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Here’s a common query I get from many of you out there and this time, instead of only responding to the person writing to me, I would like to share it with all of you.

The answer to this dough and rising issue is one that I know so many challah bakers need to know:

Hi Tamar,
I make challot because both my kids (ages 3 and 1) are allergic to egg and the shop bought ones usually have egg in them. My recipe uses fresh yeast, and then all the usual ingredients except eggs.

I made some today, left the dough to rise for a little over 3 hours as I had to go out and it rose beautifully (see photo) and was very airy.
I knocked it back, shaped the loaves, and left them to rise again for about an hour.

This is when the problem occurs. After they have been baked they never rise more than about an inch. They expand outwards but not upwards. I am sure there isn’t a problem with the yeast as the dough always rises brilliantly when left before shaping but just doesn’t rise again after shaping and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’d really appreciate any advice you can give.
Good Shabbos,

Answer from Tamar Ansh:

Hi and thanks for writing in! Your problem is not really that uncommon – it happens to lots of people. Here’s what I think is most likely the issue.

Your dough is a bit too loose, and too wet. While this will yes net you airier challahs and those that rise a lot, you need to put a bit more flour into your dough so it will hold its shape after rising. I suggest adding in another half cup to a full cup of flour to your dough when you are preparing it.
If this makes the dough too tough, add in a bit more liquid again although not too much and also a bit more oil. Your final dough should be smooth and elastic feeling without being too sticky and too soft.

Try this tip and let me know if it works for you. This way, when you go to shape (re: braid, plait) your challah it will hold it’s shape better. It should also be easier to shape without sticking to your hands or work surface, and it will also rise upwards as well as outwards, thereby giving you a higher challah.

Another solution that I know helps a lot of people is to use a “challah pan”, which is an oval shaped pan that comes in many different sizes to accommodate small to very large challahs. This way your challah cannot spread out, it is forced to rise upwards. (I do sell these pans in Jerusalem, not for overseas shipping though, if anyone is interested.)

Have a great Shabbos and happy challah baking.

A reader named Esther sent in her favorite of Tamar’s challah tips:

I have been baking challahs for more years than I can remember and have tried all sorts of tips light and fluffy.

I have tried:

  • Soda water
  • Punching down the dough in the middle of rising
  • Using “meshaper”
  • And many more

The winner is:

Tamar’s recommendation to knead for 10 minutes, then rest the dough, then knead again for 4 more minutes in order to fully activate the yeast.

My challahs and rolls are rising considerably more than they used to and are consequently lighter too. This
also means an increased yield per kilo. Thank you!


How to Bake Your Challahs Evenly

No more doughy middles!

Question: “My challahs rise okay and seem to bake fine but when we slice them open they are too doughy or not done enough in the middle. Other times they seem to sag in the center or fall inwards. How do I take care of this?”

Tamar’s answer:

To get challahs to bake evenly, you should check several things, to see which is the culprit.

  • 1. Check that your oven is working properly. Get an oven thermometer and insert it into your oven’s central area. Turn the oven on. When the oven is supposed to be at its designated temp, about 15 – 20 minutes into the time after you have turned it on, check what it says.
  • 2. Do all of your other baked items bake okay and the problem is only your challahs? If this is what’s happening, it could be that your challahs have simply not been inside the oven long enough. If so, increase your baking time by another 5 minutes for your challahs. Don’t worry if the tops get browner, that’s fine.
  • 3. Check with a timer, how long your challahs are rising. Maybe they rose faster than the recipe stated and they are actually a bit over-risen. This will cause challahs to fall inwards once they are egged. If this is your problem, for your next batch of challahs, set a timer for the rising time to be 5-10 minutes less time than you normally would have let them rise.

How to tell if challahs are baked through evenly

Completely baked-through challahs should have browned tops AND, equally important, baked-through and browned bottoms.

To check this, take a long flat spatula and pick up the challahs before your take them off of the tray to cool. If they are firm and browned through on the bottoms as well, they should be done.

Substituting Whole Wheat Flour Instead of White Flour

A frequent question I receive is about replacing white flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour. Here is today’s question from Suri:

I have made your challah (from A Taste of Challah cookbook) many times and it’s delicious. How can I tweak it by making whole wheat using 5 lb bag of whole wheat flour?!?

Whole wheat challahs are so nice, especially if you make part of the dough as rolls that you or family members can use for sandwiches during the week. When I do that, I measure the dough at 100 grams each and them shape rolls with them. This way they are portion controlled.

5lbs of flour is equal to 16-17 cups flour, which is the amount of flour I used in most of my recipes in A Taste of Challah; on purpose since this is the minimum amount of flour necessary according to rov poskim in order to be mafrish challah with a bracha from the dough.

