Friday, July 4, 2014

Bread - Number 54: Slightly Improved Dark Rye

This is a situation where the border between redoing a bread and doing a new one gets fuzzy. But this bread became an instant favorite, so why not give it extra space? Plus, I'm happy to make it to 54 - the halfway point to 108, which I despair of reaching unless I soon start branching out a bit more. Seems like I struggle to make any breads other than the favorites because the first 54 have produced quite a bunch of really great breads that I am comfortable with.

So, yes this is a remake of bread #53, my first dark rye, but a bit different and easier.

Ingredients and instructions

100g water
20g starter
100g rye flour

I would use this amount of starter or less in the summer. My kitchen stayed at approximately 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) all night. In the winter, I might use some more and adjust the flour and water amounts in the dough accordingly.

Mix well and leave covered on counter overnight, or my case 9.5 hours.

2 cups water or 473g
255g bread flour
320g rye flour (I ran out; it was supposed to be 340g)
12g salt
1 tbsp. caraway seeds (I did not weigh these)

Now that I'm over the exceedingly sticky nature of this dough and I feel no compulsion to knead a rye dough, this bread was a much more easy going experience than the last. Mix all ingredients in the order listed. Cover and leave on counter for 2.5 hours. Might take a little more time in a kitchen below 85 degrees.

Before shaping, sprinkle dough with flour and sprinkle board with flour. Do one stretch and fold. Shape. As this was not a dough to keep its own shape, I used a loaf pan - pre-sprayed with non-stick spray. Cover with plastic and leave on the counter.

Update upon making this bread a few more times
Here's an alternative to the advice in the last paragraph: Forget sprinkling the dough with flour. Wet your hands, lightly wet the dough and wet the board or counter top you will be using to do the stretch and fold and shape the dough. I could not believe how well using a small amount of water worked. It did not stick to my hands or the counter. My inspiration on this was a video on making a rye bread (scroll way down for the "cocktail rye video"), including handling the dough at this particular stage.

Before baking
Due to the wetness of the dough, it will be - okay, it was for me - impossible to tell when this dough was ready to bake. I preheated the oven after shaping the dough to give both an hour before baking. I just assumed an hour would be okay.

In a list form:
  • One hour before baking - preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  • Preheat top of oblong la cloche in oven. It will roughly fit over the loaf pan. 
  • One hour before baking - shape dough and let rest.
  • Just prior to baking, sprinkle caraway seeds on top of dough. 

Gently cover loaf pan with top of la cloche. Be careful as the top of the la cloche does not exactly fit the loaf pan.

Immediately reduce oven temperature to 460 degrees. After 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 440 degrees. I think I left this dough in the oven for another 25 minutes, but it might have been 20. Immediately take bread out of loaf pan and let rest. My general rule is two hours.

Big, nice oven spring, a beautiful dark brown bread and an amazing taste. This is a keeper. I will take pictures next time, promise. I have to say that although this bread was based on a recipe in the River Cottage Bread Handbook, I have substantially altered the hydration, I did not knead at all, and I stopped even referring to its instructions. I still like the book.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bread Number 53: Radical Dark Rye with Caraway Seeds

Radical for me.

This recipe was adapted, pretty much on the fly, from the River Cottage Bread Handbook, which seems to always produce a dough with a massive flaw that I believe will result in a totally terrible bread. This time I became convinced that the author had  intentionally left out key instructions or ingredients. Evidently, something other than the dough on this one was dark. Anxiety, however, produces good results. (I do believe worrying wards off the worst. Hey, I read my Zen calendar each day, but this is a different perspective.)


100g rye flour
100g water
20g starter

Mix well. In a warm, summer kitchen (probably 75 to 80 degrees), I left this mixture  (covered with plastic) out on the counter for 12.5 hours.

510g water
225g bread flour (That's after the extra flour was added. Add this much from the start.)
340g rye flour
12g salt
7g caraway seeds, plus extra to put on top before baking

This works out to a dough that has a hydration percentage of 90 percent. I had intended to make an 80 or 90 percent rye dough, but it ended up as 65 percent after I added extra bread flour to save the mucky, wet mess. The recipe stated this dough would be "very sticky." That term does not do it justice.

