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Challah Disaster! I need your help.

One of my ex friends (yes, you can have ex friends, just like you can have ex boyfriends) once accused me of only posting recipes that work out. Seriously? Yes. It's true: most of the posts here are recipes for successful dishes that I've created. Why? Because most of the time I'm able to take the things in my refrigerator and pantry and compose pretty good meals using them.

Also, if my recipes don't work out, don't photograph well, or are just lackluster, why would you want to read about them. Or would you?

And with these random thoughts going through my head, I decided to tell you a tale of Challah Disaster.

Last week was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana (New Year). I celebrated by eating apples and honey because I'm more of a cultural Jew (as opposed to a religious one) and chose to go spinning at the gym rather than attend services.

During the day, however, I was engrossed in reading Anna's tweets and Facebook updates about an apple/honey challah she was baking all the way in Seattle. As often is the case, I wanted to follow in Anna's footsteps (after all, she is older by 30 minutes!!!) and make challah.

I saw a recipe from Epicurious someone tweeted and decided to give it a try. What made this recipe special to me, was that it supposedly came from a little town in Ukraine named Chernovtsy (the spelling varies quite a bit), the same town where my dad was born and spent the first 18 years of his life! How could I go wrong with that?

Oh, let me count the ways.

1) The recipe required quite a bit of time in between the steps for the dough to rise and was supposed to produce 3 loaves of bread. No thank you! First, I decided to separate the steps between the two days and also to cut the recipe in half.

2) Did I mention the dough did not rise? It did not: not at all. There are a few reasons that I can think of:

* the yeast was old even though it should not have expired till 2011
* the water I used was too hot or not warm enough
* I used "pizza" yeast instead of a regular variety: I just assumed they'd work the same
And so what happened?

Well, last Friday I took out the braided uncooked challah from my refrigerator where it's been sitting over night. I let it hang out in 200 degree oven for 2 hours to see if it would magically rise, and then when it did not happen, I decided I had nothing to lose and baked the challah. (This is one long sentence.)

My apartment smelled amazing. And yes, the challah looked relatively pretty, but it was too dense, chewy, and completely unappetizing, save for the raisins I added to the dough.

See, from time to time, I do make food that goes directly into garbage. This challah was not worth saving for either Challah French Toast or Challah Bread Pudding.

I guess I'm going to have to find another recipe and try my luck at baking challah again. In fact, turns out I've managed to bake challah successfully in the past. I just don't know which recipe I used!

Ok, your turn now. Please share your unsuccessful cooking/baking "adventure" or share your foolproof recipe for challah!


Capitol to Capital said...

I rarely write about restaurants that were terrible or severely mediocre. Maybe I just had a bad experience, but I won't want to go back fast enough to figure that out. Also, I hate when managers/owners/groupies flame me in the comments (on my blog or another where I've commented) telling me I'm wrong for not liking their place/food. And if it was just ok? Unless it has an unbelievable reputation, I'm not going to bother writing up a whole post to say "It was ok."

I totally get why you'd only post recipes that work--we don't want one that DOESN'T! It sounds like the yeast was the problem, in my opinion. If it didn't activate 10 mins-ish after adding it to sugar and warm water, then it was no good.

nicole said...

1) i agree about ex-friends! i'm glad i'm not the only person that has this phrase

2) of course we wouldn't want to read about recipes that don't work out! i've seen on some other blogs that they'll post the photos and say "i'm not going to post the recipe because i'm still working on it". other people have posted photos and posted the recipe if they just didn't personally like the recipe, but not in a case of total fail recipe.

the challah bread looks yummy! you could have taken it to a park or water and fed some birds or squirrels with it. i would never think of that, but dan is always asking me if i have bread on me while we're out. (and of course, i don't!)

Sasha said...

It's better to fail than not try at all.

I have a recent kitchen disaster story of my own: I decided to make ricotta lemon cookies, a recipe of Giada's I've had bookmarked for forever. Things were going well until I peeked to see how the cookies were doing in the oven and saw that they were not rising and spreading and burning at the edges instead. I realized that I must've put in too much ricotta.
When they were done, I tasted one and it was pretty delicious...but terribly unsightly. Not wanting to throw they out, I made a cream cheese lemon frosting, and layered the cookies with the frosting in a dish. I refrigerated for a few a hours and the "cake" that resulted wasn't half bad. In fact, my family was quite impressed.

Although I was down on myself, at least my family reaped the benefits of my failure...LOL

Carolyn said...

I almost exclusively post recipes that work, although I will sometimes say if I think something should be changed or if it wasn't quite to my liking. But the total disasters? They don't get posted! There aren't too many of them, I think I either kinda know what I am doing or it's just pure luck (and sometimes I am literally crossing my fingers as I put something into the oven).

I had what I thought was a fabulous idea for S'mores bars, using a graham cracker crust and the filling from another recipe for oatmeal fudge bars. And although they tasted really good, they were a total mess. The graham crust was too crumbly, the fudgey center was not very fudgey it was more brownie-ish and quite dry, and the marshmallows I used were old and sticky and didn't get all melty like I'd hoped.
My kids still ate them happily, but they were so not blogworthy!

M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M. said...

I hope you'll be trying again!
My first try wasn't exactly a happy ending either, but the second was so amazing, I've been baking challahs ever since, and they always turn out beautifully!

Did your yeast foamed after you mixed it with water? You have to make sure they're active, use thermometer to check the water temperature.

here is the recipe I always use, it makes to huge loaves:

Velva said...

The challah made not have turned out but, it was a good effort. By the picture you would not know that it was not what you had expected. Try a new recipe and do it again :-)

Delicious Dishings said...

