The Fresh Loaf

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Please help me troubleshoot my very rich dough

FoodFascist's picture

Please help me troubleshoot my very rich dough

Apologies for a very long post.

I'm elbows deep into my Easter bake (bit late, I know :-S). I'm making kulichi (more info here) using two different recipes and one of them is just not going right. It's the first time I've tried that recipe (the other one is tried and tested) and I've already made a few mistakes... here's the recipe (which I tweaked):

  • 5 cups flour (anything between 670 and 800 g)
  • 1 1/2 cup single cream (375 ml)
  • 1 cup butter (250 g)
  • 8 yolks
  • 1 cup sugar (250 g)
  • 100 g fresh yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • vanilla
  • 1/2 cup each almond pieces, raisins and candied fruit.
  • Glazing.

Combine warm cream, yeast and half the flour to make the sponge. Beat yolks and sugar to a pale mass. When the sponge has risen, stir in the yolk mass, softened butter, raisins, almonds and candied fruit. Add salt. Addremaining  flour and vanilla. MIX on the counter (hard to tell what that means, kneading or just mixing till well combined?), put into a bowl and place somewhere warm for 60-80 minutes until doubled in bulk. Take out, REPEAT THE KNEADING (this time it does say KNEAD) and return to a warm place for the second proofing.

Take out, shape into a bun and place in a tall tin, lined and greased. The dough should come up to approx. 1/3 of the tin. Final proof in the tin (again, in a warm place) for 60-80 minutes. Bake at 200-220 C for 60-70 min. When the top has browned, cover with wet parchment paper to prevent burning. Avoid shaking/slamming oven door while baking otherwise the kulich may collapse.

Cool, glaze and decorate as desired.


Now here's what I did. I only had 300 ml cream so I topped it up with 60 ml milk and approx 20 ml cherry juice (was using cherries in my other kulich, was a bit of a waste to discard the juice. I added the juice at the dough mixing stage, not the sponge stage). I only used 1/2 teaspoon salt (don't like too much salt and don't want it slowing down the yeast). I used close to 800 g flour (50/50 strong and plain).

 I also forgot to buy fresh yeast in advance. So had to do with active dried yeast which had been sitting in my fridge for a good 6 months, maybe more. The sponge doubled beautifully so I figured the yeast must have been ok. Now the BIG mistake I made was that I only used 1 1/2 level teaspoons yeast (as per amount of flour), forgetting that all that fat in the dough will slow the rise and that I'd need more yeast. Another thing I did differently is that I only used 1/4 of the total flour in the sponge - at 200 g it was already too thick! I have no idea how 375 ml cream can incorporate 400 g flour unless you want a sponge that is thicker than the dough...

Oh, and I added 1 1/2 tablespoon brandy.

I didn't put the nuts and raisins into the sponge as the recipe says (I know from experience they are best added at the very end of kneading and that's what I did). I kneaded the dough using the French "slap-and-fold" method. At the end of a 20-min kneading, it was still as soft as clay and sticky (is that normal for rich doughs?).

And then I messed up again BIG time. I decided to retard it overnight. Luckily I got up after 4 hours, took it out and realised what a bad idea it was to retard a dough which is about 70% butter :-) I then bashed it against the counter for 150 times (hoping to develop the gluten a bit more but of course to no avail) and left till the morning.

7 hours later, it had not risen ONE BIT.

So I placed the bowl over a pan with hot water and put the whole thing into the oven with the light on. It's been there for about 5 hours now. The internal temperature is 23-24 C and it's finally showing some signs of rising.

My other kulich which is significantly less rich (500 milk, 7 yolks, 250 g butter, 950-1000 g flour, 2 teaspoons active dry dry yeast, vanilla, brandy, nuts, raisins, sour cherries) is doung beautifully. Despite a very slow first rise (it, too, was "retarded" for 4 hours and went into the oven with light on, but no hot water bowl, in the morning), it's looking healthy and is proofing for the 3rd time as we speak.

SO, finally to my questions:

  1. Will it ever rise enough to bake? I'm prepared to wait till tomorrow or even Tuesday but I do need to know whether it's all just a waste of time and good food!
  2. Shall I try and reduce the fat content by making some more sponge (milk-lots of yeast-flour) and kneading in some more flour? Will it even work, given that the nut pieces will cut through any gluten strands during kneading?
  3.  Is my dough too warm? Would it be better to bring it back to room temperature (approx 18C)?
  4. How big of a mishap was it to use cherry juice and brandy? Does cherry juice interfere with gluten formation? Or, given the high fat content, is that only a drop in the sea? As for brandy, my other recipe calls for brandy but as I said that one is a leaner dough.
  5. If ever it does rise, how do I shape it? Can I just divide and roll it into a ball? Given how soft it is, I fear it won't survive much more handling than that...
  6. Can I shape it after just one rise? Given that I've already done the 2nd kneading the recipe calls for, albeit at the wrong time...