Next to "wet" in the dictionary is a picture of this dough
Mix all ingredients well. The book's directions called for five minutes of kneading, but I have read rye should not be kneaded and kneading a wet mass that was dough-like in name only was problematic. I kneaded, if one could call it that, for two minutes and I spent the extra three minutes trying to get the dough off of my palms and fingers.

I let the dough rise for an hour and 40 minutes. I did one stretch and fold, also difficult due to the lack of cohesiveness of this dough. Again spent three minutes scraping the dough off of my hands and another two washing my hands so that it did not feel like my hands were covered with drying cement. I let the dough rise another for another couple of hours.

Shaping and baking preparation
There's no way to shape a blob. I placed the dough in a large loaf pan instead. First, spray the loaf pan with non-stick spray. I sprinkled more caraway seeds on the top of the dough and covered the pan with plastic. Left out on the counter for on hour.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. I also heated the top of my oblong la cloche to place over the dough while baking. Wait an hour for sufficient time for oven to heat up and for the dough to be ready.

After placing the dough in the oven, immediately reduce the temperature to 450 degrees. Reduce again at 35 minutes to 415 degrees. Total oven time 46 minutes. I kept the loaf pan covered the entire time with the top of the oblong la cloche.

Take the loaf out of the pan and let rest on a rack for two hours.

Startling results
Not only did this bread rise, it looked picture perfect, medium-brown color, and it emitted those fine crackling sounds upon being removed from the oven. A very hearty taste with a much stronger rye flavor than my minority-rye breads. Made me think of my long line of ancestors during their centuries of life in Eastern Europe. I had the first slice with a pickle. This would go with borsht if I liked that. Great with homemade jam (thank you to my friend for bringing over the jar of jam made with community-garden-grown strawberries). Excellent.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Breads - Numbers 47-52: Finding My Way Okay Without a Digital Scale

I have so lost my mojo that these breads were made when snow was on the ground and not a blossom had poked through the soil. Now we're on the cusp of summer. I have still been making breads, just old recipes. In fact , this week I just made a 100 percent spelt with a 24-hour first rise and a tiny bit of sourdough culture. Nice.

By the last month or so before my bat mitzvah, which was a couple of weekends ago, I totally devoted myself to that effort and left the bread aside. Except for a Jennifer Lawrence moment on the steps, everything went well. I took a week off before starting to study again. Now I have to get back to bread and other projects. Finally, way beyond age 13, I am ready for eighth grade, which, as those from New York City will shake their heads in agreement, I skipped along with many others. I therefore have no knowledge of earth science. 

Bereft temporarily of a digital scale
After weeks of my mouth open and my eyes like a deer's facing a car's headlights, not knowing how to move, I figured that I had made breads before the digital scale entered my home and I could make breads until a fixed or a new scale crossed my threshold again. I used cups and teaspoons instead of grams, sometimes roughly calibrating weights to volume measurements, more educated guessing than anything else. 

Sometimes, getting lost is the best way to find one's way. We get so dependent on numbers and formulas that we fail - or I fail at least - to pay attention to the real details, in this case, the texture of the dough and how it acts. We think that if we use exact amounts given in recipes that no more mental energy need be expended. Sometimes poor results do not mean that a recipe is bad, but rather the baker or the cook should have focused on the dough or the dish as it emerges, rather than on precise numbers.

Maybe that's why I have become over time a cook who throws things in rather than measuring. By the time I get to bread #108, will I be using handfuls and pinches - perhaps weighing them for others - and feeling my way to good breads? I don't know, but I realize that setting aside the exact measurements that the digital scale provides, at least every once in a while, is a fruitful exercise for concentrating on moisture, texture and appearance.
One more confession: As these breads were made closer and closer to Passover, mid-super spring cleaning with the distraction of preparing for the holiday and travels, and a laundry dryer that broke in the midst of all that. (From an environmental standpoint, after weeks of air drying the laundry and it not being so bad, I should actually purchase an outdoor drying rack and use it during the summer.) I was so busy that the few seconds to take a photograph of dough or bread seemed too time consuming.

