FIVE STRANDED BRAIDED BREAD & A COOKBOOK REVIEW

Braids, twists and elaborate knots fascinate me. I suppose it’s the repetitive pattern leading to elegance and serenity. Tying things together in harmony. When it comes to bread, going past the three-strand braid can be intimidating, but trust me, once you get the pattern going it is quite simple. A few months ago I was searching for videos on youtube to help me understand the process and found a gem of a cookbook: The Art of Braiding Bread, by Roberto von Krammer. His instructions are crystal clear and easy to follow.  I share with you my first attempt at a five-stranded braided bread.

FIVE-STRANDE BRAIDED BREAD
(adapted from The Art of Braiding Bread)

345 g bread flour
30 g sugar
26 g egg yolks
48 g whole eggs
26 g mild vegetable oil
110 g water
7 g salt
10 g instant yeast

Place all the ingredients in a Kitchen Aid type  bowl. Knead on first speed for 3 minutes until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, then on second for approximately 5 minutes.

Ferment for 2 hours. The dough can also ferment overnight in the fridge. If you prefer to do that, allow it to sit at room temperature for one hour, then degas it gently by pressing it down, and place in the fridge. Press it down gently again two more times over a period of two hours.  A colder dough temperature makes it easier to form strands. The dough can be divided and shaped straight from refrigeration.

Pre-shape 5 round of dough and rest on an unfloured work surface, covered with plastic. When relaxed enough to be elongated without tearing, usually 10 to 15 minutes, roll out the strands and form the braids (process in the comments). Once braided, proof the loaves covered with baker’s linen and a sheet of plastic to prevent the formation of a skin.

Final fermentation after braiding: ½ to 2 hours at about 25 C.

Heat oven to 375 F. Before baking, thoroughly egg wash the surface of the loaves. If desired, sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds on top. Bake until golden brown and internal temperature is about 200 F, about 30 minutes.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  With Mr. Krammer’s permission, here is the process to form a 5-stranded beta braid. First thing is to number the strands from left to right, then keep in mind that as the strand moves around, then new formation also gets numbered the same way, first strand to the left will be number 1, last one to the right will be number 5. If strand #5 jumps in between strand #1 and #2, it will become strand #2 in the new formation.

 Place #5 between #1 and #2

Move #1 between #3 and #4

Place #2 over #3 and #3 under #2 (twist)

End of cycle, repeat all over again until you reach the end of the bread.

By going through the process, you’ll end up with a beautiful 5-strand braid, that is then allowed to ferment until almost doubled in size.

I also made a Four-Braided Alpha loaf, and you can see that it generates a totally different look.

Now for the book. I could not believe how many different styles of braiding bread exist. From the number of strands used to the actual braiding, it is mind-blowing! You can use the basic dough for all of them, dividing the dough in the appropriate number of strands, and then deciding which method to follow. For each one Roberto provides pictures of EACH movement of the strand, plus the numeric pattern that you can memorize and repeat as you become more comfortable and experienced.

You will find several methods of braiding for 3, 4, 5, and 6 stranded loaves that go way beyond what you might imagine. Some braiding methods are challenging, but his instructions are so clear and the pictures of each step make it all doable.  I will definitely be challenging myself to the more complex styles, including braided round loaves, and breads that stack braids together.

This composite photo shows a few examples of the many found in his book, which I highly recommend! Click on his name below the recipe title for buying info.

A braided bread never fails to impress because it is so festive, and of course you can use other types of dough, with chocolate, or even going into a savory territory. Don’t be intimidated, and have fun with it!

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SUNDRIED TOMATO TWIST BREAD

Since they say confession is good for the soul, here is mine: I’ve been cheating. Big time. Not only I’ve been baking bread with commercial yeast, but I went one step further down the path of debauchery and grabbed a bottle of “rapid rise” to play with. Just for the fun of it. This bread was ready in less than 3 hours. It had a wonderful texture and tasted amazing too. Sourdough will never leave my world, but I see some other “quickies” in my future.

