A few months ago, I made challah rolls and crackers for one of my dinners. This weekend Jan asked for a crab feast, so I thought I would make this delicious bread again. Instead of making a classic braided loaf, I decided to make challah dinner rolls with half of my dough for Miriam. I turned the rest of the dough into crackers to please my wife. Of course, I could not make it exactly the same.
One major change I made was to let the dough cold rise overnight. In learning to make New York Style pizza crust, I discovered that letting the yeast do its thing in a cold environment creates a much better flavored bread. I wondered if this would make a better challah.
One problem I had was that—just as I was rolling out the dough for the crackers—Jan called me because she had managed to lock her car keys in the trunk. I did want my sheets of dough to dry out, so I rolled them up in parchment paper, while I spent an hour rescuing my wife. When I returned and unrolled the dough, I found that it had risen beautifully. Instead of dense hard crackers, this dough baked into puffy flat breads.
Challah is usually parve. Most challahs are made without milk—only water or water and eggs—meaning that it can be eaten with both dishes containing dairy or meat—important in the laws of Kashrut. The Kosher dietary rules forbid eating meat and milk at the same meal.
Note: While I am aware that crab is not Kosher, I personally do not have a problem with mixing my cuisines.
Karl’s Saffron Challah Dinner Rolls/Crackers II
1¼ cup warm water
½ tsp. saffron
4½+ cups AP flour, separate uses
2 Tbs. Karl’s Orange Infused Sugar
½+ Tbs. Kosher salt, separate uses
½ Tbs. active dry yeast
8 large eggs, separate uses
¼+ cup vegetable oil, separate uses
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbs. fleur de sel
1. Begin making your dough the day before you plant to bake your breads.
Tip: If you really want to get wild, make your dough three days ahead.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Separate the yolks from four of the eggs.
5. Place the yolks in a medium mixing bowl.
Tip: Separate from the bowl with the flour.
Note: This recipe will leave an four eggs whites to be used for another recipe—egg white omelet anyone?
6. Add three more whole eggs to the yolks in the mixing bowl.
7. 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.”
8. Whisk the eggs until well blended.
9. 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 or cook the eggs when you add it to the bowl.
10. 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.
11. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rest for 10-20 minutes.
Tip: For an explanation of this rest and the other factors effecting yeasted bread, see my article on pizza crusts.
12. Spread half a cup of the remaining flour onto a clean smooth work surface—I use a pastry marble.
Note: With the extra liquid I have added to this recipe, you will need another cup of flour or more to make your dough.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. When you have finished kneading, form the dough into a tight ball.
16. Clean your bread bowl and rub about a teaspoon of oil around the insides.
17. 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.
18. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
19. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and set it on the counter for an hour to come to room temperature.
Tip: Replace the plastic wrap with a damp towel to keep the dough from forming a dry crust.
Note: You may need to punch the dough down to keep it from over-flowing the bowl when your take it out of the refrigerator.
20. Divide the dough in half and follow the instructions below on forming it into rolls or crackers.
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.
Note: Of course, you are free to make all the dough rolls, or crackers, or even braiding the dough into the traditional loafs.
Making rolls (see step 33 on making crackers)
21. Turn half of the dough out onto a lightly floured board.
22. Form the dough into a ball and use a board scrapper to divide the dough in half.
23. Form each half into another dough ball.
24. Cut the first dough ball into 10 wedges.
Tip: Cut the ball in half and then each half into five equal pieces.
25. Push the tip of each wedge into the middle and pull the smooth outside around to form a small dough ball.
26. Place some vegetable oil in your palm and toss each ball to coat it lightly with the oil.
27. Place the dough balls into the Pam-ed pan.
Tip: I used two 10 inch cake pans—6 balls around the edges and 4 in the center.
28. Repeat steps 24-27 for the other half of the dough.
29. Set the pans aside—in a warm spot—to rise for half an hour.
30. Put an egg in a small bowl and add a pinch of salt and 1-2 tablespoons of water.
Note: Many recipes call for using only egg yolk for the wash to be brushed over the rolls, but I prefer using a whole egg.
31. Gently brush the egg wash over the roles and bake them at 350º F for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top.
Tip: Rotate the pans halfway through the baking time.
32. Remove the rolls from the pans and cool them on a wire rack.
33. Divide the remaining dough in half and form them into dough balls.
34. 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 both dough balls at the same time. Letting each dough sheet rest to let the gluten relax, before rolling it out again.
35. Turn the dough over, so that both the top and bottom are well coated with flour.
36. Roll the dough out into a 12 inch square about a ¼ inch thick.
37. Transfer the dough square onto a sheet of parchment paper, the size of a large, flat, lipless, cookie (baking) sheet.
38. 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.
39. While the first dough is resting, repeat the rolling process with the second dough ball.
40. 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: It may take 3-4 round of rolling and resting to make the dough sheet as large as you need it.
Note: 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. 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.
41. Once your dough sheet is large enough to cover your baking sheet, loosely roll up the parchment papers into a cylinder and set the dough in a warm spot.
42. Let the rolled up dough sheets rise for 40-60 minutes.
43. Move the oven rack to the top position and pre-heat the oven to 375° F.
44. Unroll the first dough sheet over the baking sheet.
Tip: The dough will be puffy and a bit sticky, so be careful as you unroll the parchment paper.
Note: Try not to touch the dough itself—as this would knock out the gases that puff up the dough.
45. Use a rolling dough cutter to cut the sheet into individual crackers.
Tip: Do not try to separate the crackers at this point. After they are baked they separate easily along the cut lines.
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.
46. Brush the tops of the crackers with the egg wash.
47. Sprinkle each cracker with a few grains of Flor de Sal or Kosher salt.
48. Bake crackers until they are starting to have some golden brown spots, about 12-15 minutes.
Tip: Rotate the pan half way through the baking time, so that they brown evenly. You may also need to pop any large bubbles that form with a fork, so that the thin dough does not burn.
Note: Do not over bake. If the edges start to get dark brown they will taste burnt.
49. When done, remove the crackers to a wire rack and let them cool.
50. Cut, bake, and cool the second sheet of dough.
51. Separate the sheets into individual crackers.
Tip: The crackers at this point will be soft, chewy flat breads.
Note: If you want a more crisp cracker like texture, spread the separated crackers on a large lipped baking sheet. Set the pan in a 200º F oven for 20-40 minutes to dry out and “crisp” the crackers. Toss the crackers every five minutes to ensure that they are not becoming burned.