For the Wild Yeast Water
- 1/ 2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, plus more
- 6 dates, chopped, plus more
To Make the Wild Yeast Water (4 days before making dough)
Mix together the water and dates in a jar. Let ferment for a couple of days at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
Add another 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water and a few more chopped dates. Let ferment for another 2 days. When it's ready the top will be foamy and it will smell like young wine.
For the Wild Preferment
- 1 cup bread flour
- 1/ 2 cup wild yeast water
To Make the Wild Preferment (day before making dough)
In a large bowl, stir together the flour and water until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature overnight. It should be bubbly and double in size when ready to use for dough.
For the Dough
- Wild Preferment
- 3 1/ 2 cups bread flour
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 2 1/ 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
For the Lye Bath
- 1/ 2 cup baking soda
- Coarse salt
To Make the Dough
Combine the wild preferment, bread flour, 2/3 cup warm water, oil, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Knead for 12-15 minutes, until dough becomes soft and smooth. The dough will be a bit sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise in a warm spot for 2 hours; the dough should be increased, but not quite doubled, in size.
Divide the dough into 5 equal portions. Roll each into a log, then let rest for 10 minutes. Re-roll the strands to make sure they are all the same size and length. Braid in a 5 braid-strand. Transfer to a lined baking sheet.
Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot for 2-3 hours. Uncover and refrigerate for 1 more hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375ºF.
In a bowl, mix the baking soda and 9 cups water, until baking soda is dissolved. Gently dunk the challah in the baking soda bath. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown.