Hey there, you. Yes, you. Give yourself a pat on the back because YOU make a dang good loaf of bread.
You've worked hard, perfected recipes and techniques, and now you're a kitchen hero.
So, what's next on your punch list?
How about some knock-their-socks-off presentation? How about a six-strand braid?
Ouch, that hurt. You laughed right in my face. You guffawed in my general direction. You chortled at my suggestion that you can easily make a six-strand braided bread.
Dude, that's cold.
Well, my mama didn't raise but one fool and it ain't me. You CAN make a six-strand braided bread and I'm here to prove it. If you take the directions step by step and move one rope of dough at a time, you'll have a braided loaf of beauty on the table in no time.
I took plenty of photos and labeled each one so that you can know what strand to move, where and when. Don't be put off by the "little man" analogy. It's not meant to be childish, but rather to give you a familiar set of references to keep you on track. Arms and legs are something we see everyday, and this technique has taught hundreds of people in our classrooms for years learn how to braid bread.
Divide your dough into six equal pieces. You can certainly weigh the pieces to make sure they're all exactly the same, but for me eye-balling has always worked out fine. Here I'm using a nice challah dough.
To get the smoothest ropes, you need to do a little prep to each piece. Begin by flattening the piece of dough. Then take the upper edge and fold it over to the center. Seal this seam well by pressing with your fingertips.
Fold the now-top edge over the center to touch the counter. Seal this seam as well. You'll now have a short rope with only one seam and a smooth surface all over.
The folding also builds structure into each rope, so that they'll be well supported internally as they rise and bake.
Roll each strand as you would roll Play-doh or clay to form a rope. At some point the rope will start to shrink back.
At this time, just set that rope aside and roll another. The shrinking is the gluten strands letting you know they're tightening up, and they need a chance to relax (literally) before you can roll them any more.
Take your time and work at rolling the strands until they're about 14" to 16" long.
NOW, we're ready to start braiding. I've switched the text from under the photos to right in the photos so you can see exactly what is taking place where.
Here's the little man analogy I was talking about. Relax, and let's go with it.
Keep in mind to always drape gently, don't tug tightly or the braids won't rise properly.
Looking at the man, what do you see? If you said 5 legs and one arm, you're exactly right.
There, that's it. Move a leg to make an arm.
Move an arm, make an arm. Move an arm, make an arm.
One of my favorite tricks for making neat ends on braids. Try it!
When the braid is complete, you can look back on it and see which parts were formed by the arms and legs. The top bumps were the arms, when they moved to the center. The side bumps are the legs, when they crossed over to the opposite side to become new arms.
Now you can raise and bake your loaf as usual. This beautiful challah went home with Andrea from the test kitchen to share with her family.
So, not sure you want to make loaf after loaf of bread to practice? Check out this great toy. My husband David put it together for me a few years ago when I was learning braids. It's six strands of nylon rope he purchased at the hardware store. He melted the ends to prevent fraying (yay blowtorches!) and bundled together at one end with a zip tie.
Now I can sit and braid while watching TV, listening to music or a book, and I don't have to worry if I have to start over 10 times. The ropes aren't going to break or rise too quickly and they won't dry out, either.
Start off with the little man. Two arms, 4 legs.
Arm to the center, make a new arm. Opposite arm to the center, make a new arm. Check every now and then to see if you've stayed on track.
Even with rope, you'll be so pleased at the lovely braid. It's amazing how intricately the strands become woven in repetition.
Ah, it's good to see that you've stopped laughing and really seem focused. I have every faith in you, and soon you'll be braiding everything in sight.
Be sure to take lots of pictures and share with us. You can send them to me here (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post them on our Facebook wall.