Spelt always good
You have to love spelt. It works at 100 percent of the flour or in a hodgepodge of flours one is using to rid one's household of opened flour bags. Breads # 51 and 52 included spelt flour, with the latter mostly spelt. Both came out great. 

Bread #51

1 cup starter (an unusually large amount for me)
1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour (KAF)
1/4 cup spelt flour 
1/2 cup bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

Mixed and let rest for 25 minutes. Kneaded and did a stretch and fold; all together that amounted to three minutes. Very sticky, so I added the 1/4 cup bread flour listed in the ingredients.

I let the dough rest for another 25 minutes. Since it remained quite sticky, I added approximately two tablespoons of bread flour (not listed in ingredients). I kneaded in the extra flour and did one more stretch and fold.

I did two more stretch and folds of intervals of 25 minutes. I then shaped the dough into a somewhat baguette form so that I could later bake in the oblong la cloche. I let the dough rise in a couche-like, baguette-forming contraption for four hours. Much anxiety that this was too long to have waited. 

Oven time
Preheated oven to 455 degrees for one hour. Heated the oven with the la cloche inside to make sure it was super hot, thus ready for the dough. At one hour, fearing maiming from placing the dough inside the ungodly hot la cloche, I opted instead to put the dough on parchment paper and place the parchment paper into the bottom of the oblong la cloche. Much easier and the bottom of the bread turned out just fine.

At 13 minutes, I reduced the temperature to 420 degrees and baked for another half hour, for a total of 43 minutes baking time. Beautiful! Way better than expected, lovely rustic-looking baguette. Solidly good taste. Husband happy that this shaped bread is much easier to cut than the boules.

Bread #52

1 3/4 cups water
1/4 cup starter
3 cups spelt flour
1 3/4 cups bread flour
2 tbsp. wheat bran
1 1/2 tsp salt

Mixed all ingredients and did three stretch and folds, two at 30-minute intervals and the last at 15 minutes. Let the dough sit, covered in plastic, overnight for approximately 11 hours. I put the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours until ready to bake. (Seems that when the exactitude of the digital scale is gone, everything else goes somewhat approximate as well.)

I love being able to take the dough from the fridge, shape it (unless already pre-shaped) and plop it in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees about an hour before baking. Preheated the oblong la cloche - both top and bottom - in the oven so it would be hot when dough placed inside.

I split the dough in half for two baguettes, rather squat ones that did not resemble the long thin professional ones sold at the local Whole Foods supermarket. I shaped each loaf and placed on parchment paper. Then I used a spousal gift that had been sitting in the pantry since way before the 108 breads project - a baguette shaper made of thin metal and full of tiny, presumably aerating, holes. Being of little faith, I used parchment paper over the metal.

One dough went immediately into the oven-heated oblong la cloche, while the other dough stayed in the shaper, but placed in the fridge until its turn with the oven.

Baked each baguette for 30 minutes, a good 12 to 15 minutes less than a boule would have needed. The taste was wonderful, a great and easy bread.

Breads #47 to #50
Forgettable is the operative word. I write down a couple of details just so I remember not to repeat these breads. I used vital wheat gluten in all of these recipes, so perhaps there is a lesson to be learned. Every other ingredient was pretty standard, which makes me think it was either that ingredient or the distractions of Passover cleanup and the upcoming bat mitzvah that led to edible, fine breads, though way short of spectacular.

These breads were #47, whole wheat; #48, combination of rye, whole wheat, and bread flour; and #49, white whole wheat and bread flour, the latter two with 1/4 cup each of flaxseeds as well. 

Nothing more need be said. Why give instructions for mediocrity? Almost at the halfway mark to 108, I prefer to spend the time proceeding to new breads and techniques.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bread - Number 46: Under construction

Tried this sourdough challah recipe three times with two complete strikeouts that were my fault and one mediocre result that caused the family to decry the challah series as a sin against the already perfect challah.

I feel I have sufficient experience now with this recipe and the adjustments it needs to try it one more time. Frankly, the biggest strike against it is that making this bread is very time consuming with many stages, none so far apart that one can go to work. More like having an infant that naps for an hour or so before requiring some attention, though not as cute. 

