The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Something about the holiday season and the general prettiness of them gave me a hankering to try my hand at challah bread. Mind you, I don't think I've had it since childhood, but I remember a golden, shreddable crumb under a toothsome crust.

TFL is loaded with all kinds of challah recipes and I finally decided upon zolablue's sourdough spin on Maggie Glezer's recipe, which seemed accessible enough for a relatively new baker and an absolute beginner when it comes to challah.

Starting the morning before, 8g of my 100% rye starter got transformed into 35g of stiff white starter. Early that evening, the 200g of stiff levain got made. Never made a stiff levain before, it was extremely neat and tidy. It was supposed to ferment at room temperature overnight, but knowing that I needed to be out in the morning, I left it out until about 3:00am and then stuck it in the fridge to slow things down. Possibly mistake number one.

The next morning, the levain was taken out of the fridge to continue at room temperature while I went about my business. When I came back to it in the early afternoon, it had about tripled and was full of bubbles, so I mixed up the dough.

Except, never one to leave well enough alone, I decided that I wanted to add in some grated orange zest and ground coriander. And that, while I was at it, to use orange juice in place of the water. Probably mistake number two.

The recipe says to knead the dough for no more than 10 minutes. Tu parles! I had a shaggy, wet, sticky (but very fragrant) mass that needed about an hour of SLAFs to come together. Not a happy puppy.

Well, it did finally -- sort of -- come together, and I let it rest for a couple of hours.

Came the time to shape, dividing the dough in two, then each half into six pieces and rolling them out to ropes. I don't think I found a "best way" to do them until about the sixth rope, by which time I was beginning to worry about the remaining dough drying out, despite the cloth covering them. So the next batch of rope was of a slightly fatter caliber (in retrospect, that made for a plumper loaf, which I preferred). Braiding was the easiest (and thus my favorite) part.

Egg wash and rest. Recipe called for five hours, till tripled. Well, it was already 10:00 pm. Five hours would have meant baking at 3:00 and probably not getting to bed before 4. Hmm. I dithered about it briefly and was too nervous about retarding the loaves, since I have no idea what an enriched dough does when it's put to sleep. So I stuck it out, waited four and a half hours, gave the braids a poke and decided to preheat the oven. They hadn't tripled, but they weren't bouncing back at all quickly, so I thought it would be better to bake them under- rather than over-proofed.

More egg wash, sprinkle on poppy seeds, into the oven for about half an hour. They smelled wonderful, and as I peered through the oven door, I was relieved to see that none of the braiding had torn.

And out of the oven they came. Not as zaftig as I'd hoped, but not the puddle I had feared, either.

I cut it open this morning and was surprised by the crumb.

Not shreddable, not golden! Harrumph. But wonderful as toast, with a taste of childhood. I will most definitely be trying this again, especially if I can avoid the sticky, wet phase that this bake went through.

So, some questions:

  • did I set myself up for trouble by using orange juice in place of dough water? Is that what gave me the stickies?
  • could the braided loaves indeed have been refrigerated overnight?
  • is the loaf overbaked?
  • should challah have a more open crumb than this?
  • can any bread be braided? can I take a favorite lean loaf and bypass all the preshape/shape/score angst and just braid? If so, how should the buk/proof timings or methods change?

Any and all feedback are welcome, as always.

Happy Hannukah!

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