Braided Whole Wheat Challah (Hallah), Delayed Fermentation Method
You’re thinking: “Hey, that’s no challah! It’s not properly braided and it shouldn’t contain whole wheat flour!”
You’re absolutely right, but please hear me out. The local supermarket stocked up on whole wheat flour (it normally doesn’t) and I had no other option but to purchase it–only two kilograms (4.4 lb) worth, however. Coincidentally, I had on hand, technically on my laptop, an e-book called Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. In addition to that, I was keen on braiding dough for several weeks. Keeping that all in mind, it was only natural to prepare braided whole wheat bread.
Further, prior to this baking incident, I had never handled whole wheat flour, used a soaker or pre-ferment (i.e., biga), or even braided dough strands.
Despite that my overall experience was fraught with errors and misjudgments, I was astonished that my so-called challah didn’t emerge from the oven as a solid brick…
(This post has been submitted to YeastSpotting.)
The primary objectives for the braided whole wheat challah are the following:
Adapted from the book Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, the following adjustments were made to the original recipe:
Additionally, if available, I’ve included brand names of the food products I used (please see the tables below). Disclaimer: This isn’t an endorsement. I’m simply indicating the names of the branded products used in my baking experiment.
Yield: 1 braided whole wheat challah (loaf)
Total Prep Time: N/A
Total Bake Time: 55 minutes
|Whole wheat flour||227 g||Gold Medal|
|Salt||2.5 ml or 1/2 tsp|
|Mineral water||>170 g||Evian|
|Whole wheat flour||227 g||Gold Medal|
|Instant Yeast||1.25 ml or 1/4 tsp||DSL|
|Mineral water, Room temp.||115 g||Evian|
|Extra virgin olive oil||30 g||Campagna|
|Duck egg, Whole, Slightly beaten, Room temp.||50 g|
|Duck egg, Yolk, Room temp.||45 g|
|Whole wheat flour||56 g||Gold Medal|
|Instant yeast||7 g||DSL|
|Extra virgin olive oil||30 g||Campagna|
|Duck egg, Whole, Beaten, Room temp.||N/A|
|Tap water, Room temp.||15 ml or 1 tbsp|
|Salt||5 ml or 1 tsp|
|Whole wheat flour||N/A||Gold Medal|
|Tap water, Room temp.||N/A|
|Microwave convection oven, Refrigerator, Mechanical fan, Sheet pans, Parchment paper, Plastic wrap, Spatulas, Whisk, Bowls, Mixing bowls, Measuring cups, Graduated cylinder (Measuring spoons), Mechanical kitchen scale, Paring knife, Chinese chef’s knife, Kitchen scissor, Spoons, Fork, Pastry Brush, Ruler, Toothpick, Cooling rack, Cutting board|
Warning: Do not attempt my “recipe” (i.e., experiment) without considering the following; Variations in room temperature, humidity, altitude, food products, kitchen equipment and utensils, techniques and methods, amongst other factors, will influence the outcome of your baked goods.
Before I began, I measured, prepared, and organized my ingredients and kitchen equipment. This includes lining the sheet pan (9 x 11.5 x 1.5 in) with parchment paper.
Step 1: Let us begin by preparing the soaker; whole wheat flour, salt, mixing bowl–come forth!
Note: The pre-doughs (i.e., soaker and pre-ferment) were prepared in the late evening with dimmed lights.
Step 2: Next, I poured the said ingredients into the mixing bowl, then whisked them until they were well blended.
Step 3: Shortly afterwards, I fetched the bowl of water and a plastic spatula.
Step 4: After pouring the water into the mixing bowl, I churned the mixture with the spatula until the water was completely soaked up by the flour. As expected, the amount of water provided to the incipient dough was not sufficient.
Step 5: Gradually, I incorporated extra (mineral) water into the soaker to increase its hydration. (The soaker was wet, but not bloated with water.) Thereafter, I sealed the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and placed it into the refrigerator to chill (3°C / 37.4°F).
Step 6: Subsequent to that, I gathered the materials of the pre-ferment (i.e., biga); whole wheat flour, instant yeast, and mixing bowl.
Step 7: Without sifting the said ingredients, I poured them into the mixing bowl, then whisked them until they were well blended.