I will post after I try for the fourth time, which could be up to a couple of months, depending on how life goes in the interim.

Thank you to the lovely person who gave me this recipe as a comment to a previous blog post. If you have additional suggestions, feel free to share. Perhaps I am missing a key piece to success.

Ingredients and instructions

35g firm starter
80g water
140g bread flour

Knead until smooth. Put in a closed container with room for expansion. The dough should triple and start to flatten within 8-12 hours. Trust me that a winter-time kitchen will not work. The first time, nothing had happened by the next morning and a full day of a warm kitchen was required for results.

2 large eggs
55g olive oil
66g honey or sugar
60g water
400g bread flour

Mix with wooden spoon until there is a shaggy, sticky dough. My first try was more like a pie crust dough, not a good sign. I added 1.5 teaspoons of extra water. 

Knead for 10-15 minutes and cover with plastic. Place in a bowl with warm water. Leave for approximately two hours.

Separate into however many strands you wish and then braid. I usually make a small roll and a large challah. Set on parchment paper with oiled plastic wrap and leave for approximately five hours, until the dough has doubled in size. Do not do as I did, which was, failing to see what I thought were adequate results, I put the dough on top of the stove over a very warm oven heated up, only to find that the strands basically melted into one another. 

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, according to the recipe, though I had better results at 325 degrees on one of my tries. Brush dough with egg wash and any seeds you prefer. Sesame or poppy are traditional. Leave in oven for 25 minutes; turn off heat and leave the bread in for another 10 minutes.

For the egg wash, I generally use just the yolk of an egg, sometimes the yolk with a bit of water. Most recipes differ.

On my best try thus far, the challah rose well, but still was not as light as the challah I make with bread machine dough and commercial yeast.

Update to come.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lesson from a scale lifetime warranty gone joyous

When I play solitaire, which I only do on vacation because I get lost in it, I always assume I will lose. When I applied for jobs or went on dates, I went in with the attitude that these were one-time meetings that would not bear fruit. There's a pessimism in my genetic makeup; I am thrilled when life works out otherwise. Beneath the pessimism, though, are superstition and hope; the dark attitude actually provides no protection.

Escali scales proved otherwise. Despite my waiting and losing hope, despite a snarky email, despite thinking all was lost even after I had sent the scale back to Minnesota to be fixed - because a few weeks is like an eternity in the Internet age - Escali shipped a new digital scale, explaining in a business form that the old scale was beyond repair.
People really are nice in Minnesota.

Shrieks heard round the block
I screamed with joy when the box with the new scale arrived and screeched with more happiness the next day when I told a friend at work who has been privy to the whole broken scale saga that the nice people of Minnesota are truly nice and not just in reputation and small talk at the airport.

The scale came to my door in the midst of Passover cleaning, after bread making had ceased. And it is Passover now, a holiday when one enjoys unleavened treats, a vacation from bread, so I have yet to try out the new scale. (I just did a bat mitzvah class talk on the whys and wherefores of the distinguishing bread from matzo. Very intriguing.)

Uplifting moral
Original moral of the story: Keep your receipts because no matter how many emails and how good a person you are, the company will not believe that you came by their product legally and under warranty - even lifetime warranty - protection unless you have the evidence to prove it.

Revised and actual moral of the story: Keep your receipts, but do not lose heart if you fail because you never know if there is an angel in Minnesota or elsewhere to give a hand or a new scale. Indeed, this can be true even if you send the company a snarky email that deserves to be met with a "screw you" response. Maybe all of that cold and snow, the sweaters and long underwear, the tea and hot soup, make for a kindness I was unfamiliar with while growing up in 60s New York City.

Almost posted
The following is the post I almost posted, literally with my finger poised over the "publish" button, but taken back to give just a brief moment of time before I sent this darkness out into the world. How right I was to hesitate. How wrong I was to have written these words.

