I hate humidity. I hate muggy. I don’t hate it because it makes me feel sluggish, sticky and sweaty. I don’t hate it because it transforms my hair into a limp, Medusa like ‘do’ of curly rat tails, or frizzes it out. I hate it because it affects my baking. I’ve complained about this for many summers on this blog; this blog that is now officially 4-years-old today!
Okay..now that I got that over with, more kvetching.
Humidity can really affect bread baking, especially if you want to braid or knot loaves or rolls. You add the amount of flour approximated in the recipe, plus a little more, going by feel as you knead, which is usually the norm. When it’s humid, you keep adding flour, and the stickiness resurrects with each fold and push. The moisture in the air transfers to the dough, which absorbs cup after cup after cup of flour, and it seems to melt into the never-ending moisture as if you’ve barely added any flour at all. THEN, when you shape the bread and set it aside to rise, it spreads like a soaking mop across a fried chicken joint floor, obliterating any shape you created, and you can forget about oven-spring.
Humidity is the succubus of dough.
Of course a wave of humidity hit, and is still going strong as I type this, right when I decided to create and bake my challah for this month’s Daring Bakers challenge.
May’s Daring Bakers Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.
I decided to make the dough into two flavors (chocolate and pistachio) along with the basic honey white challah recipe Ruth provided us with, using that basic honey white recipe as a base for the two flavors. I split the recipe in half, keeping one half white, then boiled water and stirred in 3 tablespoons dark cocoa, letting it cool before mixing it into the batter for the other half of the challah dough.
I now had a basic white challah dough and a chocolate challah dough, the latter in which I kneaded about 1 cup of grated dark chocolate into before letting it rise. For the pistachio dough, I made half the recipe, adding about 2 tablespoons pistachio paste to the boiling water, plus a drop of green gel food color, letting it come to room temperature before adding it in.
After the initial rise of each dough, I realized that all three were way too tacky to braid, so I started adding flour to each batch again, kneading, then more flour, kneading, then more. I finally reached a point where I felt all three could be braided and/or twisted into a cool knot, since there was probably enough dough for three large challah braids. I let them rise again; visions of the perfect marble braid dancing through my head.
At this point I didn’t care about a tough loaf of challah, I just wanted it to look pretty! This goes against every cooking, baking, blogging rule I hold near and dear, but I didn’t give a shit. Humidity also affects my mood. Not in a good way.
So, once each dough had risen, it was time to braid. I started with the twisty knot and covered it to rise. When I returned an hour later, it had not only spread, but the three strands in my braid had amalgamated into one freakin’ ball of mosaic! No high twisty bumps, no distinct ropes of dough, just a flat, mosaic boule, as you can see above and below. I finally gave up and baked it as is.
So, I decided to add more flour and try some braids with the remaining dough, using this 6-strand method, my favorite, alternating the pistachio, chocolate and white dough. Within 15 minutes the damn braids were already starting to flatten and spread.
Eff you, humidity! Why must you seep through the walls no matter how high I crank the AC?
When an hour was up, I had two 6-strand braids that looked like this..
LOVE the sinkhole in the middle! I knew they were going to bake up flat, so no pretty braids here.
Obviously, I couldn’t separate them back into three colored portions of dough, so I cursed up a storm as if my foul-mouth might perform magic on them, turning them into perfectly separated, braid-worthy dough. Nope, didn’t work. I dumped both flat braids into an oiled bowl and let it chill in the fridge overnight; not even a modicum of an idea of what I was going to do with this mess.
When I got home the next night, this is what I was greeted with…
Just as I was about to give up and surrender to another boule, an idea struck. Thank you, baby jeebus.
Remember those tubes of multi-colored plastic goo from the 80’s, where you would put a glob on the end of a straw and blow it into a funky, psychedelic balloon? It smelled like carcinogens, and was probably akin to breathing in lead paint, but it was fun! I just looked it up; my search term “blow goo on straw”. Voila – Super Elastic Bubble Plastic by Wham-O!
So, I decided to divide this lump of Super Wet Elastic Boule Doughtastic into 12 pieces, each piece a swirl of all three colors, like a glob of Super Elastic Bubble Plastic, then roll them into ropes, braid them together and pray.
Hmmm..this braid was looking okay since only the ends ‘melded’ into mosaic, braidless globs, but it had not flattened within 15 minutes, which was a good sign.
When it was fully risen, it was nowhere near as bad as the first two, but I knew I wasn’t going to get my usual, high, humpy, tight-braided challah. One turned out pretty flat, and the other held some humps and looked okay, and that’s the one I photographed. I had to slice it because I couldn’t fit the whole challah in my measly little Lowel Ego Light space. Surprisingly, they weren’t tough at all, and I think the humidity played a role in that too. At least it was good for something..for once.
Enough cannot be said about climate controlled kitchens. I will have one – one day, when I hit the lottery.
Now, because of the humidity gremlin reeking dough havoc, I can’t give you an exact recipe (although I did explain what I did in the 5th and 6th paragraphs, and I’ll explain again briefly), but, I can tell you to add dark cocoa to the amount of water in your favorite challah recipe (boil the water first, add cocoa, stir, then let cool before continuing), and knead a bunch of grated dark chocolate into the dough, for a chocolate dough.
For a pistachio dough, make or buy pistachio paste and add a couple of tablespoons into the amount of water listed in your recipe, boiled first so it dissolves, like for the chocolate dough. Add a bit of green food color, if desired. Let the pistachio water cool, then go ahead with your recipe. After egg washing the loaves, I sprinkled turbinado sugar on top of both for a sweet crunch.
If you’d like the recipes Ruth provided for the Daring Bakers Challenge, which includes the one I used for my Chocolate and Pistachio Marble Challah, CLICK HERE. If you’d like to see some gorgeous, braided challahs that didn’t flatten, click on the links to other Daring Baker’s blogs, HERE.
Now to the Giveaway. It’s a Giveaway you see all over the blogosphere, but in this case, it’s from ME to YOU..no one else involved, to say thank you for a great 4 years.
Photo from Amazon.com
It’s a KitchenAid Professional 600 Series 6-Quart Stand Mixer – your choice of color. To enter this giveaway, just leave a comment. For three extra entries you can.. 1. Follow me on Twitter @parsleynsage 2. Tweet this giveaway – I just entered to win a Kitchen Aid 6 -Quart Stand Mixer at http://bit.ly/KztFYz . Leave a comment to enter. Ends June 4th, 2012. June 8, 2012. 3. Like or share this giveaway on Facebook. Leave a separate comment for each of the three bonus entries you do.
Hope everyone had a great Memorial Day Weekend!