I’m making big plate chicken, and while this is a Central Asian dish, I decided to make challah as my starch. I thought that the soft bread would be good for daughter Miriam, because TMJ is so bad lately. Wife Jan said, “It’s my birthday and I want crackers.” To please them both, I used the same dough to make some of each.
Challah is usually parve. Most challahs are made without milk—only water or water and eggs—meaning that it can be eaten both with dishes containing dairy or with meat—important in the laws of Kashrut. The Kosher dietary rules forbid eating meat and milk at the same meal.
Instead of making a classic braided loaf, I decided to make challah dinner rolls with one quarter of my dough for Miriam. I turned the rest of the dough into crackers to please my wife. A bit of salt and black sesame made a deadly addictive crisp bread.
When I have bought commercial challah it is usually very yellow. My challah usually comes out almost white. While I prefer to use whole eggs in my recipes, today I decided to use more egg yolks—leaving out three egg whites. I also thought that adding saffron might help achiever the color that I was seeking.
Wife Jan is an anthropologist. As a result, many of our dinner guests are also anthropologists. Knowing that I cook, they sometimes bring local ingredients from their countries of study. One brought me some very high quality Irianian saffron.
Karl’s Saffron Challah Dinner Rolls/Crackers
1¼ cup warm water
¼ tsp. saffron
4+ cups AP flour, separate uses
2 Tbs. white sugar
½+ Tbs. Kosher salt, separate uses
½ Tbs. active dry yeast
6 large eggs, separate uses
¼+ cup vegetable oil, separate uses
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbs. fleur de sel
1 Tbs. black sesame seeds
1. Measure the water and add the saffron.
Tip: The water should be fairly warm to start, but you will be letting it cool for half an hour as it steeps.
Note: Grind the saffron into a fine powder.
2. In a large bread bowl, sift together 3 cups of flour, the sugar, ½ tablespoon of salt and the yeast.
Tip: In this recipe I am not “proofing” my yeast. I use a yeast from a jar that I already know is active. If you use yeast from a packet, you run the risk that your yeast is old and dead. Be very careful to check the expiration date.
3. Separate one yolk from one of the eggs.
4. Place the yolk in a small bowl and set the white aside for later in a cup.
Tip: You will be using this yolk as a wash on top of your rolls.
Note: This recipe will leave an three whites to be used for another recipe—egg white omelet anyone?
5. Separate the remaining eggs and place 5 yolks and three whites in a mixing bowl.
Tip: Separate from the flour.
6. Add the oil and vanilla to the bowl with the eggs.
Tip: You want to use vegetable or another neutral oil for challah. A strong flavored olive oil might make a good bread, but it would not taste like “challah.”
7. Whisk until well blended.
8. Make a “well” in the flour mixture and pour the egg mixture and water into the hole.
Tip: Strain the saffron out of the water as you add it.
Note: By now the water should be cool enough, so that it does not kill the yeast when you add it.
9. Using a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until you have a smooth batter.
Tip: The dough should be closer to a batter at this point.
Note: Stir in only one direction, until all of the lumps of dry flour are fully mixed in. If you stir in one direction and then the other you will break the gluten sheets that are forming as you stir. Of course, when you are trying to make tender biscuits, you stir back and forth because you want to break up these sheets.
10. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rest for 10-20 minutes.
11. Spread half a cup of the remaining flour onto a clean smooth work surface—I use a pastry marble.
12. Scrap the dough out of the bowl and onto the floured board.
Tip: Use a spatula or bread scrapper to free the dough from the bowl. You do not want to tear the surface of the dough as you transfer it to the board.
Note: Leah’s video has a good demonstration of this whole process.
13. Knead the dough for ten minutes.
Tip: Add as much additional flour as you need to keep the dough from sticking to the board.
Note: Depending on the size of your eggs, the temperature, and the humidity, you may need more than one cup. You want your final dough to be fairly soft, but you do not want it to stick to the board as you are working it.
14. When you have finished kneading, form the dough into a tight ball.
15. Clean your bread bowl and rub about a teaspoon of oil around the insides.
16. Place the dough top side down into the oil to coat it and then flip it over to coat the bottom with oil.
Tip: The oil keeps the dough from drying out and crusting as it raises.
17. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and set the bowl in a warm place to raise.
Tip: If it is a cold day, turn your oven on low for one minute and place the bowl in the over to raise.
Note: Be sure to turn the oven off before putting in the dough or you will half bake it. I speak from personal experience here.
Making rolls (see step 30 for making crackers)
18. When the dough has doubled in volume—1-2 hours depending on many factors—punch the dough down and turn it out onto a lightly floured board.
