Big ol’ Loaf of Wholemeal Challah

This loaf of challah resembles an ogre. It really does. The first moment I caught a glimpse of it, the word ‘ogre’ swelled up in my mind, similarly to how the challah swelled and swelled and didn’t stop swelling, behind the curtain of a kitchen hand towel.

I’ll admit I was overly giddy when making this bread; tightly woven strands of dough and deep golden crust seemed like unattainable qualities on my plane of baking, and while I had made different forms of bread before, namely bagels and pretzels, I had never attempted something as intricate as challah. For some reason, I’m usually drawn to the recipes that are more likely to disappoint me than leave me patting myself on the back. At least this challah was humanistic enough to grant me a treasure of a crust. The crusty casing was everything I’d imagined it to be: thick but not cotton mouth inducing, crackly when chomped, and, most importantly, just barely burnt in color. As was already mentioned, the ogre-like appearance of the bread was a result of over rising, or at least I think so. Prior to the last rise, the challah had a sharp, braided look, and almost appeared too picturesque to be real. Sure enough, my unspoken sense of doubt took shape in the form of this drowsy looking challah.

It should be mentioned that this was my first time attempting challah, so it’s only fair that I go easy on myself for it’s less than pretty appearance. I mean, if the Shrek movies taught us anything it’s that looks aren’t everything. This challah loaf upholds that timeless teaching; it’s humble outer shell contains an unexpectedly soft, tender, and truly magnificent interior. So, what exactly went wrong? When did I make the wrong turn that cost this challah it’s beauty? After much thinking and tinkering, I’d say there is more than one short and sweet correction to be made. Here are some of my thoughts…

Too long of a rising period?

I always spend a great deal of time watching tutorial videos and reading first-person success/failure stories before I attempt any baked good. The idea is to learn from other people’s mistakes before making a slew of my own. However, despite the multiple hours spent researching challah bread, I still encountered the simple, but gargantuan mistake of over-puffed bread. My first thought was that I over added the yeast, but after much internet-surfing and deliberation, it turns out that 2 tsps of dry yeast per 4 – 4 1/4 cups of flour is all well and good. Scrap that possibility. What about temperature? It’s fall in Australia, meaning it’s still fairly warm most days, so perhaps it was too warm or humid and the yeast was over stimulated? This also isn’t likely. Yeast is supposed to thrive in the warmth, at least under one’s watchful gaze, ahh… watchful gaze. So that’s likely how I let the challah swell with error.

Reading handful after handful of recipes and how to’s is helpful, but it also has the possibility of messing with your senses, murkying the waters of your intuition, and making you reliant on the critical thinking and rational of other people. None of the recipes I came across explained the roles that climate and temperatures (hands, workspace, etc.) can play in shaping the outcome of a loaf of bread. Finally, in the pursuit of an explanation for my unusually chubby challah, I found an article that told me everything I wish I’d known prior to attempting this eggy, woven bread. When a recipe tells you to let dough rise for 2-3 hours so that it can ‘double in size’, don’t simply set an alarm for two hours and check on the dough then, definitely do not do that!!!!! Instead, note the words that sound like an afterthought, double in size, and periodically check on your dough every 30-45 minutes. Depending on how warm your climate is, your ball of dough could very well double in size within 50-60 minutes. So, there’s that! I wish I’d taken my feet off my table and ran off to check on my dough well before the ‘allotted’ time of two hours. Oh well, lesson learnt. If anything, this mistake has only revved up my engine more; I am eager to get back behind my metaphorical steering wheel and dictate the appropriate course of action for flour, yeast, eggs, and salt.

One big beautiful ball of dough.

Ingredients~
Makes one large loaf

2 – 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white bread flour, such as Italian ’00’, (or simply use all-purpose)
2 tsps dry yeast
Scant tsp table salt
2 tbsps plus 1 1/2 tsps granulated sugar
2 tbsps rice malt syrup or honey
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup & 2 tbsps slightly warm water
3 eggs (reserve one for egg wash)

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