Beautiful Braided Bread
As you know, we have been exploring bread shaping techniques. This month we are going to make a three strand braid. Why have I specified the number of strands in our braid? Because braids can include as many as six strands. We'll work up to the six strand braid. For now, we'll focus our attention on the more common three stranded braid.
If you have ever braided hair or ribbon or anything else really you can braid a loaf of bread. There are two things to keep in mind when attempting this technique.
First, you need a sturdy bread dough, something where the hydration level is not too high. What do I mean by that? Well, you would not want to try this technique with say a ciabatta bread dough. The high water content makes for an airy loaf but precludes you from being able to form and overlap strands of the dough to shape a braid. For the loaves pictured above, I used a tasty basic wheat bread recipe. White whole wheat and all purpose flours are combined with water, salt, sugar, oil and yeast to form a nice, malleable dough that you can mix together by hand.
After stirring the ingredients together in a bowl, you end up with a dough that is pretty shaggy.
Turn the dough out on a floured surface and begin to knead. After about 8 to 10 minutes of kneading, your dough with go from this ...
... to this!
After your dough has completed its first rise, you are ready to shape your braid. Here's the second thing you must keep in mind as you proceed with shaping the braid. As you cross the strands over each other, you want to avoid pulling them tight. Our goal is a straight loaf of bread. If you pull the strands too tight as you shape the loaf, the loaf will bend as it bakes. Okay, here we go.
Divide the dough into three equal parts and shape each part into a strand by rolling it back and forth on your shaping surface. I am using my silicone rolling mat. Press the strands together at one end and lay them out flat with the right strand at 4:00, the center strand at 5:00 and the left strand at 8:00. (See top photo.) Starting with the right strand, lift it over the center strand and place it next to the left strand.
Lift the left strand and place it next to the center strand, like this. What started out as the center strand is now the outside strand on the right.
Repeat the process of lifting and overlapping the outside strand, right to left then left to right.
When you reach the end, trim the remainder of the strands so that they are equal, press them together and tuck them under the loaf. That's all there is to it. There is your beautifully shaped braid. Cover your loaf and let it rise a second time before sliding it into a preheated oven to bake.
Here is your final loaf, golden brown and straight. Making beautiful braided bread is not that difficult, is it? It'll take a little bit of practice but it's worth it in the end when you can put such a lovely loaf on your dinner table. I hope you feel inspired to give this shaping technique a try. Until next week, happy baking!!