The Fresh Loaf

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challah texture

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katyajini's picture
katyajini

challah texture

Hi everybody,

 

Very new to bread baking and very, very new to challah.  My first try.  I made the sweet vanilla challah from this site except that I used 1/2 cup honey.  The flavor and color were wonderful but the breads were kind of dense and heavy in the center (but not the bottom) and they were not wet from underbaking, (internal temp 204F) .  Not at all like the fluffy-but-having-body challah I eat here in NYC.   Why would a challah/or any bread be dense?

Too much liq? I was not sure exactly how the dough is supposed to feel.  I went for very soft, tacky, but kneadable. After the first rise there was so much gluten and no stickiness at all.

Too much oil?

Old yeast?  The dough did rise but took almost 5 hours to double.  And then again maybe 2-1/2 hours the next time. I thought that maybe the kitchen was too cool?  If the dough actually dose rise wouldn't the texture be OK?

Why does the texture of a loaf become dense anyway?

 

Many thanks,

Katyajini

 

 

 

 

 

 

richkaimd's picture
richkaimd

I have been baking challahs at home for some 25 years and most recently baked 65 loaves (with the help of some volunteer elves)for a charity sale.  My experience may help you.

Challah is a low hydration Northern European loaf which should have a close so-called "cake like" crumb.  I'm assuming you know that crumb is everything inside the crust.  This means that there should be none of the large holes you find in Southern European high hydration loaves.  But exactly how dense your loave will be will be determined by how much you allow it to rise during the second rising period.  I recommend that you make observations on this by making the following dough and make three equally weighted loaves from it.  After forming the loaves (i.e., typically after braiding them), let them rise for different lengths of time.  Let one rise almost double, one a little more than double and one clearly more than double.  That last one could be even 2.5 times the original unrisen size.  Bake each one until the internal temperature is about 200 degrees give or take 5 degrees.  Try to make the internal temperatures the same on each loaf.

Then look at the crumbs.  If you do this and have the capacity to take and post pictures, show us your results.

Here's a good recipe:  4 large eggs, 0.5 cup vegetable oil, 0.75 cup honey, 5 tsp salt, 5 tsp dry yeast, 2 cups water, and enough white or bread flour to make an only tacky (but not dry or sticky) dough.  The dough should barely deform when you form it into a ball on your counter before the first rising. 

Good luck!

 

 

lazybaker's picture
lazybaker

Did you wait for the bread to cool down for about an hour or so before cutting into it? I don't know if you cut into the bread after taking it out from the oven.

Bread out of the oven will be dense and steaming. You have to let the bread cool down. 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

This is a challah that I have baked on several occasions.  From your description, I'm not sure what may have caused the heavy centers.  Here are some ideas to consider.

1. The addition of the honey (substituted for the sugar, I presume) would have added a small quantity of water to the dough.  If you kept the other liquid quantities unchanged, there would have been more water to bake out of the bread.  Honey also some antiseptic qualities, which may have interfered with the yeast growth although I can't say that any of my breads containing honey have had this kind of outcome.

2. You mention that your kitchen may have been "too cool".  What was the approximate room temperature at the time you were making the bread?  The rising times you mention are longer than I have ever experienced with this bread, even when temperatures were in the 65-70F range.  If your room temperature was colder, then yes, that would slow the yeast growth considerably.  There is also the possibility that once the bread was in the oven, the length of time that it took for heat to penetrate the core of the cold dough was also long enough to fully set the crust, meaning that there wasn't room for the crumb at the center of the loaf to expand.  More often, though, we see the bread tearing or exploding at some weak point when the pressure from the expanding crumb at the loaf's center is greater than the crust can contain.  The fact that the internal temperature was 204F suggests the bread should have been completely cooked.

3. I have found this to be a very reliable recipe, so I don't think that the oil is the culprit.  As for the viability of your yeast, you will have to test that to see whether it is active enough.

4. This isn't what I would characterize as a "fluffy" bread.  The crumb has had very small cells throughout the loaves, leading to a very smooth texture.  At the same time, the crumb is firm and moist.  In my experience, the crumb texture has been uniform throughout the loaf, rather than varying from edge to center.  

I had hoped to be able to offer you some helpful suggestions but I seem to be coming up short in that department.  Here's one: since you have already tried a variation from the recipe, bake it again but use sugar instead of the honey.  If that is the only change you make and the bread comes out well, then you will know that it works.  Then you can start experimenting with other adjustments.

Paul

suzyr's picture
suzyr

After reading your post, and the others...

There are soooo many opinions on Challah. I have made Challah so many times over the course of my life I should have kept count.  There is a video online that is pretty good to watch. I dont know if it will help you, but it is worth a try.  And then there are people that want the chewy Challah, or the very dense, some like it airy....I know this one gal that puts yellow food coloring in hers!!!! Yes, not for me...but I have even made it with saffron. I think porabably the most challenging Challah is made for the High Holy Days  in where it is braided but in a round loaf...If you are really into getting just the right loaf, do the test loaves as he suggested...also check to see what kind of flour you are using and the size of the eggs...not kidding...I will send you the link to the video.

vide

katyajini's picture
katyajini

Thank you for these thoughtful, detailed comments! 

