Soft, fluffy, buttery and only lightly sweetened bread. Scented with lemon zest, orange juice and earthy cardamom. Covered with buttery and delicious streusel.
This is our recipe for traditional Polish chalka. It’s a non-kosher version of challah bread. In our version of chalka we are using poolish (pre-ferment) which contributes to strong gluten development and produces flavourful and springy crumb. We are also using buttery roux which produces the softest texture where crumb keeps fresh for longer. Over the years we have experimented with our chalka and implemented adjustments to traditional recipe my granny used. It’s our little pride and joy - so, we are really happy to share it with you!
This chalka is a little baking project. However, once you understand why things are done the way they are and go through the process once, the second bake becomes straight forward. Big advantage here is texture and freshness - this bread keeps fresh for at least 2-3 days, and makes for enjoyable toasts thereafter.
On our Instagram @brunibakery you can find step by step process for this chalka.
For a good bake:
Flour - use strong bread flour (12g protein or more) for poolish and roux. This will introduce strength to the dough. This flour brings strength to the crumb and thanks to overnight maturation - soft (rather than gooey) texture. Use all purpose (plain) flour for the main dough for the softest and light crumb. We are using organic plain flour with 10g protein. Make sure there are no raising agents in your plain flour. Using mix of bread flour and plain flour is also ok - it will be easier to shape. However, the texture will be different - the crumb will be more gooey and chewy.
Poolish - in this bake we are using pre-ferment. Poolish is a sponge which matures for few hours before the use. It’s a type of pre-ferment where water to flour ratio is at 1:1 (100% hydration). Using poolish in this bake will strengthen gluten, contribute to strong and springy crumb. Using poolish will also result in more flavourful crumb. We are adding a small amount of wholemeal spelt flour. This will further enhance chalka’s flavour (very subtle, warm, nutty aroma). We are using active dried yeast for the sponge - you will need tiny amount of dried yeast to kick start the process (you can use fresh yeast here too - but watch the measurements as you need only small amount). For a good bake - prepare poolish in the evening and leave it covered at room temperature for 8-10 hours. Try not to over-ferment the sponge - it should triple in volume, be nice and bubbly when you use it and have ripe and yeasty (but pleasant) aroma. Over-fermented sponge will be partially collapsed and will have a strong fermented aroma (nail varnish). This sponge is generally at peak after about 8-10 hours (at 18-20C).
Roux - in this recipe we are using buttery roux. Water, butter and small amount of sugar are brought to boil. This mixture is then poured piping hot on top of the flour (scalding) and everything is mixed together briefly so that a pasty meal is formed. Why do we do that? Scalding releases starch in flour and thanks to that, the crumb is soft, fluffy and keeps fresh for longer. Butter and sugar adds to the flavour of chalka. The roux used here is fairly stiff. We are wrapping it hot in cling film and after short rest it needs few hours in the fridge to set and mature. In the morning or when ready to bake, it needs to be brought to room temperature. Soft and pasty roux is then kneaded into the dough in the second phase, together with small amount of pliable butter. For a good bake - follow the recipe (scald flour as suggested - pour hot liquid into separate bowl with flour, rather than placing flour into hot pot), use the roux at room temperature (soft and pasty) and add to the dough together with butter in 3-4 turns.
Yeast - use active dried yeast for poolish and fresh yeast (yeast cake) for the rest of the dough. We are using small amount of fresh yeast only (15g) as the poolish will do part of the heavy lifting. You can use active dried yeast in the main dough but your chalka will be more enjoyable and fluffy if you use fresh yeast (yeast cake).
Eggs - measure eggs when cracked (300g). Flour to egg ratio is what makes chalka nice and fluffy. There is very little liquid used in this recipe so all moisture comes from beaten eggs. We are using same technique as my granny used - eggs are beaten with small amount of sugar (to aerate the dough) and flour is then added in portions together with poolish and orange juice.