SUNDRIED TOMATO TWIST BREAD
(adapted from several sources)

3 + 1/2  (420 g)  cups all purpose flour, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) fast acting yeast (about 7g)
2 teaspoons sugar
1  teaspoons salt
1 + 1/4 cup (280 g) water
1/4 cup (53 g) canola oil
1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4–1/2 cup sundried tomato pesto (store-bought or homemade)
1/3 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (eye-balling is ok)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 + 1/2 cups (300 g) flour, yeast, sugar, and salt with a whisk.

Heat water and canola oil until warm (100 F). Add to flour mixture. Add vinegar. Mix roughly with a wooden spoon, then switch to the dough hook and add the remaining flour in small amounts until you get a dough that is smooth and barely sticks to the sides of the bowl.  You might not need the full amount of flour, I had just a little bit left.

Knead for about 5 minutes in low-speed. Place in a bowl lightly coated with oil, and let it rise until almost doubled.  If using fast-acting yeast, it will take less than one hour.

Grease a 9-inch springform pan, and line bottom with parchment; grease paper. Place on top of a baking sheet. Set aside. Punch down the dough. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a thin rectangle, as thin as you can without tearing it. Spread a thin layer of pesto on top of the dough, leaving a small border without any pesto. Spread the Gruyere cheese all over the pesto.  Starting at the long edge, roll it tightly and gently into a log.

Use a bench scraper to cut the dough in half lengthwise. Cross the two halves (layers facing up) to create an X shape; braid top and bottom of dough by laying the left piece over the right keeping the cut side up, until pieces of dough are tightly twisted. Pinch ends together.

Start at the thinner edge and slowly and very gently, roll the braid into a giant snail shell or a very large cinnamon bun. Be careful to keep all the layers facing up.  Carefully pick up the shaped bread and place in the prepared springform. Cover; let rise in warm place until almost double.  If using fast-acting yeast, it will again be ready in about 40 minutes, or even less, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

Heat the oven to 400 F as the bread is in its final proofing stage.  Bake at 400º for 10 minutes, lower oven temperature to 350º and bake for an additional 30 minutes. When the bread is out of the oven lightly brush olive oil on top and sides. Let cool completely on a rack before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Amazing how fast that yeast works. Being used to working with sourdough it almost scared me when after what it felt like the blink of an eye I caught the dough almost an inch above the rim. Unreal. A really nice dough to work with thanks to the addition of oil, handles very smoothly, not threatening to tear while rolling out and shaping.

I used store-bought sundried tomato pesto, because I made this bread in a weekend of intense baking and taking a little shortcut was my only real option, but of course making the pesto from scratch would be even better. So many other fillings will be great also. Black olives, pieces of ham or crispy bacon, you can take this bread in many directions. Just try to roll tightly and thinly, so that you get as many little layers as possible.

If you are a novice at bread baking, don’t let the shaping scare you, this is the type of dough that is very forgiving and even if you mess up the shaping a bit, it will look great. You don’t even have to do the twisted shape, you could braid the two halves of the dough, join the ends and call it a day.

Leftovers are superb toasted!

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PINK PRALINE BRIOCHE

Sometimes I wonder what makes me try a new recipe. Of course, reading tons of cookbooks and food blogs, new things show up on my radar often. I might make a mental note to try it at some point, labeling them as intriguing or interesting, but for the most part I move on. Then, there’s Pink Praliné Brioche. And no easy way to get it out of my mind. Having lived in Paris for a few years, it was hard to accept I’d never even seen one. Pink praliné. The stuff dreams are made of.

PINK PRALINÉ BRIOCHE
(adapted from Murielle Valette’s Patisserie)

3.5g fresh yeast (I used osmo-tolerant yeast)
25ml milk, at room temperature
250g bread flour
5g salt
15g sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature (about 150g)
125g soft butter
120g pink praliné, crushed lightly in a food processor (recipe follows)
egg wash

Whisk the yeast in a small bowl with the milk.  Put the flour, salt, sugar and eggs into the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer. Add the milk and yeast, and knead it for about 10 minutes at low-speed.

