When I started photographing the process of making Challah rolls for Thanksgiving dinner, I thought it was going to be a simple tale of happy little clover dinner rolls. And it is… sort of.
To prepare, my first thought was to look in the Challah book that my boyfriend’s mom gave us to get some ideas. We lost the printed recipe we used last time and I thought the book might have a good one. The recipe in the book didn’t call for any eggs, which is odd for an egg bread, so we decided to search for his sister-in-law’s recipe instead. The book though had a great idea to make clover dinner rolls in a cupcake pan. Super simple – you just bake three little dough balls in each cup of a cupcake pan and you’ve got dinner rolls! Easy right? Yes, until the end. I baked up half the dough as clover rolls, but when I turned them out of the pan, disaster! The rolls all (but 5) split into three pieces! Oh well. They still taste good.
I had planned on using this half of the batch as the rolls for our Thanksgiving dinner, and the other half was just going to get baked up as something (I wasn’t sure what) that we’d eat for breakfast. That was until I had an idea…
While the clover roll dough was rising in the cupcake pans before baking, I contemplated what to do with the other half of the dough. Since the first half of the dough divided nicely into 12 pieces (tips for that below), I figured I’d just make another dozen rolls but bake them on a flat sheet since we only have one cupcake pan. After dividing the dough, I decided to try making little braided rolls, like miniatures of the Finnish pulla (or nissua) my family makes for Christmas. It’s the same deal as the clover rolls to start – divide the dough into 12 pieces, then divide each piece into 3. From there, I rolled each third into a snake, then braided them together and tucked the ends under to make them pretty. Easy enough. Then they rose and got baked like the other rolls. These ones didn’t fall apart though when they were done and they are adorable!
So now the batch that was the “whatever” batch is getting saved for Thanksgiving and the “special” ones are getting eaten “so no one knows it ever happened”, as my boyfriend says.
Tips for Dividing Dough Evenly Into 12 Pieces
I can’t cut 12 pieces off a hunk of dough and get them all the same size without some help, can you? Here’s how to get them pretty evenly sized:
- Cut the dough ball in half. That’s easy. Now you have 2 pieces.
- Cut the two halves in half. Now you have 4 pieces.
- Cut each of the resulting hunks into 3 pieces each. Now you have 12. One tip for dividing dough into thirds is to cut the middle third skinnier than the ends. Why? The ends are usually tapered, so if you cut them all the same width, the middle one ends up being substantially thicker. So, cut that middle section thinner and it evens out.
Tips for Braiding Dough
My great-grandmother used to make Finnish pulla (it’s a sweet white bread flavored with cardamom… she called it biscuit, though we’re not sure why) for breakfast and when my sister and I would visit as kids, we loved it. Like Challah, pulla is a dough that can be easily shaped including into braids, although there are numerous shapes for both. Anyway, here are some tips for braiding dough, whether it’s pulla or Challah:
- Start in the middle and braid one side. Then, turn the dough around and braid the other side. This prevents the ends from stretching out so you have an even braid.
- Tuck the ends under. The ends always look a little rough, so hide them. Also, sometimes when the loaf is rising, the ends will unbraid themselves if they aren’t tucked in.
- If the dough is being uncooperative and keeps springing back when you stretch it, let it rest for 10 minutes and it will play more nicely.
- So you still ended up with a goofy looking braid? Eat it first, then no one will know you ever had an odd one. Also, they all taste the same, so don’t worry about it.
Too Cold for Dough to Rise?
Get out the heating pad. Wrap a clean dish towel around it, and you’ve got a dough rising station. Be careful not to turn it up too high or you could end up cooking the bottom of your dough in the rising bowl (I speak from experience).