Snowy cold weather and super short days are perfect reasons to jump headfirst back into baking bread on a regular basis. When the weather is nice and the sun is up until 9 p.m. it is often hard for me to hang around home long enough to get some bread baked. But now, at 5 p.m., when it is dark out and I can't face my enormous pile of laundry, I turn to the comfort of soft supple bread dough.
This challah is a 100 percent whole wheat bread, a rarity for me. I prefer to spike just about everything with some whole wheat flour but am never quite brave enough to use all whole wheat flour. The eggs, sugar, and oil tenderize this dough so that it is as soft and sweet as a white flour challah would be. The only difference is when you cut it open, you are not faced with the sunny yellow crumb most associate with challah. But after one bite, you will fall in love with this new, somewhat healthier, version. Don't be scared because there are three separate steps, they are easy steps that just take a little time but add a huge boost of flavor.
Whole Wheat Challah adapted very slightly from Whole Grain Breads
Soaker1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I like King Aurthur Whole Wheat)
1/2 tablespoon salt (regular ole' table salt, not Kosher which is bigger)
3/4 cup water
Stir together ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit out for 12-24 hours
Biga1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
Stir together ingredients, knead slightly to form a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight
11 tablespoons whole wheat flour (may use a bit less or a bit more)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
egg wash and poppy seeds for the top if desired (you could also use sesame seeds or both)
Pull the soaker and biga out of the fridge and let them sit for an hour or two to warm up. Cut up the biga and soaker into smaller pieces and place into large bowl (or bowl of your stand mixer). Add other ingredients and stir to combine. Knead dough for about 5 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Cover and allow to raise for about and hour.
Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Reknead dough for a minute or two. Divide into 3 separate pieces. Roll the pieces into long ropes (10-12 inches) The dough may not stretch that long at first, that is ok. Roll each piece as long as it will go and then move on to the next piece. Come back to the first one and roll it further after it has has a few minutes to relax. Braid dough. With challah, you typically start from the middle and braid to the outside to avoid too much stretch. Otherwise you have a one fat and and one skinny end. I find it easiest to braid the dough directly on the pan you are going to use to bake it. I use a large jellyroll pan with a sheet of parchment on top. Cover and let raise another 45 minutes.
Beat 1 egg in a bowl until frothy. Brush egg generously over dough. Sprinkle poppy seeds over dough. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes and the rotate loaf 180 degrees. Bake for another 20-30 minutes.
Allow to cool and enjoy!