Little by little add the butter and continue kneading in low to medium speed until the gluten is well-developed.  Place the dough in a bowl lightly coated with oil, cover and place in the fridge overnight.

The following day, turn over the dough on a work surface and gently press it as a rectangle of around 8 by 12 inches, then cut it lengthwise in three strips. Roll each piece to flatten it slightly, sprinkle a line of crushed pink praliné in the center, and enclose it with the dough, rolling it well to seal. Do the same with the other two strips, then braid them together, keeping the seam side down at all times.

Sprinkle more pink praliné over the shaped bread, letting them fall in the folds of the braid.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it at room temperature for a final rise until it almost doubles in size. Mine took 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 F, and right before baking, brush the surface of the braid with the egg wash.  Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Brioche dough contains not only flour and yeast, but additional fat in the form of eggs, milk and butter. This type of enriched dough does well with a slow fermentation, so I prefer to mix it the day before. It also makes the actual baking day a lot easier, as you can shape the bread straight from its overnight proofing time in the fridge. It warms up quickly and it’s not hard to work with at all. You could ferment the dough at room temperature for 4 hours or so, but it will be a long baking day. Your kitchen, your call.

If you prefer to buy the pink praliné, amazon sells it, but be prepared to wait, no free 2-day shipping for this one. To make your own, follow the recipe below. 

PINK PRALINÉ
(from Cooking with Bernard)

450 g sugar, divided in 150g amounts
A few drops of red food coloring
125g whole hazelnuts, peeled (about 3/4 cup)
125g whole almonds (about 3/4 cup)

Place one-third of the sugar (3/4 cup / 150 g) in a large frying pan with just enough water to moisten it. Add a few drops of red coloring.  Stir well and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil. When large bubbles start forming, add the hazelnuts and almonds, stirring non-stop. Control the heat, so that the nuts don’t burn. The syrup will begin to crystallize, and look very grainy. Don’t despair, keep stirring so that the nuts are well coated in sugar. Keep simmering, the sugar that does not coat the nuts will slowly start to melt and turn into a thick liquid. Transfer the contents of the pan to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or Silpat. You should have nuts and some “free” caramel-sugar. Reserve the nuts and place the sugar in a clean saucepan.

Add another third of the sugar (150g). Add a little more red coloring and water – just enough to moisten the sugar. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Continue until all the pieces of sugar are completely melted. Switch off the burner, add the reserved nuts to the frying pan, but don’t switch turn the heat on yet. Wait until the syrup in the saucepan reaches 255°F. When the syrup is almost at the desired temperature, switch on the burner below the frying pan. It should be at medium heat. Pour the syrup over the nuts, stirring as you pour. You will need to wash this pan to use it again, so make sure to take it right away to the sink and fill with water.

Coat the nuts. The syrup will once again become grainy. Allow the sugar that does not coat the nuts to melt. Transfer the contents of the pan to a sheet of parchment paper and set the coated nuts to one side and the remaining sugar to the other. Place the remaining pink sugar in the saucepan and add the last third of the sugar (150 g) with more food coloring and enough water to moisten it. Allow to melt and bring to 255°F / 124°C. Return the nuts to the frying pan and pour in the syrup when it reaches the right temperature, stirring constantly. At this third stage, the syrup should coat the pink nuts quite well. Stir and wait for the syrup to become grainy and any sugar that does not coat the nuts should melt again.  Pour all the contents of the frying pan onto a sheet of  parchment paper. By now, there should be almost no sugar left unstuck to the nuts.

