Confessions of a bread-baking hack — or, I made challah!

6 strands of GLORY

I have never, ever been good with baking bread.  The flavor turns out well, but the texture?  Rising?  HA.  Yeast and I, well, we have some issues, especially in the never-particularly-warm San Francisco weather.  Or should I say, “had,” because I finally figured out a way to get my dough to rise.  (This sounds like a euphemism, but definitely is not.)

I had tried everything – proofing my yeast, sticking the dough in a warm oven, using a bread machine, talking to the dough in soothing tones, muttering expletives — but nothing has ever worked.  Until now.  I was so excited that I took pictures of my dough rising, like an overenthusiastic parent with a very pale and immobile child.  I couldn’t have been more pleased if it had scored perfectly on SATs and got accepted to an Ivy League school with a full scholarship.

I should note that the six-strand challah to the left is something I baked, it rose to unimaginable heights (well, unimaginable in my mind, anyway), and it’s not a one-off.  I used the same technique with a pizza dough and got similarly spectacular results.  And as usual, it was one of those “why didn’t I think of this before?” moments.  If you have trouble getting your dough to rise, too, I hope this will help.

I used this tutorial from The Kitchn, following the directions exactly, and then some (as in, measuring water temperature with my candy thermometer for the 105-110 degrees Farenheit sweet spot).

When it was time for the dough to rise, I just set my (loosely covered with saran wrap) aluminum mixing bowl on this chair, sans seat cushion, and flipped my space heater on nearby (not directly underneath, but near enough that the surrounding area was quite warm).  And that’s it.  I have no idea why this worked and a warm oven did not, but I’m not going to look a six-stranded gift horse in the mouth.  It would have been helpful to figure out this magic combination sooner, but better late than never.

If you’re as frustrated as I was, give this method a try.  I’m sure professional bakers would be mildly horrified, but the recipients of my challah certainly were not.


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