Honey and tahini Challah

And then came October, and with October came the rain. It has been raining and gloomy -grey for the whole week, in Washington DC. This weather reminds me very much of the spleen of the Belgian autumns I lived through during my years in Brussels. It’s has a special melancholic beauty, if you look at it from the inside of a warm living room.

So while I was looking for something comforting to bake, I realised that Sunday is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. At that enlightenment, the decision was easily taken to bake Challah, which is a special braided bread eaten on Sabbath and Jewish holidays.


One problem I sometimes have with Challah, or other similar brioche-like yeasted breads, is that when they come out of the oven the crumb may not be as soft as I would like it to be. Therefore, I decided to try adding a poolish to the regular Challah recipe. A poolish is essentially a sponge, which is made with equal parts of flour and water plus some active dried yeast and let sit to ferment for some time before being incorporated in the final dough. It’s helpful in getting a lighter texture and a thinner crust. It does require some preparation, but the result is really worth the additional wait.

If you are growing a sourdough starter – like I am at the moment – you can also use part of the discarded starter for the poolish, which will give it more strength and a special flavour (more on how to do this in the note at the end of the recipe). I actually used 100g of my sourdough starter for the challah pictured here, and it turned out very nice.


Besides the poolish, there is another special addition to this challah, compared to my go-to recipe. I added a tablespoon of tahini in the dough, and I also brushed the loaf with a milk-honey-tahini mixture,  and I think overall it yields a very nice and balance flavour. So here it is, ready for you to try it! Happy Rosh Hashanah to everyone who’s celebrating tomorrow, and to those who are not, this still isn’t a good excuse not to try this challah!


Ingredients (makes one big challah):

For the poolish:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour (100 g)
  • 1 cup water (100 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast (1.5 g)
  • see note at the end if you wish to use your sourdough starter for the poolish

For the dough:

  • the poolish (should weigh about 200g)
  • 3 cups flour (360g)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons honey + 1 teaspoon for brushing
  • 1 tablespoon tahini + 1/2 teaspoon for brushing
  • 3 abundant tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup water (120 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons water or milk for brushing


Start by making the poolish in advance: mix together 1 cup each of water and flour with 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours or in the fridge overnight. You should see an increase in the dough and the formation of air pockets.

When the poolish is ready, pour 3/4 cup of water into a small mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes until it bubbles and dissolve. Then add to the dry ingredients.

Measure 3 cups of flour into a large mixing bowl and add the poolish. In a smaller bowl beat the two eggs with oil, honey, tahini and salt, then add the water and yeast mixture and stir. Add to the dry ingredients and knead well (manually or with a stand mixer) for at least 5 minutes.

Put the dough into a large bowl greased with oil, and let it rest in a warm place for 2.5 hours.

After this time has passed, gently scrape the dough out of the bowl and shape it. I normally shape it in a traditional 4 or 6-ropes braid, although this time I wanted to try a round shape. Let the shaped loaf rest for another hour.

Pre-heat the oven to 375°F (190°C). When you are ready to bake, stir together 3 tablespoons of warm water or milk with 1 teaspoon honey and 1/2 teaspoon tahini, until dissolved. Brush the loaf with this mixture and sprinkle some poppy or sesame seeds on top. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for about 30 minutes, until golden brown.

{Note: if you are maintaining a sourdough starter, you can use it as part of the poolish. If your starter has 100% hydration, which means it has been fed with the same amount of flour and water, then weight the amount of starter that you want to put in the poolish and reduce the amount of flour and water called for here by half the amount of the starter you are including. For example, if you wish to use 100g of your starter in the poolish, you should add just 50g each of water and flour, to make the poolish. Do not alter the amount of active dried yeast called for (which is anyway small).}


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