Final step: Heat the oven to 160°F and bake the candied nuts for at least 45 minutes to dry them out completely. Mine took almost double time to dry.  Let them cool and store in an air-tight container. They are ready to nibble on or use in recipes.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Making pink praliné is a labor of love. You can buy it ready, but  the whole process of making it seemed fascinating enough to make me go for it. Essentially, you are slowly covering hazelnuts and almonds with a red-dyed caramel syrup. The coating happens in three stages. It is a bit time-consuming and also potentially dangerous. I got a burn with one tiny microscopic drop of super heated caramel and trust me, it hurt like hell. Then, it left a tiny scar, perfectly round and brown. Kind of cute, actually. But I don’t recommend it.

Pink praliné is a wonderful snack, and the pups tried some, yes they did. There was intense wagging of three tails. In São Paulo, when I was growing up, they sold a type of peanut made by Japanese immigrants that comes close to pink praliné but not nearly as good. It is called “amendoim doce” (translates as sweet peanut) and you can see it in the link that it also has a pinkish sugary coating, just a bit lighter. Anyway, if you are fond of nuts and feel crazy enough to be around boiling caramel for an extended period of time, try making these babies. They keep for a long time, which is a bonus.

So here it is, the Pink Praliné Brioche! It is absolutely delicious and yes, it was worth the trouble. If you google for photos, you’ll see it in many different sizes, shapes, and variations on how to incorporate the praline in the dough. Some just sprinkle a huge amount on top of a roundish loaf. I like this method better, because some of it gets truly deep inside the bread. The sugar that glues to the nuts melts slightly during baking, and when you bite into it, you get this concentrated sweet taste, truly delicious.  It is not sweet like a spoonful of sugar, of course not. The caramelization process gives the sugar a slightly bitter edge. Perfect, according to my taste buds.

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SHIBARI BREAD

I love a simple loaf of bread, mostly white flour, a touch of whole-wheat, good crust and crumb, nothing necessarily fancy. But I am always fascinated by what I call exotic bakes. Things that demand a little more attention, a little more work, and often a lot more patience. One site that never fails to amaze me is BakeStreet. Not only they show unusual, unique recipes, but they might include videos of the entire process, particularly when shaping is more elaborate. A couple of weeks ago I stumbled on their blog post on  Pan Shibari. They designed a bread recipe inspired by a classic Japanese knot (shibari is Japanese for knot).  The knot is quite an important symbol in Japan, and it’s easy to see why. It joins things, it carries a sort of sensual connotation, and it can be very artistic. I confess I was so mesmerized by that bread, I could not wait to try it myself. It was not easy. But, I’m happy with the way it turned out. My very first Shibari Bread!

SHIBARI BREAD
(slightly modified from BakeStreet)

600 g of all-purpose flour
300 g of whole milk at room temperature
36 g of cocoa powder + 45 g of whole milk
5 g of instant yeast
1 egg L (55 g)
75 g of unsalted butter at room temperature
40 g of honey
3/4 teaspoon of natural chocolate extract
10 g of salt
olive oil for brushing bread
1 egg yolk
2 tsp milk
pinch of salt

Make the dough.  In the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mix the flour along with the milk, the egg and the dry yeast. Mix with the kneading hook for 5 minutes on low-speed, until it is homogeneous.

Add the honey and salt, continue mixing for at least 5 more minutes, until very smooth and silky.  Add the butter little by little, in small pieces, waiting for each piece to be incorporated before you add more. Continue kneading the dough until gluten development is complete (it will not tear when you stretch a small portion of the dough, instead it will form a thin membrane).

Divide the dough in two pieces, a small one with 200g, and a second one with the remaining portion, around 870g. Shape the small portion as a ball and place inside an oiled container. Cover and reserve. To the second portion, add the cocoa powder with the milk and chocolate extract. Knead to incorporate them well, and make a dough with homogeneous color. I find it easier to place back in the Kitchen Aid and let the machine do some of the work, then finish it by hand.  Form as a ball and place in a second oiled container.  Proof the two balls of dough for about 3 hours at room temperature. It should double in size.

Now is the perfect moment to swallow that Prozac.

