I feel a little like sourdough is a baking enigma. Or at least some sort of dreamy mystery for most amateur bakers. I loooove sourdough, but was completely fearful of it. The idea that you have this yeastless base in your fridge at all times, just waiting to be feed like sort of living being. A little scary, right? No? Maybe it's just me.
But, I really wanted to make Sourdough Challah happen. The idea that villagers could just pass on the sourdough starter from friend to friend. It all seems very shtetl life to me, a romantically beautiful notion. When I made my most recent bread flour order from King Arthur Flour, I decided to bite the bullet and try out sourdough. So I ordered their Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter. (A few weeks ago, I tried making my own sourdough starter using the method from A Blessing of Bread, one of my favorite go-to challah recipe books when looking for inspiration or to have a question answered. Needless to say, I forgot about my starter and killed it before it was ever ready... so the KAF established starter seemed like a safer bet.)
When the starter arrived, KAF gave some pretty specific instructions on feeding the starter to reactivate it. Then, last night I set to work on making it a 100% hydration starter for my challah this morning. To do this, I halved my refrigerated starter and added the recommended water and flour to what was left. Then I let it sit overnight. 12 hours later it looked like this...
Ready, bubbly and time for Sourdough Challah!
I relied heavily on Sour Salty Bitter Sweet's Sourdough Challah, though this recipe is quite similar in proportions to my Basic Small Batch Challah.
1 c hydrated sourdough starter
1/2 to 3/4 c tepid water (I was closer to 3/4)
scant 3 tbsp honey
1/4 c neutral oil like canola or vegetable
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks plus 1 more for egg wash
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 c bread flour
What you really need for this challah is TIME. The sourdough starter needs about 12 hours to hydrate, and the dough rises really slowly. If you're making this for Shabbat, you'll need to start pretty early in the morning. Yield is 2 medium sized loaves or 1 large loaf.
Mix together the wet ingredients: the starter, water, honey, oil, and 1 egg + the yolks. (This challah is much more fool proof... it's basically a dump challah.) Mix everything together with a wooden spoon or large whisk.
Here's where the TIME comes in. You need it. Loads of it. Some recipes say let the dough triple. Some double. Some simply say 8 hours. 4 hours. 12 hours. I don't have a really good recommendation for you. I let mine rise for 6 hours, until it just started to touch the top of the plastic wrap in the oiled bowl. (Usually, my rises look like this.)
At this point, take a moment and smell your dough. It should smell awesome. I just love that sourdough aroma. Yum. Braid as normal. And now for more TIME. Let rest at least two hours, preferably more. I had a casserole baking in my oven at 450, so I put the pan on top of the oven, which rushed the braided rise a bit. Eggwash and add poppy or sesame seeds as desired. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway.
When I'm trying a new recipe, I always like to make a few rolls so I can sample before Shabbat! Wow. These smell like deli sourdough; I'm so pleased. The five-stranded braid isn't as pretty as I'd like, but the challah's didn't rip in the oven, so I think they're proofed enough. On the whole, the loaf isn't as sweet as my challahs usually are. However, this would make a delightful sandwich bread or dipping in soup... just what I was going for.
Have YOU ever experimented with sourdough? Did I make any egregious errors? Shabbat Shalom from our bayit to yours!