Paul, I do have a good mind to use sugar this time, if only because I want to know the difference in flavor.  Now that I think of it, yes, the heat may not have fully reached the center.  I think I will be able to sort that out.   Thank you too for such a recipe.  It actually was looking at your post, which made challah seem not that complicated, that I decided to make challah.  Otherwise I thought I would not be able to make it.

Rich, I am all for the meticulous scientific method.  I will absolutely make three loaves and proof them to three stages.  Very educational per se.  65 loaves (maaaaaaaaannnnnnnnn) :)

Suzy, beautiful loaves.  So true, the more something is part of an old culture the more comments it raises, isn't it?  Thankfully I am not too hard to please.  Just a little.   Looking forward to the link.

lazybaker, I waited till they were warm.

 

Katyajini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

katyajini's picture
katyajini

My bread is beginning to look like bread and taste better too!  Thank you so much folks!

Rich: it was the second proofing.  At least the majority of the reason for the dense texture.

I proofed three loaves progressively to  greater degree.  The most proofed was the one that I thought was way over doubled and was sure to collapse.  But no, not even close.  It was the lightest of the three, the most challah like of all the three, but nowI am guessing I could have let it go much longer because the texture was still dense (but much, much better than my first attempt). 

I totally did not have a clue how far away from adequate my proofing was. 

So next I am making three more loaves and proofing to three different degrees with this lightest loaf as a starting point.

How in the world do you guess when a free from loaf has doubled?  Clearly, my eye-balling is not working.  I have heard of poking with a finger.  I don't know if I will be able to tell with that and then the braid would look hurt.  How do you guys know? Additionally, for some reason in my house yeast is taking much longer than stated in these recipes, even when starting with a new package of SAF instant yeast.  So I am not able to go by the time given in these recipes.

Paul,  I did use sugar this time, not honey.  I did like the flavor from honey but I think I like the simpler flavor of sugar more.  It will be two alternatives for me.  Then I don't know how honey is affecting the growth of yeast in my hands. 

Suzy, I found your video.  It indeed is a lovely clip.  I am going to try that recipe once I have the current recipe under my belt.

Thank you so much everyone.  I can't tell you how happy this little episode makes me.  I think many, many of my bread baking problems were because I was not doing the second proof correctly, mostly because I don't know how to tell that the formed dough has doubled.  I still don't.  But now I at least know what I need to pay attention to for the moment.

Katyajini

 

 

 

 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

It's great to hear that you were able to do some testing and identify the problem.  Now that you have the amount of proofing nailed down, you can experiment with the honey.  Or not.  Nice to have choices, isn't it?

Happy baking!

Paul

richkaimd's picture
richkaimd

I am happy that my experiment was useful for you.  I have to say that I don't think that there is a correct crumb density so much as there are densities that some people like more than others.  There might be a "correct crumb density" in competitions, but I don't do competitive baking.  As for how you can know how much the second rise is done, I've not been happy, even after several decades of baking, with any kind of touching of the dough as a way to know.  Many hundreds, if not more, of loaves into this hobby, I just have a sense of it, which sometimes is wrong.  Because I can be wrong, when I bake for company or for someone else's occasion, I arrange for it to be a loaf I know well.

Your experience to date should have taught you already that you cannot use the clock to know when your bread's risen enough.  Your clock cannot know the temperature of your environment, how much your dough was kneaded, or any of the many other variables involved in the rising process.  You're stuck with eyeballing it.  Over time it gets easier.  Practice, practice, practice.

 

katyajini's picture
katyajini

Hello again!

I made this challah again, making the second proof much longer.  It worked beautifully.  Far higher and lighter loaves while the crumb still was tight with many, very little holes.  It still seems though I could proof longer.

Kind of off topic, but still pertains to the texture of the challah:

1)As I kneaded  I could see the blisters under the skin of the dough as described in the recipe.   Initially I did not recognize what they were so kneaded well past this stage.  Does this constitute over-kneading?  And how does this longer kneading affect the final loaves?

2) Why are there these big bubbles of air in this dough?  Why are they an important indicator?

3)As I finished kneading, the dough was very firm.  I 'felt' had I added another 1/4-1/3 cup or more water to the dough it would have been absorbed and the dough would still not be wet or sticky.  Should I have added more water? How would more water have affected the final loaves?

This is totally fun.

Thank you for so much help.

Katyajini      

 

 

 

 

 

richkaimd's picture
richkaimd

My experience with challah, as I've said before, is that some people like the texture this way, and some like it that way.  So make the crumb texture the way you like it or the way your public likes it.

I knead only until I get a good gluten window.  Then I stop.  End of story.  With enough practice you will learn to know and love the resultant texture.  I doubt that if you like your results you'd have needed to added anything at the point you're describing.

With regard to removing the bubbles, especially the large ones, I recommend that you check out Maggie Glezer's video about braiding challah.  She uses a rolling pin to remove bubbles of each strand as she begins to form it.  She describes this step in her book A Blessing of Bread.

Isn't this fun?

 

 

 

 

katyajini's picture
katyajini

Rich,  this is just too much fun, at least while I am overcoming obstacles.

I did try with a little more water, it made a softer loaf. 

I had heard of but never tried the window pane test.  Thank you for mentioning it.  Yes it worked.  I would say a good kneading does produce a higher loaf.

I am learning a lot, thank you so much.

 

Katyajini