingredients together for a few minutes. Then keep mixing until the dough is strong and smooth. This would definitely be easier using a dough hook on a stand mixer, rather than by hand. Hope this helps!

    1. It’ll be baked thoroughly at a high temp so I personally don’t have any qualms, but you can just lightly mist with oil if you prefer.

  12. Hi Ruth,

    This recipe looks amazing, but, alas, unfortunately, I was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago and have not had challah since 🙁

    Any chance you have experimented with gluten free flours to make this loaf? I have a thriving gluten free sourdough starter and have successfully made other gf loaves of bread with it, but just haven’t found a gluten free sourdough challah recipe so was hoping to adapt yours to make a gf sourdough challah 🙂

    Please let me know if you have any advice!

    1. Hi Rebekah,
      I don’t do much gluten-free baking so I’m afraid I don’t have any guidance for you! You might check to see if Aran Goyoaga (from Cannelle et Vanille) has any advice — she bakes a lot of GF sourdough!

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