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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Whole Wheat Challah

For the first bread for this blog, and to start the new year, I wanted to bake something different from the regular loaf breads I have been baking. I also needed to use up some eggs. A challah bread was the natural choice. I chose the Whole Wheat Challah recipe from Peter Reinhart's (PR) Whole Grain Breads book. "Challah, the traditional Jewish Sabbath and celebration bread, is made from a rich dough that incorporates both whole eggs and additional yolks" - PR. The recipe is for 1 large or 2 small loaves. I wasn't sure how much we would like an egg-y bread so I chose to make half the recipe.

As this is my first bread post, I would like to describe in greater detail the steps involved in making whole grain breads using PR's method.

Day 1: Soaker and Biga
Almost all the breads in the book require 2 days. The first day involves preparing a soaker (flour, salt, liquid) and a biga (pronounced big-aa) (flour/mother starter, small quantity of yeast, liquid). I will write in detail about the reasoning behind these in a later post, but basically, it gives the whole grains time to soak in the liquid, soften and develop flavor.

The biga for Challah is different from most breads
because it includes vegetable oil, egg yolks and eggs.

Making the biga. The soaker is in the small bowl

The soaker is on the left and the biga is on the right.

The soaker stays at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours (or in the refrigerator for upto 3 days). The biga goes in the refrigerator right away for 8 hours and upto 3 days. I usually prepare these two the evening before I plan to bake. It takes about 20-25 minutes from start to finish for these steps.

Day 2: Final dough
Making the final dough involves mixing the soaker and biga (each made into 12-15 pieces for easier blending), flour, salt, yeast, oil/butter, sweetener and bread-dependent ingredients (like seeds, herbs etc)

Ingredients and equipment
(The yeast and salt have been mixed into the flour in the white bowl)

All the ingredients added

Dough after 2 minutes of kneading

The dough is kneaded for 5-6 minutes, rested for 5 minutes and then kneaded for another minute.

Ready for rising in a lightly oiled container

The dough is left to rise to 1.5 times its size, which takes around 45-60 minutes.

Shaping the Challah
After the first rise, the dough is shaped. For the Challah, I chose the 4 braid option, instead of the 3 braid that I would have been comfortable with (trying to do the unusual again). Shaping a loaf usually takes 5 minutes.

4 pieces for a 4 braid Challah

After resting, the pieces are stretched to about 10 inches (I think these were smaller than required)

The shaped(?) dough

As you can see, using half the recipe resulted in having very short lengths to make a braid. So I ended up with a weird intertwined shape.

Proofing is the process of letting the shaped dough rise before baking. This usually takes 45 - 60 minutes.

The dough, after proofing, brushing an egg wash and sprinkling with sesame seeds
The Challah baked in an 325° F oven (lower than normal because the dough is egg-enriched). After 20 minutes, the baking sheet was rotated and another 25 minutes later, the bread was dark brown, registered 200° F with my kitchen thermometer and looked done.

Out of the oven
The bread has to cool at least an hour before slicing. This Challah was wonderfully light. The crust (outer covering) was light and flaky) and the crumb (inner texture) had plenty of little holes (a good sign). It tasted good too.

Date: Jan 1, 2011
Recipe: PR's Whole Wheat Challah

Flours: Whole wheat (fine grind)
Bread specific ingredients: Eggs, egg yolks
Sweetener used: Honey

First rise time: 60 mins
Proofing time: 60 mins
Comments: I made only half the recipe. No changes in ingredient amounts. I was pleasantly surprised that the sesame seeds did not burn (Used the fourth-from-top rack instead of the middle). Except for the funny shape, the bread baked as expected and tasted (egg-y) good.

I also baked some cookies from my Christmas present book on whole grain baking... with modification of course. These cookies are a combination of peanut butter, oat flour, oats and butterscotch chips. Turned out very peanut buttery (as I should have expected) but still quite nice.


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