Three strikes
I called the Escali scale company three times. The first time, they told me Yes!, you are certainly under warranty and fill out our online form. Form filled out, two weeks pass, no response and I called for a second time. The second time, like the chorus of a bad song, they told me Yes!, you are certainly under warranty and fill out our online form - and, get this, check your spam folder because our emails often end up there. Now that's a customer-friendly practice. I waited patiently yet again for my email response; I checked my inbox and my spam folders; I got distracted with work and travel and a few weeks later I called again. After all, people in Minnesota are nice, they go out of their way to help, right? I called a third time and the sweet young lady waited while she sent the email to me with the warranty information, received in my inbox on the spot; now all I had to do was read the warranty and mail my scale back.

Not so fast.

Turns out that when you receive a wonderful digital scale with a lifetime warranty there should be a giant warning that says in giant red letters: Keep your receipt. Do not ever throw it away or this lifetime warranty language will be meaningless, no matter how carefully you keep the box, the packaging, and the little leaflet that came with it and no matter how clean you keep the digital scale that you finally ordered after researching all of the options and no matter how much the lifetime warranty aspect of the deal figured into your selection.

Being in a snarky mood once I realized that the lifetime warranty was like a mathematical formula where you keep getting half way so that you never actually arrive at your destination, I wrote an email that demonstrated I was not born in Minnesota, but in a place where sarcasm and nastiness are somewhat appreciated. This will take years of meditation practice to make up from. [I get some credit for waiting to post this, but not much. Just to demonstrate the extent of my tantrum, the actual email to Escali follows.]
My email to Escali
Dear [Escali staff person name],
I spent a good part of the weekend looking for a proof of purchase for the P115C Escali scale I purchased about a year ago. I dove into the nether reaches of my Amazon and credit card accounts. I can't believe how much information is permanently stored, but alas I found nothing (my husband says I have no finding skills, but that usually refers to losing my glasses). I called King Arthur Flour to see if I actually purchased the scale through its catalogue as I had a purchase on my credit card from them at about the right time, assuming, of course, that I actually remembered when I bought the scale. Definitely after January 2013, but I would have to go through baking notes to get more specific. No, that King Arthur purchase, which I had forgotten, was a late holiday gift for a friend.
All I have is the scale and no proof of purchase other than the fact that since I did not receive it as a gift or steal it, the scale, now broken, is legally mine and unfit either for use or for repair. I have the original packaging, but alas, that is insufficient according to your warranty sheet.
The scale, when it worked, was marvelous, and a few weeks ago, when it broke, I was on the phone with a friend I had not spoken to in almost 25 years. No wonder, mid-dough preparation, I probably leaned on the bowl, which was sitting on the scale, a bit too much. After all, you talk to a high school friend and you act about as mature as you did in high school, which, in my case meant baking triumphs and accidents that will go unmentioned (except for the terrible peach pie made with peanut oil that said friend's mother took to an event, something that was forgiven, but certainly never to be forgotten).
I am tempted to send the scale to your company as it is presently of absolutely no use to me. I would like to send it for repair in accordance with the warranty, with your permission, of course. 
Otherwise, the scale will go into the garbage, I will purchase a scale from another company and I will likely write a snarky blog post on my bread blog about my sad scale warranty story. Really, I would much prefer that Escali live up to the warranty and fix my hitherto wonderful scale.

I await your response.
Thank you, 
Signed me [my name here]
Say it ain't so
Embarrassed to say this, but it was such a good scale that I [was] actually considering buying a second one (comparing it to some others) and this time placing the receipt in a safe place like a safe deposit box or in the box with the scale so that I am sure every time I use it that if something goes wrong, I will be able to ship it to Minnesota to be fixed. And by the way, escali means scale in Esperanto, according to the company website. Esperanto is a language that was somewhat promoted by Yiddish speakers and called a world-wide Yiddish, a culture that would appreciate a snarky email.