The substitution:

To make whole wheat challahs just substitute whole wheat for the white flour in any recipe you like and add in another 1/4 – 1/2 cup water to the dough also, as whole wheat absorbs more water than white flour does, especially during the first rise of the dough.

My challah crumbles when we cut it. I don’t know why. This is what I do. I never had any issues with it till now but I changed a few things. I started to use distilled water and self rising flour, maybe one of these is the problem. Not sure. But the challah is so sticky that I add a little more flour. I tried adding oil but it still is sticky so I can’t roll it very well. What should I do?

Tamar’s answer:

It’s hard for me to “diagnose” a challah problem without knowing the entire recipe you are following. However… in absence of knowing exactly what else was in your recipe, I’ll take an educated guess.

Rising agents

You should NOT use “self rising flour” for any challah recipe. The reason those flours “self rise” is because they are laced with tons of either baking soda, baking powder or both. Baking powders are one kind of a rising agent, and yeast is a totally different one.

Self-rising flour is meant for simple cakes where people don’t add baking powder to the recipe and instead use this flour. I bake tons and tons all the time and all I can say is that I have never once in my life ever used such flour. I’m nearly certain that is the problem.

If the flour has all that baking powder in it and then on top of that you have the yeast of the challah recipe, the challah is sure to dry out while it is baking. It can’t be a cake and also a bread at the same time .

Let’s bake it again

Try using ordinary flour that you sift first before starting to make it into a dough. Follow the instructions for any of the recipes in A Taste of Challah. I’m pretty sure your challahs will then come out as you are expecting them to – soft and delicious!

IF, for some reason , this does not solve your problem, please write me again and we’ll try once more to help you! Either way I’d love to know if my answers help you.

Happy baking!

Yeast to Flour Ratio

I have read all your info on yeast, but am still confused!! – I have just bought individual 11g sachets of Instant Dry Yeast (manufacturer Dagan) – how do I use it in my challas????- I look forward to your reply – many thanks,

An 11 gram packet is about 2 teaspoons plus a bit more of yeast. This is not so exact so, since I never buy such small packets, I would suggest measuring it with a teaspoon. See how much it comes out to be. If you only want to do a small amount of challah, then cut down the recipe I gave you to half and this way you will only need one and a half of such packets for about 8-9 cups of flour ratio.

Happy challah baking!

How to Prepare and Cook Fresh Pumpkin

For clarification, fresh pumpkin can be bought in Israel in any vegetable store. They are massive and are therefore sold in wrapped chunks, usually kept near the salads in the refrigerator section, and are called “DaLa’at”. They are bright orange in color and are loaded with vitamins and flavor.

In the States, pumpkin has a smaller and more rounded appearance and is usually sold as a late fall vegetable. It will cook up and bake the same way, but the coloring may be somewhat different.

Those who cannot get fresh pumpkin for the baked items I will be showing can substitute canned pumpkin, but please note that the fresh comes out and works so much nicer. Besides, it’s a bit healthier also…

To prepare fresh pumpkin

Take the pumpkin pieces that you bought, wash off the outside rind well with a sponge and soapy water, and fill a large pot with 3 inches of water.

Cover the pot and cook the pumpkin pieces until they are just turning soft, about 30 minutes.

Turn off the flame and leave the pot covered so the steam will cook it the rest of the way, about another 10 minutes.

Uncover the pot and let the pumpkin cool off until you can handle it easily without burning yourself.

Pluck out each piece, scoop out the pumpkin into a clean bowl and discard the rinds.

Mash with a fork or potato masher until just mashed but not completely pureed.

Drain again by hand, squeezing out the excess water – gently! You don’t want to kill it, and a little bit of liquid in it is fine.

Now it is ready for use. Measure the amount you need as you do each recipe.

Hello again! I was about to begin baking my challah using whole wheat flour and without eggs.
Your recipe says to put the ingredients into a mixer bowl and knead for ten minutes with a mixer. Do you mean a hand held mixer like I use for cakes? Or only the heavy duty bread machine type of mixer?
Or another way to ask my question: can I knead by hand for ten minutes?

I’ve been making challos and bread for many decades but every batch comes out different… so I wanted to try to have these be “perfect!”

Whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid than white. And especially if you are taking out the eggs you will then need to add another 1/2 cup of water to the recipe and a bit more oil.

Of course I do NOT mean a small hand held mixer, it would break in a sec. Yes a big machine mixer. But for sure you can knead it by hand, in fact its even preferable because you can knead and pray at the same time…

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