Sunday 10 November 2013

Day 25: A Squall And Challah


Today started with a squall for me. I was on watch from 03h00 to 06h00. The squall hit us just after 04h30 when dawn was strong in the air and I had switched off my headlamp and stowed it away. At this time one also turns up the display brightness on the instrument panel at the helm to have a legible display for the daylight conditions.

The squall was relatively short-lived and not too strong. I shortened sail as a precautionary measure, but the wind never went over 25 knots across the deck. We were happily sailing along at four and a half knots during the brunt of the squall. I got rained on a bit and cold, just cold enough to make my teeth chatter. The rain didn't make an impression, as I had ample time to fetch my rain jacket. In fact, the rain was not worth breaking out the shower kit.

Luckily it was getting close to breakfast and some food. I did have a hot chocolate, though. Life is not that Ascetic aboard this delivery vessel!

I did break out the shower kit later in the afternoon, though. I took a hand bucket shower on the aft deck to get rid of the built-up grime from the very humid weather we are having the last two days.

I also had some opportunity during the afternoon to take my normal sun sights but through some clouds. Again, I proved to myself that sun sights through clouds, no matter how thin they seem, are not a good idea. My calculations differed from the 13 miles, even though the readings were close together.

I am still hoping for a clear morning to take some star sights. Haven't done that for ages. I shall have to use the reference chart to find the stars again! For now, the moon is in any case so bright that star sights are almost out of the question.

Today was also baking day again. I made challah, just for the heck of it. Challah is a European bread from the Middle East, baked by the Jewish people for celebrations. It is a rich bread and quite suited to special occasions. I decided the occasion is special enough. Baking day in the middle of the Atlantic sounds special enough.

The recipe was adapted from the recipe given by Peter Reinhart in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It is most certainly worth the little extra effort.

I followed the basic procedural instructions but had to adapt the ingredients. I used vegetable fat instead of oil. And the flour for my loaf was a mixture of white and brown bread flour, both stone ground, unbleached, whole wheat flour. Having no sesame seeds on board, I used some currants in the dough. The currants are also used for coleslaw, but that is a different story.

This is by far the most successful loaf I have made. The crust came out a beautiful golden brown colour and was crisp yet chewy. The crumb was soft and elastic, with a sweetish taste and full of flavour. The flavour improved with each chew. Just like Peter Reinhart, the author of the book, remarks.

With this loaf, I should be able to buy somebody's birthright, almost like in the Old Testament. Certainly, the loaf was very popular with my shipmates, who devoured most of it within half an hour.

These wonderful flavours develop as part of the enzyme action due to the process of making the loaf, not so much the ingredients. But I now am a firm believer in the qualities of unbleached, whole grain flour.

I have an electronic copy of Peter Reinhart's book, therefore I have no page reference. A copy is obtainable from here. I list the ingredients again for ease of the reader. The original recipe is in the book. I used volumetric measures, as we don't have scales on board. At least not the weighing kind. And at present not even the fishy kind. But that is yet another story.

The specific baker's formula can be obtained from the recipe in the book. This is the Hungry Sailor version.

Ingredients for the Hungry Sailor's version

2 cups stone-ground unbleached whole grain brown bread flour

2 ½ cups stone-ground unbleached whole grain white bread flour

4 dessert spoons sugar

1 sachet (10g) instant yeast

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 large eggs, beaten slightly

1 large egg yolk, beaten slightly

2 dessert spoons vegetable fat

1 large egg white, stirred to a froth for egg wash

¼ cup currants

1cup water




This loaf has a three-stage rising and proofing profile. The dough is mixed, then there is the first rise. The dough is then kneaded down to degas and left to rise for the second rise or proofing. After this comes the last stage of shaping, then final proofing before baking.

Furthermore, the vegetable fat is added only after the gluten has formed. This makes a difference to the elasticity of the crumb in the end, so it is important to follow the procedure carefully.

Stir together the dry ingredients. Leave the currants aside for the moment. Mix half of the water with the beaten eggs and egg yolk. Pour this into the dry flour and mix thoroughly. Add a little water as required. The dough is supposed to have less than 50% hydration, so be careful of too much water. Mix the dough, then let it stand for five minutes before adding the fat. Knead in the fat, then knead for another ten minutes to develop the gluten further. Pat with cooking oil, cover, and leave to rise for an hour or so. The dough needs to at least double in size.

Of course, this is the part where I went to sleep after my shift on watch, so the dough more than tripled in volume in the two intervening hours of my slumbers.

No problem, I just kneaded the ball down to where it started. At this stage, I added the currants. Pat the dough down into a flat rectangle, then spread some currants on half of the dough. Fold the dough over the currants, then repeat until all the currants have been added. Shape the dough into a ball, cover, and leave to rise for another hour or until it has risen to 1½ times the volume again.

On the boat, this took about an hour. I stow the dough in a plastic salad bowl with a lid, inside the galley cupboard. At least the temperature is very stable and constant there. I have measured it at 27ºC. I suspect that this may be the seawater temperature around here.

When the dough has now reached the final volume, the final shaping can commence. I chose to make a braided loaf. Divide the dough into three pieces, roll each piece into a sausage tapered at both ends and braid them. Start the braid in the middle. This is the traditional way.

Or roll the dough into a long snake and coil it. Or shape into a boule. Whatever. Exercise your final creative urge and form a loaf from the ball of dough.

Dab some egg wash over the top of the shaped loaf and leave it to rest while the oven heats up. Then baste some more egg wash on top before popping the loaf into the oven. Add some poppy or sesame seeds now. I used the currants, mixed in earlier.

The oven should be at 190ºC/350ºF. For want of a proper baking sheet or parchment, I use a piece of aluminum foil as a baking sheet, but it is a bit flimsy. Next trip I shall have a baking sheet.

Bake the loaf for twenty minutes, then turn it about so that it may evenly bake on all sides. Bake for another twenty to thirty minutes, then remove from the oven and turn out onto a cooling rack. Allow the loaf to cool for at least an hour. The crumb is very brittle at this stage and the loaf will easily break into several pieces if handled roughly.

Bon appetit!

Remember to use real butter. I had to fight off the rest of my shipmates to allow the loaf to cool properly.

Three-quarters of this loaf was consumed within half an hour. I don't think the rest of the loaf will last through the night...


This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-10-19


  1. I'm impressed that you managed to make such a delicious looking bread on a boat that was probably bobbing up and down a lot!

    1. One lives and learns. This was after four weeks at sea and having found my sea legs!

  2. Simply incredible! I can't even imagine a trip like this, much less documenting your meals!

  3. I should learn to braid from you! I still cannot blame it on my short hair as a kid and my kids short hair as I could not braid. Loved the challah will love to bake it.

    1. The braiding is not that important, but it was tricky using two hands with nothing to keep me steady on a bobbing boat in the middle of the ocean! The braiding took me three to four tries before I got it right. All worthwhile for the visual effect.