Note: Preheat oven to 350º F.
19. Form the dough into a ball and use a board scrapper to divide the dough into quarters.
20. Form each piece into another dough ball.
Tip: Pull the smooth sides around, so that the cut side of the dough is pulled into the center of the dough ball. When you cut the dough you are also cutting the gluten sheets. You want these cuts inside the dough, so that the gasses—that give your dough its lift—are trapped inside your bread not leaking off into the oven.
21. Cut the first dough ball into 10 wedges.
Tip: Cut the ball in half and then each half into five equal pieces.
22. Push the tip of each wedge into the middle and pull the smooth outside around to form a small dough ball.
23. Place some vegetable oil in your palm and toss each ball to coat it lightly with the oil.
24. Place the dough balls into the Pam-ed pan.
Tip: I used a 10 inch cake pan—6 balls around the edges and 4 in the center.
25. Repeat steps 21-24 for the other 3 pieces of the dough.
26. Take the cup with the egg yolk and add a pinch of salt and 1-2 tablespoons of water.
27. (Optional) Sprinkle a few black sesame seeds over the egg wash on each roll before they dry.
28. Let the rolls rise for 15-20 minutes and then bake at 350º F for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top.
29. Remove the rolls from the muffin tin and cool on a wire rack.
30. Divide the dough in half and cut the halves again to form four lumps.
Note: I used one ball to make the rolls above and the rest to make crackers.
31. Form the dough into smooth balls and put them in a large bowl covered with a damp towel.
32. Dust a clean flat surface with two tablespoons of flour and press one of the dough balls into a 4 inch flat square about one half inch thick.
Tip: Use a board scrapper to push in the sides of the square, so that any breaks in the edges of the dough are smoothed out and the dough is a fairly even rectangle.
Note: The challah dough had a very strong gluten mesh—meaning that it wanted to snap back after being rolled out—even more than my past crackers dough. I found that to make these crackers, I had to work all three dough balls at the same time. Letting each dough sheet rest to let the gluten relax, before rolling it out again.
33. Turn the dough over, so that both the top and bottom are well coated with flour.
34. Move the oven rack to the top position and pre-heat the oven to 400° F.
35. Roll the dough out into a 12 inch square about a ¼ inch thick.
36. Transfer the dough square onto a sheet of parchment paper, the size of a large, flat, lipless, cookie (baking) sheet.
37. Roll the paper and dough together into a cylinder, to keep the dough from drying out, and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Tip: When you roll out dough, the gluten has the tendency to tighten up and try to snap back to its original shape. Resting give it the opportunity to relax and adjust to its new shape, allowing you to stretch it further when you start rolling it out again.
38. While the first dough is resting, repeat the rolling process with the second dough ball.
39. Unroll the first dough and—starting from the middle of the square of dough—roll it out into a rectangle at least ⅛th inch thick (the thinner the better).
Tip: Leave the dough on the parchment paper while you are rolling it out. You want the dough to cover most of your baking sheet, but you do not want it drooping over the edges.
Note: The parchment paper will tend to pucker as you are rolling out the dough. Grip the edges of the paper on opposite sides and pull to smooth it out, before continuing to roll out the dough.
40. Use a rolling dough cutter to cut the sheet into individual crackers.
A Note on Shape: I have a jagged edged pastry wheel which gives the crackers a decorative edge. You could also use a sharp knife or rolling pizza cutter to give your crackers a straight edge. You can cut the dough sheet into squares, rectangles or diamonds. If you would like round crackers, use the 2” lid of a Kerr jar (or similar open jar lid) to cut out rounds. Gather and reroll any dough straps and repeat until the dough is used up.
41. Slide the parchment paper with the crackers onto the baking sheet.
Tip: Do not try to separate the crackers at this point. After they are baked they separate easily along the cut lines.
42. Spray the tops of the crackers with water and, if you desire, sprinkle each cracker with a few grains of Flor de Sal or Kosher salt and black sesame seeds.
Note: I keep a water spritzer on my counter for just this purpose.
43. Bake crackers until they are starting to have some golden brown spots, about 12-15 minutes.
Tip: Do not over bake. If the edges start to get dark brown they will taste burnt.
44. When done, remove the crackers to a wire rack and let them cool.
45. Repeat until all of the dough balls are turned into crackers.
Note: For the first few hours the crackers will be a bit soft and chewy. By the second day they will dry out completely and be crisp and crunchy. You may speed up this process by separating the crackers and pile any soft one into a baking pan. Set the pan in the cooling oven for 20 minutes to “crisp” the cracker. If they last three days, which they rarely do, store them in an airtight container at room temperature.