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Challah braids spreading/splitting

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
When baking a challah, the braids are not staying together. They spread and split apart on top.

Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
post #2 of 11
What braiding technique are you using? Are you using three ropes and doing one over one and under one to make your braid; or five ropes, and doing one over two and under two?

Is your dough soft and sticky, soft and oiled, or stiff?

What do you do with the rope ends?

What is your rising technique after braiding?

Do you egg wash before you bake? With what mix?

post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 
Thank you for the reply.

I am using three ropes and doing one over one and under one to make the braid (I think). I keep alternating left, right, etc.

The dough soft and sticky. It was refrigerated after the second rise and required some flour to keep it from sticking to my hands and the rolling surface.

I pinch the rope ends together.

After braiding, I let it sit for up to one hour. I believe this is the proofing stage.

I use an egg wash after the braiding and just before baking. The mix is about 2 tablespoons egg to 3/4 teaspoon water.

Thanks again.

post #4 of 11
How high is the temp of the oven? Could be the problem.
post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
325 degrees F (approx). Baking on the lowest shelf.
post #6 of 11
Part of your problem comes from braiding too loosely. This is very common and usually results from people who are afraid of stretching the dough too much. Don't worry about it. If your loaves get too long, make your braids fatter next time.

I think four or five ropes work better, and results in a more elegant look. Of course, that's a matter of taste. The structure will hold the ropes together in the braid and force you to braid tightly. You might try that with your next effort.

Something else to try is starting your braid about 1/3 of the way up the ropes, and braiding in both directions. This should put the thickest part of the braid in the middle of the loaf, while the stretched out ends can be hidden. You won't end up with a one end substantially thicker than the other.

Once you've got one of the braid styles working, you'll have the "feel" to make the other one work as well.

Vo den? Not to mention, "Aha!" Soft and sticky is generally a good thing for most breads. Rule of thumb and all. Challah? no.

There are a lot of ways to skin the challah cat. The most common style is a fairly stiff dough. Use just enough water to bring the dough together, and then start adding flour until it won't take any more. Note: This type of dough is too stiff for a mixer, and will have to be kneaded by hand. Knead it well, young padwan.

Speaking of kneading ... I forgot to ask, but over or under kneading could be the problem. Knead to the windowpane stage. No more, no less.

Let's talk variations: I like to use a slightly stiff dough with a lot of oil, margarine or butter. Enough to give the soft dough a slightly slippery feel. This is not the most common style of dough, but it's a good one. I use 8 oz of butter per 7 cups of flour -- and that's a lot of butter! In fact, it's double compared to most recipes. Of course, if you keep kosher, you'll want to use something pareve like margarine or vegetable oil. If you do use margarine, avoid the new "0-transfat" types. Although slightly healthier, their baking properties are very poor. If you don't keep kosher, use butter. Big improvement. In fact, "like buttah."

In any case, the dough should be stiff enough and kneaded well enough that you don't need much extra flour to make or handle the braids. Some, to make it easier? Okay. A lot because otherwise it sticks to the board and can't be braided? Not good. Your dough's too soft. This ain't coffee cake.

As long as you're not leaving them loose. Still, you might want to try folding the pinch under. You'll lose a little of the braid effect at the ends of the loaf, but keep a tighter braid. The final look is very nice, with the braid seeming to raise out fo the loaf rather than extending all the way to the end. If you think about it, that's the look you see with professionally made loaves -- now you know why.

aka the final rise. You're probably doing it right, but I've gone too far to stop nudging. Try not to let the clock rule you. You want 2/3 of the total rise after braiding to be at low or room temperature, and the last 1/3 in the oven.

Yofi tofi.

Your 325 bake is fine for a very soft, shiny crust. Most challah are baked at around that temp. 350 will give you a more definite texture with just a bit of crackle and chew. You might want to try it some time down the line. Or not.

I'm assuming you speak Eskimo. Zol zion mit mazel,
post #7 of 11
I have trouble like this sometimes too. I find I didn't roll the ropes tightly enough before I braided them. Also, I had trouble if the dough (which had been refrigerated) wasn't warm enough before I put it in the oven.

My mom set me straight on the egg wash: use yolk only. I haven't tried making challah since she admonished me about this, but I'll soon try.

BDL, you caught me by surprise. :) Nice Yiddish, bubbelah.
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post #8 of 11
I thought it was as plain as the nose (remodeled by water polo, boxing, poor judgment and finally surgery) on my punim.

post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the very thorough reply. I sincerely appreciate the time you took to run through the various possibilities, as I'm a novice at this.

Two areas I will look at when I prepare the dough again this week are (1) the consistency of the dough (I'll make it stiffer) and (2) the proofing time (I'll shorten it somewhat, as well as watching the temperature -- it's been 75-85 deg. F. where I've been proofing before baking).

Thanks again for your suggestions.

post #10 of 11
Several years ago I catered a wedding luncheon for a very religious Jewish family. Every item was carefully inspected for a proper kosher designation on the packaging and I had two kosher supervisors in the kitchen with my people for every second of preparation and service. It alleviated alot of worries about making a mistake.
The wedding was on Sunday and we were prohibited from entering the kitchen from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. At about 8:45 pm Saturday night, I received a phone call. The bakery which had been contracted to bake the challah breads didn't do it. The national chain, Breadsmith, which was under a rabbi's supervision, had baked variety breads midweek and they'd been frozen to be removed from the synagogue's walk-in freezer after the Saturday evening sabbath services. The family wanted a challah on every dining table as the centerpiece.

I phoned the family and informed them of the situation. Within minutes, a friend of the family, originally from Morocco and Israel, said she would meet me in the synagogue kitchen and we'd make the challah breads. I envisioned an all night affair; not so. Fortunately, the synagogue kitchen was well stocked with ingredients. In two batches we had the dough for our breads, though I thought the Hobart belt drive was going to have a hernia.

Right out of the mixer, without benefit of a first rise, she began braiding. I thought, "huh." Instead of three or four ropes, pinched closed at the ends, she made two long ropes, tucked one under the other in a "t" shape, pulled it down over the top, giving her four ropes with a closed end. Wam-bam, she braided each bread in less than 30 seconds. I made ropes while she braided the breads and sprayed the tops with PAM. Within an hour all the challahs were in proofing cabinets. She mixed up some whole eggs with extra yolks, some oil, and a dab of yellow food coloring and painted the breads, just before they went into the ovens.

They came out beautifully. During the preparation, she'd said some blessings, took some of the dough to be burnt as a symbolic offering, and appeared to relish the entire task.

The recipe for the dough??? I know the ingredients, but the proportions would be a guess. She just threw ingredients in the mixing bowl, eyeballed it, and let 'er rip.

added by edit: I recall that we baked about thirty loaves, 24 to be used as table centerpieces.
post #11 of 11
I looked it up.

Good luck
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