If you’ve been in a bakery or read some bread books, you’ve more than likely seen some lovely loaves of challah, the rich Jewish Sabbath bread. These are usually braided and baked to a golden or even mahogany color. This page will show you how to braid your bread so you can show off your loaves even better than usual.
There are quite a few ways to braid bread. The first part will cover four of them, with another few by extension. I have pictures of the four principle braids and how to make them. I will follow up combination braids in a future post.
After you’ve made and fermented the dough, you are ready to braid it. You should weigh the dough and divide the weight by the number of braids you you are planning to use. This will tell you how much each strand will weigh. Go ahead and divide the dough. If you have 600 grams of dough and want a three strand braid, each strand will be 200 grams. When you have the dough divided, let it rest under a towel on the counter for a few minutes to give it time to relax a bit so the dough won’t fight you as you roll it out.
For rolling the strands into the proper length, consider this. The more strands you are planning to use, the more the dough will twist and turn to make up the loaf, so the shorter the loaf will be. This will also make the loaf plumper than you might have been planning on. Therefore, as you roll out the dough, strands for higher numbers of braids should be thinner than those for lower braid numbers. For the George Greenstein challah recipe, you should have strands at least 25 inches / 65 cm long. This recipe is very active and the loaf will plump up considerably during final rise.
If you are planning a traditional loaf shape, the ends of the strands should be tapered fairly heavily, so when you pinch them together you don’t have a large lump of dough just sitting there looking at you. If you are planning on a wreath shape, the strands should be equal diameter all the way along the strand and they should have a blunt end, so you can join the two ends of the loaf without having a thin part where the tapers would have been.
There are several tricks to making a wreath braided bread.
The strands should be equal diameter for their entire length.
Braid the loaf as for a straight loaf.
Do not pinch the ends of the braid together, let them stay loose. You’ll see why below.
Once you get the dough braided but before forming the circle, roll the braided dough to get rid of the pig-in-the-python bulge in the middle of the loaf. You may not be able to get rid of all the bulge, but every bit helps. This also helps make the dough a bit longer, so the wreath will have a decent sized hole in the center.
Now form the wreath by forming a circle. Attach the three strand ends on each end of the dough to its counterpart on the other end. You will probably be able to make a joining that will make the doughlook like there isn’t a joint at all.
If you do all these things and have a bit of luck, you will be rewarded with a bread with a uniform wreath diameter.
One little trick I’ve developed that may help you. Some challah recipes, notably Greenstein’s, make a fairly dry dough. As you work the dough, rolling it out to the proper length, you may find that the dough is so dry that it won’t roll properly; there will be no friction to help you roll it and it will slide around instead of gripping and rolling. Using your spray bottle, spray a bit of water on the surface, then wipe most of it off. This will give you the traction you need to roll out the dough.
You will also find that the dough will probably fight you as you roll it out. This is to be expected. Just roll one strand for a few seconds, then switch to another. Keep alternating, working a strand, then letting it rest. You’ll find that you’ll be able to roll out the strands with a lot less effort than if you bulled ahead and tried to force the dough to conform to your wishes.
Links to Braiding
This series of photos was taken of braids of 3, 4, 5 and 6 strands, using a 62% French bread dough. I used
500 grams / 17 5/8 ounces Bread flour
310 grams / 10.93 ounces warm water
1 teaspoon / 5 ml Salt
2 teaspoons / 6 grams Dry yeast
Mixed 2 minutes, rested 20 minutes, kneaded 8 minutes.
Fermented 1 1/4 hours.
Fermented 20 minutes.
Did all sorts of shaping and rolling.
Let the six-strand dough rise 45 minutes.
Baked at 450F / 230C for 35 minutes, with steam in the oven.
Internal temperature of 200F / 93C.
Here’s the 6-strand loaf shaped and baked.
Links to Braiding