Why do my Challah braids come out flat?

I have been baking Joan Nathan’s challah recipe (via Smitten Kitchen) except instead of 2 standard size challahs I divide it into four smaller challahs. The issue I’m having is that the braids tend to bake flat and today they even merged producing quite the visually unappealing loaf. I don’t remember this happening when I used to bake 2 loaves so I’m thinking maybe they’re over proofing but I have no idea when that would be happening. They always look good before I bake but flat when I take it out. Can someone help me make a pretty challah please? Thanks in advance!

  • Posted by: GourMel
  • November 18, 2022
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GourMel December 3, 2022
Thank you both for your comments and suggestions. My strands were half the length and it’s a half sized challah so I don’t think that is it. I tried baking with just purchased yeast and got the same result. Here’s a photo of what it looked like before going into the oven.
GourMel December 3, 2022
Maybe it will attach here.
Nancy December 5, 2022
GourMel -
well, that picture looked good! How did it bake up?
The only othe thing I can think of is to use physics and nearness to help push up your mini breads.
Sometimes I make rolls or challah buns all crowded together in a cast iron frying pan - they push up, instead of out. Then, when baked, pull them apart easily.
Part of the side crust may be softer than usual, but you could crisp it up under a broiler if you want.
Nancy December 5, 2022
Also recently saw a very good video comparing flouts used in bread making.
Reminded me that bread’s ability to rise depends on quantity and quality of gluten protein in flour.
Lower protein, lower rise.
Have a look at your flour package for protein percentage.
And/or did you change your flour brand recently?
GourMel December 6, 2022
Thank you for all of your responses Nancy! It baked up much like the first photo I posted (I forgot to take a photo after it came out of the oven) and I generally use King Arthur Bread flour.
Nancy December 11, 2022
The braided dough looked fine.
I can’t think of any more diagnostics or solutions for your current recipe.
My last suggestion - try another challah recipe.
I can recommend Classuc Challah by Hocherman and Boehm (my current standard) and various seeded challahs by Uri Scheft.
Nancy December 11, 2022
Classic Challah
Nancy November 19, 2022
Another suggestion.
Gourmel - I've both made and bought challah for years, and never saw that horizontal spread (not even in the small rolls).
So I doubt the cause is the size of the braids or the size of the rolls.
Did some research and found an article that suggests the cause may be internal to the dough - lack of gluten development, maybe weak or dead yeast, etc.
Have a look and ask yourself if your practice has any of these possible causes.
Hope this helps,
Lori T. November 19, 2022
The only thing I can think is that you would want to reduce the size of the strips you brain proportionately. If you are using braid strips the same size you would if you were making a larger loaf, then what you have in the picture is what I would expect to see. It's a proportion thing, I think. Your loaves are roughly 1/4 size, so the braid strips also would need to be 1/4 size.
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