Kolach: Attempts 1 and 2

My grandma used to make this bread called Kolach every holiday season..   We’d always get a few frozen loaves to thaw and enjoy throughout the Christmas.  When she passed away a few years ago, obviously this tradition was disrupted..  We even found a recipe filed away with all the other recipes in her collection, but it was handwritten and tough toread and selected words were in Hungarian slang. 

Every once in awhile I would think about how I’d love to eat a toasty slice of this sweet bread, smothered in butter, and bust out the recipe to give it a swing, but I never would have enough confidence in my interpretation to start..    A few weeks ago I threw caution to the wind and figured I’d just go for it.  This first attempt ended up in complete disaster.

First off, without really thinking about it, I followed the recipe verbatim, but it soon became clear that this was a “big-batch” recipe.  Before I knew it I had amounts of ingredients mixed together that would soon overwhelm all my mixing bowls, etc.  I tried to divide the dry ingredients before adding the wet works, but things just ended in disaster.  Second, the dough was way too wet, it was more like cake batter than dough.  Third the first rise was a complete failure, nothing rose at all, and I got pissed off and bailed out.

On Monday night, I saw the yeast packet sitting on the counter taunting me, and I figured that since I had enough ingredients, I’d give it another go…   I decided to quarter the recipe, guessing that the amount of dough I had made the first time around would have made about 4 loaves.  I spent some time triple-checking all of my conversions and started in.  Everything divided pretty evenly, except for my need for 1 and a half egg yolks…   I figure that if I actually get reliably successful at this recipe, I can just double it and use 3 egg yolks, but for the time being I am just going to cut one of the yolks in half… 

Following the directions I had divined, I set back in, this time applying some experience and rational thought into the process.  I warmed the milk for the sponge to 110 Fahrenheit Degrees, which allowed the yeast to actually bloom instead of remaining in hibernation…  I also warmed the milk that formed the bulk of the wet ingredients (but that was called for in the recipe).  This time around, when I brought all the ingredients together, I still got cake batter-like dough.  I was trying to knead it in my stand mixer, but I eventually dumped it onto a board to try and salvage it.  I kept adding flour trying to get it somewhat dough-like and kneadable.  Eventually it sort of formed together into something I could work with and after a little kneading I set it aside to rise.   But once again, it didn’t rise…  Now, I’m no bread baking expert, but I had baked a few loaves back in 2001 when I first got my mixer..   I had totally ignored the fact that the yeast like a somewhat warm environment to rise and we keep our house at like 65 Fahrenheit Degrees…  So after waiting for it to rise an hour, and still nothing, I “punched down” the loaf (even though it hadn’t risen so there wasn’t much to punch down) and put it in a loaf pan.  This time, however, after remembering what yeast like, I ran the oven up to 170 Fahrenheit Degrees and then let it cool down with the door open so it was just warm.  Then I put the loaf pan with dough into the oven.  An hour later it was fully risen.  I resumed the recipe and baked it for 45 minutes at 375 Fahrenheit Degrees after giving it a brushing with some egg whites..  The recipe called for an egg white/milk wash, but I had run out of milk.

What came out of the oven was promising:  It actually looked like a loaf of bread!  I let it cool for a few minutes on a rack and cut into it.  Oh. My. God, it was almost exactly as I remember it.  It was a slight bit denser, probably due to the lousy first rise, but the meat of the bread was perfect.  The flavor spot on.  The only problem with this loaf was that the crust was way to hard and thick.  My next attempt I’m going to have to figure out what I need to do to keep the crust thin and soft (think less hearty bread, more Wonder bread; Suggestions welcome!).  Maybe in my attempt to get the loose dough together I over kneaded it, forming too much gluten?  Suggestions appreciated…  Not sure, will have to do some bread reading..  Also next time I am going to cut back the amount of milk in the wet ingredients (the original recipe was bracketed 1.25-1.5 cups, and I went with 1.5, which was obviously a mistake), as well as reserving some of that 1.25 to make sure it’s not too wet before adding the rest.

4 thoughts on “Kolach: Attempts 1 and 2

  1. density

    So in my attempts to make french bread the thing I found out was that I was not kneading the dough enough; the dough should pass the windowpane test. Grab a quarter sized circle of dough and start stretching it slowly out. If the dough can form a thin, elastic and translucent pane, the dough is kneaded enough. For me this was often longer in my Professional 5 then the recipe called for. Also, a probe thermometer is your best friend because you can tell if the inside of the dough is warm enough to rise (or too warm).

    After I got the kneading down my bread improved drastically. I’m not sure how to get the crust right for sweet breads but I would look at recipes for Challah bread and steal that technique.

    I cannot recommend “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” enough. PatPat recommended it to me and it is the best book on baking bread.

    1. Re: density

      That book has been on my shelf since he recommended it (along with the Jesuit Breadmaking book)… It’s just my old kitchen was so nothx that I never really got around to them..

      Most other recipes for this bread say it’s a much stickier dough than a normal bread. I don’t know if the windowpane would work here for that reason… Wouldn’t the sticky dough make that test impossible?

      1. Re: density

        If “crust was tough”=”the outside 1/4-inch of the bread was really thick and much chewier than normal”, my guess is it was probably kneaded too long. I have a hard time with whole-wheat bread because I tend to knead it too long.

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