Rise to new heights

Add some new tips to your arsenal of baking knowledge in time for the High Holy Days.

Selection of halla breads (photo credit: Courtesy )
Selection of halla breads
(photo credit: Courtesy )
With Rosh Hashana only a month away, now is the time to brush up on your halla baking skills so you can impress your family and friends over the holidays. Here are three professional baking tips to help.
Tip 1: Knead well Many people confuse mixing with kneading, when in fact they are two distinct processes. The purpose of mixing is to uniformly incorporate the ingredients throughout the dough and is the first phase of dough preparation. This is followed by kneading, the purpose of which is to develop the gluten structure in the dough. By stretching and folding the dough over on itself repeatedly, you create a microscopic web of gluten strands whose task it is to trap the many bubbles of carbon dioxide created by the fermenting yeast. Trapped by the elastic gluten, these bubbles coalesce and expand, creating the rising effect we see in the dough, very similar to blowing up a balloon.
Many people mix the ingredients and knead the dough for another five minutes by hand or machine, thinking that is sufficient.
To develop a strong gluten structure, after mixing you should knead for at least 15 minutes by hand or 10 minutes by machine.
This may sound tedious and strenuous but is necessary to achieve excellent results. Pause periodically during hand kneading to rest and resume. The idea is to enjoy the process and use it as a time of meditation, not to break any world speed records.
Adequately kneading the dough provides a firm foundation for your halla and will result in well-risen loaves and a light, airy texture in the crust when baked.
Tip 2: Rise, turn, rise Ideally, dough should rise twice. The first rise occurs immediately following kneading and prior to shaping or braiding. Periodically during this first rise, you should “punch down” the dough to release accumulating carbon dioxide in the dough and introduce more oxygen. If no oxygen is reintroduced to the dough, fermentation will slow and eventually stop as the oxygen is exhausted and the yeast suffocates. Expert bakers take this one step further. Instead of simply punching down the dough, they give the dough a “turn” around in the bowl, both deflating it and stretching it at the same time and thus further strengthening the gluten structure.
Following the first rise, the dough is braided into hallot and then rises a second time before it is baked.
If this two-stage process is not followed, your dough will not develop sufficient strength to maintain its shape and will be dense and heavy when baked.
Tip 3: Prod your halla Knowing exactly when to bake your halla is the hallmark of an expert baker. Simply following recipes verbatim will not always succeed because many factors influence the development of the dough, such as climate and temperature. Dough is a living, breathing organism and rarely follows any textbook. You need to actively observe its progression and compensate for any environmental fluctuations. You do this using the prod test.
By lightly prodding your halla dough (during the second rise) with your finger and observing the indentation effect in the dough, you can easily tell whether your halla is ready to be baked or not. If the indentation immediately springs back leaving no trace, your halla needs to rise further or it will crack while baking. If the indentation remains and does not spring back at all, your halla has over-risen and will probably collapse during baking. If the indentation partially springs back leaving a partial indentation in the dough, you are at the happy stage of equilibrium between the elasticity and extensibility of the dough.
Dough baked at this stage will have enough strength for the “oven spring” that occurs at the beginning of the bake and results in well-risen loaves with crusts that do not crack. Plan ahead and make sure your oven is heated and ready when the halla is ready to be baked.
Adding these three tips to your arsenal of baking knowledge will enable you to achieve stupendous results with your hallot.
✔ 2½ cups flour ✔ ¾ cup water ✔ 1 egg ✔ 1½ tsp. instant powdered yeast ✔ 1½ tsp. salt ✔ 3 Tbsp. sugar ✔ 60 gr. margarine (softened)
Mix and knead well. Leave to rise for 1½ hours. Braid into halla form (see http:// saidels.com/articles/braidingtechniques.htm). Let rise for another 1½ hours. Bake at 193º for 25 minutes.
Master baker Les Saidel, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is the owner of Saidels Bakery (www.saidels.com), specializing in handmade, organic health breads, and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.