Step 8: Wet ingredients–assemble! Water! Olive oil! Eggs! Accompanied by a spatula, you shall join forces with your counterpart–dry ingredients.
Step 9: Without reserving any portion of the liquids, I brashly poured all of the wet ingredients into the mixing bowl, then mixed the wet and dry ingredients until a rough dough formed.
Step 10: Shortly after, I gently kneaded the dough for a minute or so, then sealed the mixing bowl with plastic wrap. Similar to the soaker, the pre-ferment was then placed into the refrigerator to chill.
Note: The pre-ferment was very sticky and thus well hydrated.
Step 11: Upon chilling both the soaker and pre-ferment, I rinsed and washed the above kitchen equipment.
Step 12: Chilled for nearly thirty-four hours, I removed both the soaker and pre-ferment from the refrigerator, then rested them at room temperature for approx. two hours. Once two hours had elapsed, I transferred the pre-doughs onto the cutting board.
Step 13: After sprinkling whole wheat flour atop the pre-doughs, I divided the soaker and pre-ferment (using a Chinese chef’s knife) into twelve smaller portions.
Note: The soaker was divided with ease, whereas the pre-ferment was less manageable due to its adhesive nature.
Step 14: Initiating the “epoxy method” as described by Peter Reinhart, I tossed each portion of the pre-dough into a separate mixing bowl.
Step 15: Of the ingredients for the final dough, I then poured the whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt into the mixing bowl.
Step 16: Thereafter, I poured the olive oil and honey into the mixing bowl.
Step 17: With vigour, I stirred the thick mixture until the above consistency was reached.
Step 18: Once the dough resisted strongly to the motions of stirring, I set the wooden spatula aside, then kneaded the dough until its constituents (i.e., yeast, flour, salt, etc.) was evenly distributed within itself.
Step 19: Onto a clean work surface you go!
Step 20: Implementing the French kneading method to the best of my capability (in other words, very poorly), I kneaded the dough for a total of fifteen minutes.
Subsequent to kneading, the dough was then rested for approx. six to seven minutes. In the meantime, I coated a separate mixing bowl with olive oil.
Following the rest period, I resumed kneading the dough…
“What the bleep is going on?!”
Despite my effort, the dough remained sticky and non-cohesive rather than smooth and elastic. So, out of desperation, I pleaded to the shaggy mass, then fed spoonfuls of flour into the dough to reduce its adhesiveness.
Step 21: Frustrated and upset, I reluctantly proceeded to the next step after kneading the dough for a total of fifteen minutes after its rest period.
Accordingly, I wetted my hands with tap water (another technique to prevent sticking), then shaped the dough into a rough ball. Soon after, I placed the ball of dough into the oiled mixing bowl, sealed it with plastic wrap, then let the dough proof (i.e., ferment) at room temperature for forty-five minutes.
Note: Truth be told, I spent the majority of the dough’s rest period moping. Heck, I even wanted to shed a few tears to relieve my profound disappointment. Thankfully, a grain of optimism sprouted and I decided that the behaviour of the dough will dictate its final form. (If it’s not extensible–bread rolls. If it’s extensible–braided loaf.)
Step 22: After the dough expanded about 1.5x its original size, I removed the plastic seal from the mixing bowl.
Step 23: With a wet spatula, I cautiously pried the dough onto the work surface.
“Careful, don’t let it rip… Don’t let it rip… AHH, DAMMIT!”
Step 24: On a whim, I decided to fold the dough as one would with a business letter. Accordingly, I folded one-third of the puffy, gas-bloated dough onto itself.
Step 25: Subsequently, I folded another one-third of the dough onto itself, then pinched the widest seam by repeatedly hitting the edge of the dough with the heel of my hand.
Step 26: *Chop, chop, chop!*
Wielding a Chinese chef’s knife (wetted with tap water), I divided the dough into six portions, then left them to rest for a period of five minutes.
Step 27: After five minutes had elapsed, I lightly dusted the dough portions and work surface with flour. Following that, I rolled each dough until they were approx. twenty-four centimeters (10 in) in length.
Step 28: Voila–six elongated dough strands!
