Jeff (@OrmontUS) wrote earlier about “hot mixing,” an ancient Roman technique of concrete making that uses high temperature to cause chemical reactions that won’t occur at lower temperature. (The article mentions “quick lime” (CaO) which is highly reactive and made by heating limestone (CaCO3). The article also mentions mixing concrete while hot instead of room temmperature.)
Last week, I saw a YouTube video about tangzhong and yu-dane, similar Asian techniques for heating flour with water to form a “water roux” which is added to conventional bread dough to create a softer, longer shelf life (slower staling) bread.
Heating the flour with water causes the starch to gelatinize. Starch is a polymer of sugar molecues that are covered in -OH groups. The starch is semi-crystalline because the -OH groups form hydrogen bonds along the length of the polymer which are like a closed zipper. The hydrogen bonds in the starch granule break when heated, allowing water to come in and bind to the starch. The starch molecules then “unroll,” enabling them to hydrogen-bond to each other. This is how a roux is thickened into a gel or “creamy” texture.
The tangzhong or yu-dane process uses part of the water and flour to pre-make a roux which is then blended into the rest of the dough.
I have baked challah every week for over 10 years. My challahs are lofty and (in my husband’s opinion) far better than any commercial bread. But I am always open to new ideas.
This is what I did. I used the same amount of water as my usual recipe (1/2 cup) but I split it and used half to make the yu-dane. I make only one loaf because I don’t eat bread (except the slice for the blessing on Shabbos) and my husband can only eat one loaf a week (usually less).
All flour in the recipe is King Arthur brand bread flour. This is a high-protein flour that makes superior bread to any other brand I have tried.
Challah (one loaf)
1/4 cup cold tap water
2 tablespoons flour
Mix the flour into the water in a pyrex measuring cup (or other pyrex bowl). Heat in the microwave 45 seconds. This produces a gel. If it hasn’t gelatinized, heat it more until it does. (That’s a lot easier than mixing it in a pot and heating it on the stove where it might burn.) Let the yu-dane gel cool before adding to the recipe.
1/4 cup cold tap water, heated in the microwave for 10 seconds (until warm, not hot)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2.25 teaspoons of dry active yeast
3 cups bread flour (more if the dough needs it to not be sticky)
Heat 1/4 cup water in a Pyrex or ceramic cup. Mix in the yeast. Wait 2 minutes for it to dissolve. Once the yeast is dissolved, mix in one teaspoon of the sugar. Wait 10 minutes. This is to “prove” the yeast. If you see bubbles the yeast is active. If you don’t see bubbles, the yeast is dead. Do not proceed because the dough would not rise.
Place 3 eggs and one yolk into a very large bowl. (At least one gallon.) Whisk the oil into the eggs. Add the rest of the sugar and salt. Add the proved yeast.
Add the yu-dane. It takes a bit of work to distribute the gelled yu-dane into the egg/ yeast mixture. I did it by hand but maybe an immersion blender would do this more easily.
Add the flour to the dough, mixing and kneading for 8 minutes. I knead by hand, turning and stretching the dough until it is elastic and “pulls back” when I stretch it out as if making pasta. Keep adding flour until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands or board. This makes a very strong dough that can hold a high rise. If a finger is pressed 1/2" inch into the dough it should spring back.
Oil a very large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap.
Let the dough rise for 2 hours at room temperature. (Alternatively, put into a cool area such as my 50 degree basement and let it rise overnight.) The very slow rise gives plenty of time for the gluten to adapt so the bread is loftier. At this point, the dough has more than doubled in size – it has filled the entire bowl.
Push the dough down after the first rise. Let it rise another 2 hours at room temperature.
If you are making a Jewish challah, take out 1/20 piece of the dough to burn in the oven or fire. (Halachically, this isn’t needed unless baking about 5 pounds of flour but I do it anyway.)
Push the dough down. Now form it into its final shape. I usually roll it into a rectangle with a rolling pin, fold it in thirds and put it into a glass bread loaf pan for sandwich bread. But it can be braided into a conventional challah or any other shape. At Rosh HaShanah, I twist it into a circle to symbolize the completion of the New Year. In the age of Covid, I made dozens of mini-circle challahs and wrapped each in a napkin for my tiny, remote congregation to share.
If making a loaf, oil the loaf pan. If making a braided challah, oil the pan and coat with corn flour for easier release.
Let it rise at least 1.5 hours at room temperature. This strong dough will get larger than a weaker dough can tolerate. It will make a BIG challah with a light texture.
Beat the reserved egg white. Paint the top of the challah with the beaten egg white. This makes a golden crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Place on a cooling rack once it can be handled. The bread will get a soggy bottom from condensation if it cools completely in glass or on a pan.
This bread will last a week without getting stale if placed in a sealed plastic bag because the high amount of oil inhibits starch crystallization. Maybe with the yu-dane it would last even longer.