Yeast dough is considered one of the most basic but complicated of the dough family. Just think of the first cakes you made – I’m almost sure they weren’t yeast cakes.
But mine were!
As a girl I really had no inkling about “kitchen stuff” until I noticed something interesting. Twice a year my mother would make a cookie and cake Kiddush for our shul to mark the yahrtzeits of my father’s parents who were killed in the Holocaust.
Those cake platters were laden with all sorts of baked goodies – melt-in-your-mouth cakes alongside mouthwatering cookies, professionally made and gone almost as soon as they hit the table. But although Mom prepared quite a variety, I noticed something missing from her overflowing plates. There were none of the fluffy, yeasty kokosh and moon cakes that I especially loved.
“Why don’t you ever make yeast cakes, Mommy?” I wondered aloud.
“Oh, that’s not for me! My yeast dough never seems to rise to my expectations. I’ll just stick to cookie dough.”
Then and there I decided: “Come next Kiddush, there’ll be fantastic, fluffy kokosh cakes on my mother’s cookie platters and I’ll make them!”
So, I practiced that summer on my friends in camp. I was counselor in a small Canadian camp that bunked 120 campers in all. On the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, when there were no meals served, the cook had the day off and I got the kitchen key!
I was in full reign, preparing bowls of dough rising, waiting to be turned into sizzly cheesy pizzas, chocolaty sweet kokosh cakes and soft, supple onion pitas to “break the fast” on.
Judging from how quickly everything disappeared, I knew I was pretty good at making yeast dough and more importantly, the dough was good to me – it rose to every occasion and never disappointed me.
True to my decision, that year my yeast cakes found a place of honor on mother’s Kiddush platters.
Until today, there’s nothing more gratifying for me than kneading yeast dough. As it rises on my counter, I feel an elation rise within me too. The cakes release their yeasty aroma as they bake, expanding in the heat and in my heart.
To date, I’ve baked tens of thousands challahs, rolls and yeast cakes in hundreds of shapes, sizes and flavors at home, for simchas and in my workshops. Which is good news for those of you suffering from Yeast Dough Phobia. Because over time, I’ve collected quite a few tips for a successful experience in preparing yeast dough.
Of course you could always just run out to your preferred bakery and buy their kokosh cake but in my opinion, nothing can beat the heavenly scent of your yeast cake baking in your kitchen!
All you “knead” to know is a few simple rules like correct temperature, mixing, rising and rolling. Besides, the more you make yeast dough, the better you get the feel for it and the better it will “behave” for you. Hands-on experience is the best teacher around!
For starters, how does your dough grow?
There are two methods for yeast dough rising. 1. The warm method which is most commonly used and 2. The cold method which chefs sometimes prefer.
Here’s how the cold method works:
After the dough is ready, put it into a large plastic bag and tie loosely on top. Refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. After a few hours, the bag will resemble a blown up balloon. This means the fermentation gases are doing their job (even though they were “left in the cold”).
A few hours before you’re ready to make your yeast cake or rolls, remove the bag of dough from the refrigerator and leave in the bag on your counter until the dough reaches room temperature. Proceed as the recipe instructs.
Here’s a question I received from Sarah about kokosh cake filling:
Q: “Do you have a good chocolate filling for my kokosh cake. Somehow mine always sinks into the dough till it seems as if there’s no filling at all. Do you have a recipe for the “store bought” kind?”
A: The chocolate filling I use for my kokosh cake is easy to make and since it’s made with dry ingredients, easy to “spread.” It imitates the store bought filling in that it’s oozy without oozing out of the roll or into the dough.
I’m including a recipe for whole wheat kokosh cake along with its drippy chocolate filling. Why not make it a bit healthier while you’re at it?
Notice the special mixing method explained here. This ensures light and fluffy dough despite its being made with whole wheat flour.
Perfect Kokosh Cake
Ingredients for dough
6 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons active dry yeast, or 1 cube fresh yeast
¾ cup sugar (or less)
1 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
1½-2 cups lukewarm water
1 egg for egg wash
Ingredients for chocolate filling
½ cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon rum extract
Preheat the oven to 350º F (175º C).
In an electric mixer with the beater attachment, combine 3 cups flour, salt, yeast, water, sugar, oil, and eggs for 3-4 minutes. Add the other 3 cups flour and change the attachment to the kneading hook. Mix for 5 minutes until a soft dough is formed.
Cover the dough and set in a warm place (or in the refrigerator as explained previously).
Divide the dough into 8 pieces and form into balls. Line your work surface with a piece of disposable tablecloth to enable a neat rolling experience. Slightly flour the plastic and roll out each ball to as thin a sheet as possible – it shouldn’t (and won’t!) tear.
To prepare the filling, in a medium bowl, combine the cocoa, sugar, and confectioners’ sugar. Sprinkle the cocoa and sugar mixture generously onto each piece of rolled-out dough, then drizzle drops of rum onto the cocoa mixture.
Roll up each “sheet” carefully, jelly-roll fashion, and place in a standard loaf pan. Let rise in a warm spot about half an hour.
Prepare egg wash and brush onto the dough. Bake until golden, for about 30 minutes.
TopTip: If you want your chocolate filling to be extra “runny,” spread the dough “sheet” with some oil before sprinkling the filling on top.
Next time: My whole wheat challah dough recipe plus tips for rising and rolling.
About the Author: Mindy Rafalowitz is a recipe developer and food columnist for over 15 years. She has published a best selling cookbook in Hebrew for Pesach and the gluten sensitive. Mindy is making progress on another specialty cookbbok for English readers. For kitchen questions or to purchase a sample recipe booklet at an introductory price, contact Mindy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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