marble rye challah
Prep Serves
24 hours 2 large challah loaves

Marbled Rye Challah

Using an overnight starter gives depth of flavor and slight tang to this challah.

I love when someone I know inspires a new challah creation in my kitchen, and that’s exactly how this marbled rye challah came to be: inspired by a friend and colleague.

This past autumn, Liz Alpern of The Gefilteria said she would like to come over and bake challah with me. Oh, twist my arm. I was very excited and told her we could create a new flavor, anything she wanted. She said she would love to do something “super Ashkenazy,” and so I mentioned I had always wanted to try a marbled rye challah. And so that is just what we did.

marbled rye challah

I did some research, in fact, a lot of research, and I was shocked and somewhat confused by all the methods and recipes for rye bread. I came across this recipe which included a starter, a method I really wanted to try. Starters, also known as “mother dough,” are probably most well known in sourdough breads. The fermentation of the flour and yeast for an extended amount of time is what gives it a distinct, sour taste.Some mother doughs can even be hundreds of years old.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to wait years or even weeks for the starter in this recipe to develop. The starter for this challah sits just overnight, and while it may seem weird or even gross, it adds a great depth of flavor and slight tang to this challah.

Can you skip this step? Yes absolutely. If you forget to make it the night before, or if it just seems too daunting, don’t worry about it. I tried it both ways, and they were both delicious. Nevertheless, if you are up for the extra step, the starter does add a special depth of flavor.

I’ve always loved deli sandwiches on challah bread, and so this hybrid challah is truly the ideal vessel for some pastrami and mustard.

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For the starter:

1 onion, chopped

1 Tbsp caraway seeds

½ Tbsp dry active yeast

2 ½ cups rye flour

2 cups lukewarm water

For the lighter dough:

1 ½ Tbsp dry active yeast

1 tsp sugar

1 cup lukewarm water

½ cup rye starter

2 cups rye flour

3 cups all purpose flour

¾ cup sugar

½ Tbsp salt

1 Tbsp caraway seeds

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

For the darker dough:

1 ½ Tbsp dry active yeast

1 tsp sugar

1 cup lukewarm water

½ cup rye starter

2 cups rye flour

3 cups all purpose flour

½ cup sugar

¼ cup honey

¼ cup molasses

½ Tbsp salt

1 Tbsp caraway seeds

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

For the topping:

1 egg yolk + 1 whole egg

½ tsp water

1 tsp honey


Make the starter the night before: Tie the onion and caraway seeds in cheesecloth. Place the yeast and rye flour in a medium bowl and cover with the water. Submerge the onion and caraway seeds into the water mixture. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight.

To make the doughs: Get out two small bowls and place 1 ½ Tbsp yeast and 1 tsp sugar in each one. Add 1 cup lukewarm water and allow to sit around 10 minutes, until it becomes foamy on top.

In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together 1 cup rye flour, ½ cup all-purpose flour, the caraway seeds, salt and sugar. After the water-yeast mixture has become foamy, add to flour mixture along with oil and ½ cup of the starter (you will remove the onion-caraway seeds before using). Mix thoroughly.

Add another ½ cup of rye flour and ½ cup of all-purpose flour and eggs and mix until smooth.

Switch to the dough hook attachment if you are using a stand mixer.

Add the remaining ½ cup rye and another ½ cup all-purpose flour, mixing thoroughly and then remove from bowl and place on a floured surface. Knead remaining flour into dough, continuing to knead for around 3-5 minutes. Try not to add too much flour.

Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with damp towel.

Repeat all these steps with the darker dough, but add molasses and honey at the same time as you add the vegetable oil.

Allow both doughs to rise at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Split each dough in half, and then divide each half into three even strands. I like using half of the darker dough and half of the lighter in each loaf to create a marbled effect.

Braid challah into desired shape. Allow challah to rise another 45-60 minutes, or until you can see the size has grown and challah seems light. This step is very important to ensure a light and fluffy challah.

In a small bowl beat 1 egg yolk, 1 egg, ½ tsp water and 1 tsp honey. Brush egg wash liberally over challah using a pastry brush or your fingers.. Sprinkle with thick sea salt and caraway seeds.

Bake each challah around 27-29 minutes.

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