As you can see above, I failed to divide the dough into equal portions–a critical factor when producing a well structured and symmetrical challah. *Shakes head.* Shame on me…
Step 29: Initiating the six-braided dough technique, I stacked and pressed the ends of each dough strand together.
“This strand over that, then… Wait… Oh-no, that’s not right…”
Ten minutes had passed before I realized that I was completely lost, despite reviewing the said technique beforehand.
Step 30: Abandoning my prior intentions, I swiftly devised my own braiding technique; after unraveling the dough strands, I wrapped each pair of strands (i.e., one around the other) until I had what were three elongated coils of dough.
Note: I was unable to detach the ends of the dough strands unless I tore them apart. Of course, that was not desirable.
Step 31: The three-braided dough technique was then implemented: the far left strand was placed over the middle strand, then the far right strand was again placed over the middle strand. This step was repeated until the dough strands could not be further braided.
Subsequent to that, I tucked the ends of the braided dough beneath itself.
Step 32: With my hands, I gently lifted and placed the braided dough onto the parchment lined sheet pan. Soon after, I prepared the egg wash and applied it onto the the surface of the braided dough.
The dough was then proofed (i.e., fermented) at room temperature for a period of thirty minutes.
Note: Originally, I had planned to bake the braided dough on top of an inverted sheet pan. Why, you may ask? Well, because the rims of the sheet pan tends to absorb and reflect heat, which may result in unevenly baked bread. However, I was coerced into tweaking my methods as the dough was much larger than I anticipated.
Step 33: “Oh, man, what am I supposed to do?”
After thirty-minutes had passed, the braided dough had increased in size and tore at one end due to the effect of gravity.
Step 34: Hastily, I lined a separate sheet pan with parchment paper, then lifted the braided dough (by pulling the parchment paper upwards) and transferred it into the vacant sheet pan. Thereafter, I applied a second coating of egg wash onto the surface of the dough, then sprinkled poppy seeds atop.
The braided dough was then left to proof (i.e., ferment) at room temperature for fifteen minutes.
Step 35: During the dough’s last proofing period, the oven was preheated to 190°C / 374°F. However, as soon as the braided dough was set into the oven, I reduced the temperature to 150°C / 302°F and baked the dough for a total of fifty-five minutes.
Note: I had checked the doneness of the challah at fifty minutes by applying the “toothpick test”. That is, I inserted and withdrew a toothpick from the centre of the bread loaf. Since bits of moist crumbs clung to the toothpick, I baked the challah for an additional five minutes (at 150°C / 302°F).
Step 36: Presuming that the bread loaf was properly baked, the challah was removed from the oven, then placed onto a rack to cool for over an hour. Additionally, I hastened the cooling process by directing a blowing fan at the challah.
Step 37: I was very, very eager to slice the challah to inspect its crumb. So, to keep my mind preoccupied, I rinsed and washed the above kitchen equipment.
After an hour of being baked, the crust of the challah was crumbly and firm to the touch. The crumb of the challah was firm but somewhat soft, highly resilient, and slightly moist. Moreover, the challah exhibited a strong but pleasant wheaty aroma and had a balanced taste of mild tanginess and slight butteriness. In terms of overall mouthfeel, the challah was fairly chewy, where the poppy seeds atop of the bread loaf added a crunch factor.
After a day of being baked, characteristics of the challah did not alter except that the crumb was slightly dryer, which resulted in a chewier mouthfeel.
Note: The challah was stored at or near room temperature.
Pre-ferments are truly a bread baker’s best friend.
You know, until recently, it never occurred to me that pre-ferments could, with emphasis, dramatically improve a bread’s flavour profile. Prior to the preparation of my challah, the only whole wheat breads I tasted were mass produced and commercially packaged. (Yes, quite sad, I know.) Having said that, the following statement shouldn’t be a major shock to you: my challah was the best tasting whole wheat bread I ever had in my life–for now, at least.
Final comment: I’d rather not revert to my old ways and live a life without preparing and, more importantly, indulging in the flavour of a good loaf of bread. So I ask myself, will whole wheat breads fulfill my epicurean needs? Mayhaps.
And so, my quest continues…
Farewell and happy baking! :)