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
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
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
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.