Many thanks to all you patient souls and happy Easter!

clazar123's picture

There is very little actual hydration in this, it seems to me. The only water is the percentage of cream that is water and a little bit from the egg yolks. Perhaps the milk and cherry juice actually helped. I would think the dough would be more pastry-like in texture than bread. Perhaps more members with pastry experience could jump in.

FoodFascist's picture

Hi there, yes I was a bit concerned about the hydration, too. I calculated that hydration for both recipes would be around 55-60%, depending on the amount of flour used. My doughs were probably nearer the 55% mark. But they were harder to work with than the most hydrated sourdough I've ever made. I have made piroshki dough with 55-60% hydration before (that's an enriched dough, too, but it's nowhere near as fatty) and at that hydration it was very easy to knead and it held copious amounts of filling perfectly (photo). I think maybe very rich doughs don't  need to be well hydrated as the fat helps retain the water in the finished bread. Would be interesting to see what pros have to say about that.

monnyB's picture

especially if they are sour cherries, are having an effect on the yeast development. Don't forget as well that you needed 50 gr dried yeast and you used only 1.5 tsp. So that may be the biggest problen you have. Yeast doesn't like being retarded too long as it uses the available food and then runs out of steam. Warming in the oven is tricky as it caould melt our all the butter. 

Next time if you see that the yeast is insufficient then make a mini sponge and add that in. I'd say that's your biggest problem with this batch. Such a rich dough will always be slow to rise as the east ahs to fight the butter and extra sugar, and I think the yeast is your biggest challenge today.

Let us know how it works out!


FoodFascist's picture

Hi Monny,

RE cherries. The cherries themselves went into the leaner dough. The richer one only had just over a tablespoon cherry juice in it so unless cherry has serious amounts of citric acid it in (which I don't think it does) I think that didn't make THAT much of a difference. Yeast of course is another issue, please see my responce to Mark below.

mcs's picture

You've made a lot of modifications, but the one that's glaring to me is the amount of yeast you've cut out of the recipe.  If it calls for 100g of fresh yeast, that should be somewhere between 30g of instant yeast (10 teaspoons) to 40g of active dry yeast (13 teaspoons).  By cutting out the amount of yeast in your recipe so much, you're changing it dramatically.  I don't think your add-ons are a factor (cherries, brandy) and I think the milk switch would work in your favor.  If you'd like to save it and hurry along the process, I'd add more yeast to it now.  Mix a couple of Tablespoons with 1/2 cup of warm water (115g) and a whisk to get it going, then let it sit for 10 minutes or so.  Then mix flour (175g) with it until it's the same consistency as your dough that you already have.  Because you're just adding flour, yeast, and water, it'll change the flavor a bit so if you want to spruce it up, then do it now. Then knead them together until it's all incorporated. 

You should see a difference within a few hours.


FoodFascist's picture

Hi Mark, thanks for your comment. I used that little yeast because the other recipe calls for 70 g fresh yeast (per 1/5 more flour, 1/8 less yolks, same amount of butter, but milk instead of cream) and replacing fresh yeast with active dry yeast as per instructions on the packet has always worked fine. I should have used more yeast in this one of course, but I doubt the amount would be anywhere near what you said. Bear in mind this is an old cookery book published in the Soviet Union, knowing how difficult it was to find anything fresh in the shops back then, I'd hazard a guess that the yeast was not all that good.

FoodFascist's picture

Many thanks for all your comments. My troublesome dough finally doubled by the evening. It could do with another rise but that would mean leaving it to proof overnight at room temperature for the 2nd night running and I wasn't prepared to risk it. So I finally baked it along with my other dough. Final proof in tins took 3 hours and because the richer dough wasn't rising as fast as the leaner one, it only increased in bulk about 1 1/2 times whereas the leaner one doubled. I haven't tried the richer kulichi yet but DH and I have just devoured half a the leaner kulich. Unlike Kozulich's masterpieces, it wasn't much to look at (I managed to burn the crust quite a bit :-( ) but the crumb was soft, moist and fluffy and certainly the best tasting kulich I've baked so far. Ah well. Hopefully I won't burn them again next year :-)

FoodFascist's picture

Just took a bite out of one of the rich ones. It's lovely. The crumb's baked through, tastes even better than the other version although almost too rich! Maybe I'll try a 50/50 mix of milk and cream next year.

Many thanks to you all again!

I'll try and post some photoes after I've glazed the less-burnt-crusted ones...

monnyB's picture

glad to hear it all turned out well. We all do silly things at times, my worst mistake was to let an already sour sour final proof too long and then baked it anyway. Not a very good loaf, it was far too dense.

kozulich's picture

Sounds like you got some good info, and they turned out reasonably well. In answer to some of your original questions, my experience is that:

yes, you can shape it after the first rise. Just make sure to deflate the large air pockets and shape it evenly so it doesn't make a lopsided loaf, these are relatively tall loaves so a little imbalance in the shaping gets magnified in the final product.

dry yeast stays good in the refrigerator for a LONG time. I used a batch I inherited from my Mom when she moved to Texas about 4 years ago and she had it at least a couple years before that. Still good.