I still haven't made challah, but I'll be sure to share any tips once I learn how. We all make things that don't turn out right.

Esi said...

Sorry about your "disaster". I want to try more bread baking, but I haven't had the time lately!

Irina said...

I baked my first challah this year, also for Rosh Hashanah. I used a recipe from Fine cooking:

I followed the recipe precisely for making the dough; however, I didn't follow their instructions for shaping the challah. Instead, I separated the dough into three parts, shaped them into "sausages," and braided them as you would braid hair, then connected the ends to make a circle. I followed the baking instructions in the recipe and the challah turned out great!

I finished baking it really late at night (in the early morning hours, actually) and didn't have a chance to taste it until the following day, by which time it had dried out a bit. However, it still tasted very, very good, and the texture was just right. Funny, but its taste seemed to improve as it sat on the counter - or maybe it was just my perception. When I first tried it that morning, I thought, "Wow! This is not at all bad!" but when I had another piece that night I thought, "This is absolutely delicious!"

I will definitely make challah according to this recipe again. The only thing I might do differently is use just a tad less salt or more honey. However, this is a matter of personal taste - my husband would have preferred the challah to be a little saltier.

As for kitchen disasters... My only really major disaster happened last December, when I decided to make the pistachio candy recipe from one of my cookbooks and include it in the packages of holiday treats that I was mailing to friends. To make a long story short, I spent a fortune on pistachios, then rubbed my fingers raw shelling them for hours - all for nothing! The pistachio paste never became thick enough to be shaped into candy. I tried adding flour and cornstarch, let it sit in the fridge, cooked it some more in the hopes of evaporating more of the liquid - nothing helped. It's still sitting in my fridge, two large containers of it. It tastes pretty good, actually, and I think I might try using it as baklava filling... but that was a major disappointment. Thankfully, I was making two other types of sweets for the goodie bags, and those two were based on tried and true recipes. Lesson learned - never make a large batch of a new recipe, especially if that recipe is fairly complex and utilizes expensive ingredients. Oh - and don't rely on an untested recipe when you're making holiday treats and the deadline to mail them is fast approaching!

Pam @ kitchen Cookware said...

I usually write on my blog and post pictures that are well, it is natural but that does not mean I do not have disasters, far from it many of it. I think that what makes my cooking better.

Jenna said...

I totally post my baking disasters - although only the most interesting ones. I think you should try it again! The first time I made bread it was awful (hard as a rock), but my subsequent loaves were much better.

Oh, and it's so funny that we're making challah at the same time - I made some last week and just wrote up the recipe:

Good luck!

Mrsblocko said...

Of course, post your disasters! Nobody's perfect and mistakes make you seem more like a real person than just words on the screen. Besides, chances are you might help someone from making the same mistake you did, or learn a new way to do something through a comment.

Anna's Table said...

Sorry to hear about your challah disaster,it happens to the best of us.I had a run of bad luck recently with my with my focaccia recipe and couldn't figure out what was causing the problem. Although somewhat frustrated, I kept at it and decided to drop the malt which I was adding and now I'm back on track. Your problem might have been the yeast and most important the water temperature. I always proof my yeast to make sure it is working. So don't give up and good luck on the next one.

Anonymous said...

As others have mentioned, the yeast might be the problem if they did not activate properly.

Another possible issue is kneading. Did the dough pass the windowpane test? I baked OK-to-good challah bread for years until I learned to knead properly, and now my challah comes out amazing! For me, "enough" kneading seems to be 15-20 minutes, even when the recipe calls for 10 minutes.

Finally, in my experience adding raisins (rum-soaked, I hope?) always makes the challah more dense. I still haven't figured out how to fix that.

Happy baking!

Anonymous said...

I think its the yeast, or if there is baking soda or baking powder involved, you might want to check that they are still in date. I'd probably just try another recipe though.

Sometimes I post baking failures, but for the most part, I think people want to read about good things, so I agree with you totally.

*kisses* HH

Tales from the Fruit Cellar said...

Oh yeast. I recently had this problem with what I thought was my fool-proof pizza dough. My aunt, a seasoned baker, gifted me with extra-special-fancy King Arthur yeast that I now keep in the freezer. This stuff is a BEAST! Once it gets going, I'm sometimes afraid to put my hand in the bowl in case it wants to eat my hand. Seriously. So, perhaps try for some fancy yeast? I didn't cost much more than what you get at Giant and definately not more than Whole Foods. It did come in a big canister though.

A thought for the person who posted about raisins: Have you tried draining the rum soaked raisins for 5 min and lightly sprinkling them with flour? I mean, super lightly. It suspends them a bit in the dough and kind of protects them in the baking.

Ari said...

Sorry your challah didn't turn out well. I made some challah last week for Rosh Hashannah, as well, and it came out amazing.

I use the NY Time's recipe, and it is honestly the best I've ever tried. Hope you give it another shot!

Carol said...

I recently had a loaf of egg bread that failed to rise. I really didn't throw all those eggs away, so i fried it instead!
I tore off some dough, stretched it out flat (kinda like pizza dough, holes and tears are ok) and dropped it hot oil. YUM!

Cara said...

My challah didn't turn out quite perfect this year - it actually over-rose! We should get together and share our rising, huh? I sweetened my challah entirely with honey, and my guests all commented that they liked the flavor, though I, being over-critical of myself, found it a bit dry for my liking, I have some tweaking to do!

Anonymous said...

Not surprised that you remedied the disaster and have since made perfect challah. This post reminded me of a t-shirt I saw recently: Challah Back ;).