Don't you know
No response, not even in my spam folder, until three weeks later, a lovely Minnesota email. Those people are so nice, they melted my native New Yorker heart. This Wednesday, after Passover is over and I put away the holiday pots and pans, counter covers, and all manner of stuff I store in the basement for this one week a year, and take out of the pantry the toaster, the bread box, the bread cutting board and other accoutrements of everyday life, I will, with some trepidation, turn on the new scale. Right after, I will run downstairs to the freezer basement and defrost my sourdough starter, which will take about a week to be made ready to raise a bread. I can't wait to mix a dough with the new scale and smile with the thought that it is a scale that means kindness in any language.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Addicted to my digital scale and other tales

I became crazed the moment I realized the digital scale was not working. It was literally right in the middle of mixing together a sponge for the third try at bread #46. I must have been leaning on it while I was talking on the phone and mixing the sponge at the same time. Early the next morning, I ran out for batteries, but new batteries did nothing. The error message kept appearing. The scale was broken. There was no troubleshooting chapter of the brochure, nor a page on the website with a miraculous fix. There is, however, a lifetime warranty on Escali scales, but the employees are not elves; they don't work weekends or respond to emails after five on Fridays.

I feel like I am in withdrawal.

I actually went back to old recipes for volume measures and for recipes where I translated my volume measurements for weight measurements - then worked backwards. I am hoping for a quick Escali response and an invitation to mail back the scale and have it fixed. My fragile balance of life is thrown out of whack.

Bread #46 in development
I am stuck on bread #46, a sourdough challah that I have already made three times. I want this to work. I feel close, but no cigar.

1. Do not make a dough, a sponge, or any pre-ferment at the same time as doing something else. I forget where I am in the recipe or I neglect to write down a measure or a time. Or something else, definitely something, will go wrong.

2. Do not talk to your best friend from high school, who lives half a world away - that's 12 time zones - in a high school-like chattering, wonderful conversation, and expect the bread not to suffer.

3. A dough is like a baby; it needs attention, especially at first.

4. After nine o'clock at night is as bad as five in the morning in terms of brain operations.

5. The aforementioned phone call was at about 9:30 at night. Two strikes against that bread. Still, the dough came out well. It was the overheated spot in the kitchen that precluded perfection.

6. Perhaps my family is using a challah voodoo doll to jinx this challah series because they already love my regular challah and they do not want to taste or become accustomed to anything else.

7. I apologize for using the word "addicted," because I read a few of the articles about the death of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, may he rest in peace, and there are so many people like him who are unable to overcome their demons, instead drowning themselves in narcotics or alcohol. So sad how many people he saw and interacted with in those final days, all of whom said how sick he looked, and no one reached out or pulled him in to take care of him.

8. Even with that perspective, life feels askew without my digital scale.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bread - Number 45: Beautiful Whole Wheat Challah

Bread - Number 45: Oy, but it's whole wheat and not sourdough. I'll kvell anyway.

What a beautiful challah and I followed instructions. My kneading worked. I loved it, perhaps swayed by the appearance as much as the taste. Isn't it always that way with love? My husband, however, is not feeling it. True, whole wheat masks the egg flavor to an extent, which to him means this is not a challah. I'm with him on that, although more open minded. 

This morning, day three of this challah, My husband announced he is buying a lousy bagel from Au Bon Pan because he does not want one more taste of this bread. The weird whole wheat/egg combination was too much for his stomach and mind to integrate.

Well, I like it and I am so proud that I made a challah with my own hands. This challah is part of a journey of needing to arrive at a place with a sourdough challah and without a bread machine to depend on. It's my slow food rebellion - one step at a time.

Master source for the recipe
I used the Peter Reinhart whole wheat challah recipe from his Whole Grains Bread book, which I have yet to read. I am going to read it now. This is a time-consuming recipe. Every five minutes you are doing something; well, maybe at half hour intervals. This one takes a few hours. It is not a "come home on Friday mid-afternoon to make a challah" recipe even if started the evening before. 

The only criticism I have - and the one instruction I refused to follow - was this would have been one overdone challah had it stayed in the oven for 50 or 55 minutes. I took it out at 35 without even using the thermometer. When it comes to challah, I have some experience (not counting the awful attempts of breads #43 and 44).

Ingredients and instructions
Erev baking day = the night before. Mix the soaker and the biga, separately.

227g whole wheat flour
4g salt
170g water

Mix the soaker ingredients and cover with plastic. Let sit out overnight. My kitchen was on the colder side.

227g whole wheat flour
1g commercial yeast (I know, it was so sad not to use my wonderful starter culture)
28g olive oil
114g water
48g one egg
52g egg yolks

Mix the ingredients, cover with plastic and put the bowl in the fridge. Mine rose well overnight.