Shape the bigger ball of dough as a batard, after de-gassing it lightly. Reserve, covered with plastic film as you work on the other ball of dough.  Roll the smaller ball as a rectangle of approximately 14 by 10 inches. Cut parallel strips with a thickness of 0.4 inches (1 cm).   You will need 15 strips, but you will have more than that, which is good, in case you get in trouble.

Place 3 strips laying horizontally on the center of the bread, as shown in the composite picture. Place 6 strips laying on top, forming a C shape facing one side of the bread. Use other 6 strips to form a bundle held in the center by the C-shaped group of strips you just placed. Braid according to the video. Start all over if necessary. Who am I kidding? It will be necessary. Several times. Keep calm (HA!), and braid on. Once the braiding is done…

stop sobbing, regain your composure…

and brush the surface of the bread with olive oil. Cover with plastic film and let it proof at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours.  It will almost double in size.  Meanwhile set the oven to 350 F.

When ready to bake, brush the surface with egg yolk whisked with milk and salt. Make sure to cover all the parts of the bread.  Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until internal temperature is about 195 F.

Cool yourself completely and also the bread before slicing (slicing applies to the bread only).

Pat yourself on the back. You’ve done it!

ENJOY!

to print the recipe (without jokes), click here

Comments: Having recently made panettone, I can tell you that the dough for shibari bread has some similarities: inclusion of egg, milk and honey, and the butter being added at the end, after the dough is almost fully developed. The main bread takes quite a bit of cocoa powder, which gives it almost the feeling of a German rye bread. Quite interesting, when you consider that the formula involves exclusively white flour.

The braiding. Not. For. Sissies. Keep in mind, there were no written instructions or diagrams. Just a video. The woman knows what she’s doing, and she moves fast. One piece of advice, keep track of the time it takes you to braid, and take that as part of the  proofing. It took us 45 minutes to wrap this baby up in strands. Don’t judge us. Thank you.

I don’t know how many times I watched the video (it is mesmerizing), made drawings trying to number the strands and figure out which one is moved when and how. At some point I thought I “got” it, and said to myself, this will be totally doable. Famous. Last. Words. When I had the actual strands of dough and the shaped bread in front of me, things got very nasty very quickly.  Luckily, I made it on a holiday in which we were home, snowed-in. Hubby to the rescue. He had the video going, stopping at every step and guiding me. Still we had to start over four times, if you can believe it. All that as the shaped bread was rising right in front of my scared eyes. Strangely enough, we managed to do it, and what is even more amazing, we are still married. I recall the phrase “You are just impossible!” being used more than once. I tell you, if your marriage can take the The Elusive Shibari Test, you are tied for eternity. I am counting on it.

I think this basic method has a ton of potential. The double-color dough is very elegant, but one could just use a single dough and make the same braid on top. Or switch things around and make the braid with the cocoa-tinted dough, and keep the main loaf underneath as a white bread.  I also envision a savory type of bread, with sun-dried tomatoes and basil, for instance. The thing to keep in mind is that the bread must have a gentle rise in the oven, and the dough used for the braid must have a similar formula so that both components rise at compatible speeds. That all points in the direction of enriched breads, since they tend to have a more gentle oven rise. But I am speaking from intuition and could be totally mistaken. Worth a few experiments, I think…

To make the dough strands I used my set of rolling cutters closed down to the tightest level. In that configuration they generate strands with almost exactly 1cm wide, and they end up quite uniform. In the video, the Bread Goddess does all the cutting free-hand, but if I tried to do that, I am not sure our marriage would survive. It would be a 50:50 thing, maybe. Perhaps 25:75. Hard to tell.

So there you have, the mandatory crumb shot. It is a moist and delicate crumb, but with a very assertive flavor coming from the cocoa powder. It pairs well with jams, but also with a nice slice of ham or a Roquefort type cheese.  I hope you enjoyed the post, and please take a look at that video. The real “fun” part starts at 3 minutes and 50 seconds, in case you are interested in the braiding process.  I had that song as an ear worm for a while…  Maybe I still do!  🙂

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