(Warning: technical baking-geek post).
I bake challah pretty regularly and I’ve been meaning to try it out with a pre-ferment, so that’s what I did when I made the honey-wholewheat challah for the In The Jewish Bakery challenge. I find that pre-fermented breads last longer, and have considerably better flavour development from the flour, with a ‘nutty finish’ to the taste that you don’t get on faster breads. I just wasn’t sure whether this would apply to such an enriched bread as a challah – I’ve certainly never seen an suggestions for pre-fermenting this kind of bread. I made several adjustments:
I mixed 50% of the flour with 1/3 of the yeast amount and the full water amount a day ahead of baking, and left that to ferment overnight for 8 hours at room temperature. I think 8 hours was too long, because when I came back to it, it had most definitely peaked and sunk in the middle.
The poolish (if that’s what you can call it) was pretty firm – like a runny dough more than the consistency of poolish that I’m used to. So I added an extra cup or so of water to the recipe, which I then ended up balancing with an extra cup of flour, so I guess on balance it was a bit extraneous.
On baking, day, I mixed up the dough and had to leave it proofing while I took Kolya out on a playdate. (Yes, I know, this is NOT orthodox baking.) So I dare say it overproofed somewhat. Then I did the final shaping – and had to take the shaped loaves to my mother’s house for baking, so more overproofing there.
Suffice to say, I was amazed that they worked as well as they did, but – amazingly – they did. The outside was a sweet, golden crust, and the inside extremely soft, with a ‘white bread’ sort of crumb. It’s hard to know whether the pre-ferment made a difference to the taste without doing a control test with no pre-ferment – next time I’ll be more scientific!
It stayed fresh for about 5 days. Oh and everyone loved the surprise of a bit of wholewheat in the challah – tonight is shabbat, and I’ll be making it again.
PS I like making challahs in loaf pans. It’s not quite the norm but my granny always did it; I suspect because it makes for easier handling when you want to make a sandwich the next day with the shabbat leftovers. Leftover roast chicken with picallili, if she was making it. So I guess it’s a different kind of tradition – Greenstein tradition.