I really do love to make rolls for big holiday dinners. I know you do, too. Then again, I'm a cookie and cake decorator at heart, so sometimes making a plain ol' roll just doesn't get my heart-a-pumpin', creative-wise.
Luckily, sometime last year I came across a book online that opened my eyes about how you can really dress up your breads without buying a single special tool, or investing in a week-long class.
While puttering on my Kindle, I found The Art of Braiding Bread by Roberto von Krammer. It was under $10 at the time** and I thought, "What the heck, I'll give it a go."
**I've seen the price of this e-book go up and down over time, so you may need to do a little research on different options. Don't forget your local library as an excellent (and FREE) resource!
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it, and how much I learned about braiding bread in just a few pages. Von Krammer gives several different variations for shaping, using the same number of strands, that completely change the look of the finished bread. There's also good information (though short) on how to adjust the length of your dough rope to end up with the length bread you want.
Before seeing some of these pictures, I'd been using the classic three-strands and the more complicated six-strands for challah. Occasionally a 4-strand had crossed my path, but most often I fell back to making just plain loaves. I'm guessing many of you have been in the same boat, no?
Well, prepare to join me in changing the slow boat for a fancy new sloop, and seeing how just twisting a few strands of your favorite dough can make an ocean-wide difference in your bread basket this holiday season. We'll take two different doughs and give each a whirl.
First up, Walter Sands' White Bread.
Prepare the dough through the first rise, and gently deflate.
Divide the dough in half and set one piece aside, well-covered. Divide the remaining piece into three fairly equal portions, and roll each piece out to approximately 20". For step-by-step photos on how to get a nice even rope for braiding, see our six-strand braid blog.
Once you have your three strands, join them together at one end and then make a classic 3-strand braid. Right over center, center becomes new right. Left over center, center becomes new left. Repeat and repeat until you've braided the entire length. It's just the same motions as braiding wire, rope, or hair.
Now for the cool part.
Divide your veeeery long braid into short pieces with a bench knife or sharp chef's knife. I like pieces about 4" long for a nice dinner roll.
To finish, simply pinch the ends of each mini braid to seal. Roll the pinched dough between your fingers a little and tuck that "tail" under the braid.
Beautiful buns, ahoy!
Now, let's take this braid one step further. Don't get freaked out by the picture, even though it does resemble a Kraken from the deep. It's just our Pumpkin Yeast Bread dough, divided up.
To make a more intricate braid, divide your dough into three logs. Now, from those three logs, you'll make nine skinny ropes.
Place three ropes together side by side and braid them to make one big "rope." Do this for the remaining mini ropes until you have three big ropes.
Try to keep the ropes lying flat to avoid unsightly bulges. Repeat the same basic braid as before, except now each rope is comprised of three ropes together. Raising and lifting each rope rather than just tugging it will help keep your strands looking their best.
Chop, chop, chop. Twist those ends and tuck them under, just as before. If you want you can use your hands to slightly plump the pieces into more of a round, too.
Proofing and baking will be the same as for your regular rolls, maybe adding a little time if they're larger than normal.
Sometimes the braids do become a little squished, and you lose some definition of your strands; but overall the results are simply stunning. If anyone at the table complains, feel free to hand them a couple of dry crackers and set them adrift in a leaky rowboat.
My decorator's soul is soothed, and my rumbly-tumbly soon will be, too. These hot-from-the-oven braided rolls are a delight for the eyes and the lips. I hope you have fun bringing a little bounce to your next bread basket.