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Challah Braid Cracking?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

I have been making a traditional three-strand Challah. It tastes great, but its appearance is unsatisfactory.
All along the center of the braid, when looking from above, there is a fairly wide crack. The egg white I brush on the loaf prior to baking of course does not include the crack, so the color along the crack is much lighter than the rest of the loaf.
What can I do to avoid the crack? I have been trying to braid it tighter and tighter, but that doesn't seem to help. I never see it on professionally made loaves...

post #2 of 7
The "skin" of the dough is cracking, probably because you're not getting enough "surface tension" on it as you form the individual braids.

When you divide the dough into three parts, the cut surfaces will be bubbly and raw. You not only want to get rid of those completely, you want nothing like that on the surface.

Try "pulling the dough down" a few more times before rolling out the individual braids. It's a little tricky because you don't want to flatten the dough and lose too much gas; but keep your hands gentle and keep a feel for the lightness of the dough and you'll be okay.

Make sure the entire surface of the dough ball is tight and smooth before forming the braids.

Something else you might want to try, in addition to developing more tension on the surface, is a little bit of extra rise time outside the oven, so you don't get so much spring so quickly when the loaf does do in the stove.

Alternative problem sources are the temperature of your oven (too hot, too cold, not sufficiently preheated), and something to do with your formula. But I'm disposed to discount those as opposed to loaf formation.

If you want a different recipe, I posted a good one here on CT a long time ago, but I'll be more than happy to re-post for you if you have trouble finding it.

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thank you for your reply.
I have had trouble creating nice even strands. They often end up being flatter than desired. I usually lightly flour the "raw" surface created by cutting the dough, so it is easier to work with.
You gave me a lot to think about for next time. I will certainly give the braid more time to rise before baking. Currently I let the braid rise for twenty minutes? How much longer should I let it rise?

Thanks again!
post #4 of 7
After the second rise, remove the dough from the proofing bowl, and cut it into however many even pieces as braids -- in your case three.

Pull each piece down, into a tight ball by using "pull-down" technique -- that is by holding the ball in one hand, using your the fingers and palm on the other hand to pull down about a quarter of the ball and tuck it into the bottom of the ball; then turn the ball a quarter of a turn and repeat. Keep doing it until the skin on the ball is very tight. A lot of bakers call that tightness "surface tension."

During the "pull down" process try and be gentle, you want to keep the dough as light as possible.

Cover two of the balls with cling wrap.

Place the third on a lightly floured board and roll it into a snake -- about 1/2 to 2/3 the length of the loaf you eventually hope to make. If the middle of the snake is slightly thinner than the ends -- well and good. During the "snake" process try and be gentle, you want to keep the dough as light as possible (sensing a theme?)

Repeat the snake making process with your other two balls.

Lay your snakes parallel to one another on a floured baking sheet, or on a sheet of parchment set on a movable flat surface (like the bottom of a sheet pan) if you'll be using a stone or cloche.

Start braiding in the center and work towards each end. The reason to start from the center is the loaf will remain symmetrical, thicker at the center and thinner at the ends, as the snakes stretch from manipulation.

When the loaf is formed, cover it loosely with cling wrap, and allow it to rise until not-quite doubled in volume. You want to leave some room for oven spring, but not too much.

Egg wash if desired.

Bake as usual.

I suggest baking challot (plural of challah) at 350F.

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 
A shaynem dank! I did some research on the pull down technique and shaping a boule. I think that it will help me shape the strands next time. It also seems like I should give the braid more time to rise once it is formed.
Thanks again.
post #6 of 7
Pulling down to develop surface tension is an important part of loaf formation -- even for loaf pan breads. It takes a bit of practice to develop the "touch" so as not to flatten the dough too much; but if you've been baking for awhile you probably already have touch. Just keep the dough feeling light in your hands, and if it starts to feel heavy -- stop!

The idea of allowing the dough to rise to however high it should rise, as opposed to timing it and going according to the clock, is harder to assimilate than to execute. Too many bakers expect consistency from hyper-careful measurement of amounts and times. However, consistent excellence comes more from touch and observation than scales and clocks.

A bei gezundt,
post #7 of 7
The braid should rise for the same length of time as a regular loaf of bread. When it's ready for the oven you should be able to gently indent the dough with your finger and have the 'dent' stay down. If the dough springs right back it's not ready for the oven. I would let it go 40-45 minutes and then check it.

When I form my strands, I shape them the same way i would an individual ficelle. This means there is a seam down the center. If I am not careful, when I braid the strands the seam ends up on top. This can split open.

"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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