Saffron Challah

I felt like another enriched dough, I’ve need looking at challah recipes for a while and decided to give that a go. I’ve tried making it twice before - once following Rose Levy Beranbanm traditional challah recipe from her site and once from Nancy Silverton’s La Brea Bakery book. Rose’s version turned out really nice, lovely and buttery and light, amazing tear-y texture., but a bit bland on the taste front The one from Nancy’s book was a disaster, didn’t rise much, and the flavour was quite bad, I ended up throwing most of it out. I must have cocked something up, because normally Nancy’s recipes work really well for me.
So, this time I’ve decided to do a bit of a mix of both recipes - vanilla and saffron challah, using just sourdough, with no commercial yeast.

Saffron Challah

118g water
10 strands of saffron
100g white starter (100% hydration)
425g white flour
10g salt
3 eggs
60g honey
70g unsalter butter, softened
1 vanilla bean
2 Tbsp poppy seeds (optional)
1 tsp caster sugar (optional)

Pour 50g of boiling water in a bowl, add saffron and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. Add cold water to came up the required water amount (add 56g of cold water) and add in 225g of flour and all starter. Mix everything together with a spoon until everything is roughly combined together and leave to autolise for 30 minutes.
Place the pre-mix into a mixing bowl, add the remaining flour (200g), salt, 2.5 eggs (add two full eggs, break the last one in a small glass, whisk it lightly with a fork, pour half of it in the mixture, and reserve the other half for egg glaze later), honey and vanilla bean - split a bean in half, and scrape all the seeds out and add them to the mixture. I use ndali, that you can buy in most of supermarkets, Sainsbury’s have it and so do WholeFoods, some Tesco’s might sell it too. I love these vanilla beans, I normally reserve the actual bean, once I’ve used the seeds and store it in a container with sugar, which lightly flavours my sugar, adds a nice touch to your morning coffee.
Mix everything (but butter) on speed 1 for 4 minutes, turn the mixer up to speed 2 and run it for another 3 minutes. With the mixer running, add softened butter, one bit at time, making sure that each piece of butter is well incorporated before adding another one.
The dough is so soft and sticky, I am a bit tempted to add more flour, as I know I’ve increased the hydration recommended in Rose’s recipe. But no, I am going to leave it as it is, folding is going to be tricky, but oh well. Butter a large bowl and transfer the dough into it - it was a bit of a messy process and I used a dough scraper to help me. Cover the dough with plastic (shower cap) and leave to prove for 2 hours. Try doing stretch and fold in the bowl, again, use a scraper if you have one to help you, otherwise just wet your hands lightly and try stretching it and folding it on itself. Cover and leave for another four hours at room temperature.
Bu the time I got to that stage, it was around 1 in the morning, so I’ve chucked the dough in the fridge and went to sleep.
Next morning (after about 6-8 hours in the fridge) take the dough out of the fridge and leave out to warm up slightly, for about half an hour. Take the dough out of the bowl, place it on a floured counter, divide it into 6 even pieces and shape them into long skinny sausages, about 40 cm long.
I am not even going to attempt to describe how to shape a challah, the only way to do it is to watch a video and try to recreate it. I followed this video here, had to stop and pause it a couple of times, but it worked out well at the end.
Mr Ranty bought me a Dell tablet for my birthday last week, and it is just marvelous - I had the video going, touch screen, pausing and re-playing the video as I was working the dough - doesn’t get better than that!
Transfer shaped challah onto a baking tray (line it with baking parchment first), cover it to prevent drying and place in a warm place to proof for the next two to three hours. I use a very large rubbish bag (clean, obviously), and place the entire tray with dough inside of it, and then just tuck the ends of the bag under the tray. That way the dough is cosy and warm, and doesn’t stick to the plastic bag too much.
Preheat the oven to 190C an hour before baking. Remove plastic cover from challah, brush it with the remaining egg, covering all the little folds and crooks, sprinkle with a bit of poppy seeds and a bit of caster sugar, if desired.
Bake for 20 minutes, rotate and bake for further 10 minutes. Take the challah out and leave out to cool completely, for about 4 or 5 hours before slicing it.

I am really pleased with how it came out - nice and brown colour, it didn't get that much oven spring, a little bit, but nothing too crazy. I was also careful not to put too much sugar and poppy seeds on top, so it doesn't weigh it down.

As far as the taste goes, I must say, it's a bit bland for my liking. Saffron and vanilla do add an interesting flavour, saffron over-powered vanilla a little bit, might have to reduce saffron to 6 or so strands. But you can see vanilla seeds in every slice, and saffron does add a nice orange tint to the crumb.

Lovely photos by Mr Ranty - I've asked him to take a photo and next thing you know, massive camera came out, two different lenses and a tripod - well worth it though.

I cannot figure out how to post my own comments on here, so I am just going to update this blog :

"Thank you for your comments, I will look up Jeff Nathan to see what I can learn from his recipes.
In my head challah is more of a sweet bread, so I thought vanilla would be appropriate. It didn’t really add that much to the flavour to be honest – I like the little vanilla specks in the crumb more than the flavour it brought to the table. Saffron actually developed quite nicely in the last couple of days, so I think that’s worth keeping in"


  1. Interesting to use vanilla bean in there. I have been using Jeff Nathan's recipe (he has a few cookbooks) and found pretty good results. He uses honey in the recipe--wildflower honey is better than typical bland store bought--and I also put sugar in the dough (as per his recipe). Find bread flour is better than APF.

    I have been trying to get a bit better flavor also, as the breads can be a bit blandish, and I'll try the vanilla. One other suggestion is to add cinnamon and/or cinnamon sugar into the mix. Thanks for this recipe.

  2. I love that this is a sourdough challah. I found your blog through The Fresh Loaf and I'll be looking for more from you in the future. Great pictures and great idea, though I was a bit taken aback by the vanilla.


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