Some years ago, a client named Leslie was kind enough to teach me how to bake challah using standard white flour. Her recipe is both simple and wonderful. She mentioned she had experimented a bit with whole wheat flour, but the resulting bread came out more like a brick.
Since then, I've found a recipe for a whole wheat challah that worked pretty well for me. I tried it because I was low-carbing, and well on my way to becoming diabetic. But I had to modify it a bit with some of the instructions from Leslie's recipe, to get it to turn out right. Everyone seems to love it, so I'm sharing the final version here.
I'm also going to include a few optional ingredients, in case you want to make my Thanksgivvukkah gingerbread challah version from a few years ago. Yummy, but almost more of a dessert cake than a loaf of bread. If you make this version, I strongly recommend getting freshly ground ginger and cinnamon, from a store with more than one variety to choose from.
Neither version seems to brown on top the way a white flour challah would, but I promise you that's normal and doesn't affect the taste 😊
Ingredients (Both Regular Whole Wheat and Gingerbread):
4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 packets active dry quick-rise yeast
1/2 cup brown sugar (or brown sugar-Stevia blend)
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (optional)
1/2 cup honey (or honey-Stevia blend)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup very warm water (hot, but not so hot you can't leave your finger in it)
Spices for Gingerbread Challah Only:
3 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Prep time: About 2 hours
Cook time: 30 minutes
Ready in about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, spices (if any), and vital wheat gluten until well mixed.
2. Make a well in the middle of the bowl. I usually use a measuring cup. Gently pour the brown sugar around the edge of the bowl, so that it sits on top of the mixture but does not fall in the middle.
3. Pour the very warm water into the middle of the bowl, add both packets of yeast, and stir gently. Allow yeast to sit in the water for 10 minutes.
4. In another bowl, stir together the honey, olive oil, water, and two of the eggs. I like to use a whisk to make sure they are well mixed.
5. Once the yeast is done soaking in the water, pour the liquid mixture you just made into the large bowl. Stir and knead it until it forms a dough.
6. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. It may also help to dust your hands with a little flour from time to time, to prevent too much dough from sticking to them.
7. Form the dough into a round shape. Lightly oil a bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn the dough over a few times to oil the surface. Cover the bowl with a cloth, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, about 1 hour.
8. Punch down the dough, knead it a few times to remove some of the bubbles, and cut it into 2 equal-sized pieces. Set 1 piece of dough aside under a cloth or plastic wrap to prevent drying out while you shape or braid the first loaf as desired.
9. Working on a floured surface, roll the small dough pieces into ropes about the thickness of your thumb and about 12 inches long. Ropes should be fatter in the middle and thinner at the ends. Pinch 3 ropes together at the top and braid them this way. Continue braiding, alternating sides each time, until the loaf is braided, and pinch the ends together and fold them underneath for a neat look.
10. Repeat step 9 for the other loaf. Place the braided loaves on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. I normally use two, because this bread burns very easily on the bottom. Some people prefer parchment paper.
11. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes. Near the stove is fine, but not on top of it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while waiting.
12. In a small bowl, beat the last egg well. Then use a brush (or in a pinch, a spoon) to paint the top of the loaves lightly. Then sprinkle them with sesame seeds.
13. Bake for 30 minutes at 350. Best enjoyed while still warm.