Flavour - lemon zest and cardamom mixed with sugar are contributing to subtle zesty and earthy aroma. Use 1 tsp ground cardamom or 15-20 cardamom pods. Grind seeds with sugar (or crush in mortar). You can add zest from 2 lemons if you like citrusy flavour. Orange juice is giving vibrant colour and contributing to subtle citrusy aroma of chalka. We are also using small amount of orange blossom water (2-3 drops is all that is needed). It’s a nice flavour addition without the need to add extra liquid.
Kneading and temperature - this dough is kneaded in two turns. First - short kneading - eggs are beaten with salt and flavoured sugar, then to this fluffy base you will add orange juice and poolish, flour (in 2 turns) and knead for 5-6 minutes. The mixture will be sticky and at this point needs 30 minutes rest at 28-29C. The dough will relax in that time and be ready to take in roux and pliable butter. If you don’t have a proofer - switch the oven on for 1 minute and proof in warm-ish oven. Second kneading - in 3-4 turns you will add soft roux and pliable butter. This will take about 10-15 minutes to incorporate fully. Then the dough will require additional 20 minutes of mixing (30-35min total) to reach 30C internal temperature, start detaching from sides of the bowl (mixed at low-medium speed) and pass window pane test (indication of strong gluten development). You will then transfer the dough to new bowl, lightly brushed with olive oil. The timings given are applicable if you knead using stand mixer. If you want to knead by hand - I use pincer method and mixed Rubaud method for kneading this dough. As the second mixing should be fairly long - knead in short bursts. Knead for 5 minutes, leave the dough covered to rest for 5-10 minutes, then go back to it and knead for another 5 minutes - after 3 turns (some 15 minutes of kneading by hand, separated with short rests) the dough should pass window pane test and reach required internal temperature. So - intermittent mixing by hand will be shorter.
Proofing - the dough is proofed at higher temperature - 29-30C. Warm-ish oven with light on or proofer are good options. After final mixing the dough is proofed for 1hr 30 minutes - with 1 de-gasing after 30 minutes. Shaped chalka should proof for 45minutes to 1 hr at 28-30C. Watch not to over-proof as the shape will not hold.
Shaping - don’t stress over shaping. Do what you find enjoyable and suitable. As you can see - we shape this dough like babka (and bake in long form), or rolls (and bake in round tin) or shape into traditional chalka (challah) shape. You can find short videos on how to shape this dough on our Instagram.
Baking - bake at higher temperature (190C/170C fan) for 15 minutes and then bake for 25-30min at lower temperature to avoid drying out ( 160C/140C fan). If you bake in round tin (I usually place the whole portion in 26cm round tin) - bake for full 50 minutes.
Storage - when baked and cooled, wrap in clean kitchen towel and store at room temperature. Don’t cover with plastic or glass container/cake stand. Allow for some air circulation.
Kosher - prepare roux on olive oil (60g olive oil) and reduce olive amount in the main dough to 30g. Use light olive oil, skip streusel and bake plain or sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Yield: 2 chalka
Tin : large baking tray or baking form of your choice
Suggested timings (adjust to suit your schedule):
Evening before (10pm): prepare poolish and roux
Mix the dough (7.45am-9am): yeast proof, 1st kneading +30min rest + 2nd kneading
Dough proofing (9 -10.30am): 1hr 30min
Shape (10.30-10.45am): 15min
Final proof (10.45-11.30/11.45): 45min - 1hr
Bake (11.45am-12.25): 40-45min
For poolish (pre-ferment):
80g water (26C)
1/8 tsp active dried yeast
65g strong bread flour (12g protein or more)
15g wholemeal spelt flour (medium strength)
60g unsalted butter
150g strong bread flour (12g protein or more)
For yeast proofing:
15g fresh yeast cake (or 1 and 1/3 tsp active dried yeast)
5 large eggs (300g, weighed when cracked), room temp
65g sugar (or 40g sugar + 25g vanilla sugar)
Zest from 1 lemon
1 tsp ground cardamom or ground seeds from 15-20 cardamom pods
1 tsp coarse sea salt
500g all purpose (plain) flour, 10g protein
30g freshly squeezed clear orange juice
2-3 drops orange blossom water (optional)
60g unsalted butter, pliable/room temp
80g all purpose (plain flour)
80g confectioners’ (icing) sugar
80g unsalted butter, cold
1/6 tsp coarse sea salt
+ 1 egg yolk for egg wash
Prepare roux (an evening before, 10pm): In a small pot mix water, butter, sugar and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Place flour in a separate bowl and once the mixture is boiling, pour piping hot onto the flour. Mix until pasty meal is formed. Spread (0.5cm thin) onto a cling film and wrap, leave at room temperature for 10 minutes, then refrigerate overnight.
