Braid Bread

three-braid whole-wheat, my first-ever hand-made bread

© 2011 by KV5R — Rev. Jan. 28, 2011.

Small image of braided bread

I would call this a challah, because it sorta looks like one, but it isn’t really, as I didn’t use eggs in it. I didn’t even use a recipe—it’s just regular whole-wheat bread (one-third whole wheat and two-thirds Better for Bread,) honey, yeast, and water; lightly topped with olive oil, garlic powder, and oregano.

The bread came out a little flatter than I expected, but this is all about getting to know your dough. I learned that dough tend to go slack as it sits, and it takes skill and timing to make a tall bread without some kind of bread pan or mold to hold it into some shape. I later learned that the bread artisans let their dough rise in a brotform then dump it onto a very hot baking stone (or La Cloche Baker) to make it “set” before it can fall.

Still—it tasted great!

Procedure

This is the standard “1-2-3” recipe, slightly modified. The basic recipe is 3 cups flour, 2 teaspoons yeast, and 1¼ cup water (and honey).

I didn’t take any pictures during the mixing and kneading, because my hands were doughy. I more-or-less followed a challah-making video from Youtube, about like this:

  • Put 4 Tbsp honey in a measuring cup, added warm water up to 1¼ cup; mixed; added 2 tsp rapid-rise yeast , ¼ cup of flour, and a dash of celery salt. Mixed well and let stand 10 minutes. Note that I didn’t use pre-ferment yeast, but did it that way anyhow, just to get it working faster.
  • Poured that into a big stainless steel mixing bowl, added 1 cup whole-wheat (WW) flour and 1 cup Better-for-Bread (B4B) and started mixing with one (clean) hand. Gradually added the 3rd cup of flour, and a bit more, and worked it by hand until the dough stopped being sticky.
  • Put the glob on a lightly floured cutting board and kneaded for about 10 minutes. Then shaped it into a big ball.
  • Washed and dried the big mixing bowl, then sprayed with olive oil. Put dough ball in it and covered with cling wrap and a cup-towel.
  • Let it rise for an hour.
  • Put it back on the cutting board and punched-down; kneaded a little, and then divided into 3 equal parts.
  • Rolled each of the three into ropes, about 1 inch thick and 12 inches long.
  • Sprayed a 9x13 cookie sheet and laid the three dough ropes on it. Braided them and pinched the ends together.
  • Sprayed top with olive oil, sprinkled with garlic powder and oregano.
  • Covered with towel; let rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  • Preheated oven to about 375°F and baked uncovered for 35-40 minutes.
  • When top was golden, removed and let cool for 30 minutes.
  • Cut and enjoy!

Braided bread, top view
Ain’t that purrrrrdy?
Not bad—for a beginner!

Some Practical Notes

  • Mix with one hand, keeping the other clean for handling things. It’s a sticky, gooey mess at first, but as you add flour and work it, the dough will release from your hand (and the sides of the bowl), and that’s how you know it’s ready to start kneading.
  • If the water is short, you’ll have loose flour in the bowl and the dough never will take it up. In that case, add water 1 teaspoon at a time and work it in well. Don’t overdo the water, else you’ll end up adding more flour and the bread will grow too large. It takes very little water to go from too dry to too sticky.
  • Olive oil cooking spray is your non-stick friend, but use it very lightly, else you’ll end up working too much oil into the bread.
  • Kneading is done by mashing the dough into a flattened oval, fold the far end toward you, then push into it with the heels of the hands, then rotate it 90 degrees. Fold toward you, push it down and away from you, rotate. Over and over it goes, for 10 to 15 minutes. When pushing, straighten the arms and just lean into it—less work that way. As you knead, the dough may stick to the board in places; just push a little more flour under it and keep on kneading. Likewise, if the top gets too sticky, sprinkle a little flour on it, or spray the hands with a little oil. Kneading causes the springy gluten molecules to link up, making very long springs, which makes a smoother bread. For breads with larger, irregular holes in it, you knead less (or even none, in some recipes).
  • Cover the bowl with plastic during the first rise, so the dough will not lose water.
  • The amount of punch-down and second knead will determine how smooth the final bread is. The purpose of the punch-down is to remove large pockets of gas from the bread, but it is by no means a necessity—indeed, some styles of bread are supposed to have large and irregular-sized holes inside. That makes a style of bread that is less like store-bought and more like primitive breads (you can then imagine a giant wood-fired clay-dome oven, hand-milled grains, etc. 🙂

So there it is! My first-ever hand-made-from-scratch bread. Stay tuned for more breads and more pictures in the coming weeks, and also, don’t miss my soaping pages!

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