Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Technique: Braided Bread

Play with your dough:

Braiding bread adds a lot to the look of a loaf, and is surprisingly not that difficult to do with a good dough.

Regular Braid
A fairly quick and simple way to make a loaf look very pretty.

  1. Cut the dough into three even pieces. Roll into long, even ropes. The ropes can be a little uneven and still be fine. If necessary, cut from one and add to another. Make sure the ropes are smooth; flaws don't disappear during rising, they get bigger!
  2. Lay the ropes on a parchment sheet, and braid like you would anything else: right strand to the middle, left strand to the middle, repeat until done. Braiding from the middle to one end, then from the middle backwards to the other, tends to produce a more even braid.
  3. Pinch the ends together, and tuck under so that it looks nice. If they aren't pinched well enough, they may unravel during rising and baking.
  4. Set to rise, top, and back as usual.
Braided Wreath
For a more exotic look, make a wreath. You will probably have to be the first person to cut this one, because your guests will think it is too pretty to cut.
  1. Make a regular braid, as instructed above, except do not pinch the ends. 
  2. Curl the braid into a circle, and join together the strands to make the braid pattern continuous. Try to position the seams underneath, so they don't show.

Six-Strand Braid
A six-strand braided loaf is one of the prettiest basic loaf shapes. It's also fun to pull apart by hand and eat while it is still warm. Soon all that is left is a scattered pile of seeds that fell off, and a bunch of smiling faces. This loaf ended as a few crumbs and seeds at my friends' wedding reception. My kids love challah bread shaped this way.

How To Braid

Cut dough into 6 equal parts, and roll into ropes. Braid together. Here's how:

1. Lay all the ropes down next to each other, and pinch the ends together. Once started, you will always be holding 1 rope, and sometimes 2. You will always lay down the rope you've been holding the longest. Try to start the braid tightly.

2. Pick up the left-most rope with your right hand, and cross it over to the far right; don't put it down.

3. With the left hand, reach across under the right arm, pick up the far right rope from the table. Cross it over to the far left; don't put it down.

4. The right hand has been holding a rope the longest; set that rope down in the middle of the 4 ropes still on the table.

5. With the right hand, reach across under the left arm, pick up the far left rope from the table. Cross it over to the far right; don't put it down.

6. Set down the "older" rope (left hand) in the middle of the 4 ropes still on the table.

7. Adjust the ropes on the table as needed, before picking up another rope. Also tighten the braid after the first few twists; it's easier to do as you go than to fix later.

8. Go back to step 3, using the left hand to pick up the far right rope.

9. When you're out of rope, pinch the ends and tuck under. Tighten the beginning of the braid, pinch it together, and tuck it under. Braiding backwards at the start of the braid would be cool, but so far I have failed at that.

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