Prepare poolish (an evening before, 10.30pm): In a medium bowl mix water (26C) with active dried yeast, add flours and mix briefly until no flour pockets remain. Cover and keep at room temperature (18-20C) for 8-10 hours. The sponge should double (or even triple), will be bubbly and frothy in the morning.
Proof the yeast (in the morning, 7.45am): In a small pot mix water, sugar and flour and warm up to 38-40C. Take off the heat and stir in the yeast. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes. In that time the mixture should become bubbly and frothy. If it does not - check BBE on yeast or the temp might have been too high/too low. Make sure the yeast is active before proceeding.
Mix the dough (8am - 9am): Take the roux out of the fridge and bring to room temperature - you will have about 30 minutes before it’s needed. You can place wrapped roux in a warm-ish oven (preheat for 20-30 seconds and switch off). Mix lemon zest with sugar and cardamom and using palms of your hands and finger tips rub the mixture to release more flavour. In your main mixing bowl beat eggs with zesty sugar until fluffy (2-3 minutes, whisk attachment), add coarse salt and beat for few more seconds. Change to dough hook attachment or mix by hand (see notes if mixing by hand) - add half of the flour, orange juice, orange blossom water (if using), proofed yeast and poolish and knead for 1-2 minutes (medium speed), then add the rest of the flour and knead for 4-5 more minutes (medium speed). The dough will look sticky and eggy at this stage. Cover and let rest at 28-30C for 30 minutes. In this time the dough will relax and will be ready to take in butter and roux. When ready, start adding roux and butter - add in 4-5 turns, alternating butter/roux - it should take about 15 minutes of mixing on medium-low speed to incorporate roux and butter fully. Then knead for another 15-20 minutes (medium-low speed) until dough reaches 29-30C internal temperature and passes window pane test. By the end of mixing the dough should start detaching from the sides of the bowl, it will be shiny and slightly sticky (don’t add more flour) and should pass window pane test. When ready, transfer to clean bowl lightly brushed with light olive oil, cover and let rest at 29C (proofer, warm-ish oven, or oven with the light on will be suitable).
First proof (9am-10.30am): 30 minutes into dough proof, knead (de-gas) the dough for few seconds, then cover, place in warm place again (29C) and let rest for 1 hour. The dough will at least double in size in that time. Don’t proof for longer.
Shaping (10.30am-10.45am): When ready, de-gas the dough (knead shortly) and transfer to work surface lightly dusted with flour. Divide the dough into 2 parts (2 chalkas) and then divide each part into the number of strands you want to shape. Lightly dust each strand and the surface with flour, roll it out and shape.
Final proof (10.45am-11.30/45): Line baking tray with parchment paper and transfer chalkas (proof on the trays you are going to bake on). Cover lightly with kitchen towel, transfer to warm place (28-29C) and proof for 45min to 1 hour.
Prepare streusel: Sift flour with confectioners’ (icing sugar), add coarse salt and grate in cold butter into the mixture. Using palms of your hands and finger tips - rub butter into flour and bring together to form crumbly meal. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Bake (11.45am-12.25): Preheat oven to 190C (170C fan forced). Just before baking, brush chalka with egg yolk and sprinkle with streusel. Bake at 190C (170C fan) for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 160C (140C fan) and bake for another 25-30 minutes. When baked, cool for 30-45 minutes before serving.