The recipe states that the soaker and biga can be left alone for 24 hours, so this bread can be tended to solely in the evenings. Just know that it will be a long evening when the dough has to be mixed in its final form, tended to, and baked. It will help if a household member, neighbor or whoever can remove the biga from the fridge in advance of a rushed arrival to get the challah going.

11 hours later
Early the next morning, a snow day (woo hoo!), I took the biga out of the refrigerator and let it sit for two hours before mixing with the soaker in my favorite dough bowl. This being a snow day, again hooray!, I could work while the biga warmed up in an actually heated kitchen. If this had been a late afternoon activity, I would have been fretting about getting this bread done on time for an evening meal. (Challahs do not need to sit before eating. Not in my house.) Though the directions advised cutting the soaker and the biga each into several small pieces before mixing, this did not work for me.

Using a favorite bowl is like using the pen you prefer (I realize some readers might never use a pen). Somehow having those tools and containers that you like make the whole experience feel right. I actually arranged the bowl usage so that the final dough would be mixed in the right bowl.

57g whole wheat flour
5g salt
7g commercial yeast (at least it isn't a lot)
28g sugar or honey (I used honey)
28g olive oil

For later: poppy or sesame seeds and an egg yolk for getting the dough ready for baking

Mixing and waiting, working, and tending
Mix the biga and soaker together first. Then add the rest of the ingredients. The recommended two-minute mix to get a cohesive mass, of course, took almost 10 minutes. I kneaded for four minutes, which finally integrated the honey completely. Have plenty of flour on hand for turning the somewhat sticky mass into a smooth dough. I probably used about 100 to 120 grams of flour. I am not too proud to admit that I used regular bread flour at this point.

Cover the bowl with plastic and let rest.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

I let the dough sit for 45 minutes and it rose - at least to the eye - the requisite one and a half times. I was glad I worked early when the biga was warming because mid-morning seemed like I was off and on tending to the dough. After the 45 minute rest, the instructions were to cut - with a knife - the dough into the number of strands you will use for braiding the challah. I am still doing a three-strand braid, plus three tiny strands for the roll.

Slightly roll the pieces of dough into short, stubby strands and let sit - covered - for five minutes. During the rest time, get the egg wash ready. Reinhart recommends a wash of egg yolk and a tablespoon of water mixed. Roll the strands into their final shape before braiding. If you think of a rectangle, fold each length-long side in, one side over the other, and then roll the dough either between your hands or on the counter.

I am afraid of anything more than three strands. I am almost ready to conquer this fear. Every time I look at four-to-six strand instructions, my eyes glaze over the same way they do when I read a book that describes a battle or navigation of foreign roads. One or two directional descriptions and I am totally lost. Where was the big hill or the little hill or Picket's fence at Gettysburg? Which army was where? I will need some meditation before I approach anything beyond the comfortable three strands that is so similar to braiding hair that I do not have to think about it.

Braid however many strands you like. Do the first brushing on of the egg wash. Cover with plastic and let sit for 30 minutes. Pray that this challah will be better than the last two. Use the rest of the half hour to work.

Second egg wash and prepare to bake
At the end of the half hour, I notice a good sign: The braids did not mush into each other. Sigh of relief. Place the dough on parchment paper that is on either a baking peel for easy transfer onto a baking stone (that is warming in the oven), or a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush on the second coat of egg wash and sprinkle, or not, whatever type of seeds you prefer.

Let sit for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees right before baking. Place the challah dough, and the roll, if you made one, into the oven. If you are using a baking stone, remove the parchment paper after 20 minutes. At 20 minutes, the challah already looked gorgeous, with beautiful oven rise.

I removed the roll at 30 minutes and I took out the challah at 34 minutes.

Can a whole wheat bread constitute a challah?
This bread is wonderful. I love it. Not all opinions in the household agree. The dog is with me, but he sets a low bar for breads and challah is his favorite. I have to say the whole wheat masks the egg taste sufficiently that it does not really taste like a challah. I think it can still be considered a good bread. I even think it is a good challah for having when the picky challah experts in the family are not at home.