“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”? - James Beard
The most exciting part of bread making process is the innumerable shapes that you can play with. Some of these shapes might intimidate you sometimes but believe me, it's not as hard to achieve as it looks. Once you get a hang of it, you'll thoroughly enjoy the shaping process and will look forward to trying out new ones.
Among all the various shapes, braided loaves are my favorite. I've baked a three braided loaf before and it was time to take a leap and bake a four braided one. The only difference is that for a three braid, you start braiding from the middle, whereas for a four braid, you pinch one end of all the four braids together and then start braiding.
Since this is a plain basic bread, you can enjoy it toasted (or not) spread with butter, jam, nutella, cheese spread or anything else that you like. You can even use the slices for a bread salad, bread and butter pudding or whatever you can think of...the options are endless!
Next in line...a five braided bread :D
Makes a medium size loaf
Recipe Source: Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice
300 grams / 11 ounces / 2 plus 1/2 cups bread or strong white flour plus extra for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon regular salt
25 grams / 1 ounce / 1 plus 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon instant yeast
25 grams / 1 ounce / 1 plus 1/2 tablespoons oil / butter / margarine / shortening at room temperature
100 grams / 3.5fl ounces / 3/4 cup semi skimmed milk at room temperature
100 grams / 3.5fl ounces / 3/4 cup water at room temperature
In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the flour, sugar and salt. Add the yeast and mix. Pour in the water, oil (or whatever you are using) and the milk and mix with a large metal spoon (or on low speed of the electric mixer with the paddle attachment) until all the flour is absorbed and the dough forms a ball. If the dough seems very stiff and dry, trickle in more water until the dough is soft and slightly sticky.
Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter and knead (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) adding more flour if necessary to create a dough that is soft, smooth and elastic. It should pass the windowpane test. Form into a ball shape.
Lightly butter a large bowl and rotate the dough in the bowl so as to coat the dough with fat. Cover the bowl with a cling film and let it rest at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size.
Remove the cling film and knock down the bread. Sprinkle a little flour on the counter. Remove the dough from the bowl and tip it on the counter. Knead the dough for a minute or two to remove all the gas bubbles.
Divide the dough into four pieces that are equal in size and weight. With the palms of your hands, form the first piece into a rough ball. Pat the dough on the counter to form a rectangle. Now fold one-third of the dough till the center of the dough(like you fold a letter) and press the edges of the folded part against the dough to seal the fold. Now fold again and seal the edges with your thumb or the edge of your hand. It should now look like a cylinder.
Remember to sprinkle flour on the counter throughout the process if the dough is too sticky to handle. Repeat with the other three pieces of the dough. Spray some oil on all the pieces, cover with a cling wrap and leave it for 20 minutes.
Now hold both the ends of one piece of the dough with both your hands. Stretch the dough a little at a time till it is around 8-9 inches long (if the dough does not get stretched and keeps coming back to its original size, leave it for 5-10 mins more and then try again). Place it on the counter and press in the middle with the edge of your hand along the length of the dough.
Now fold one end of the dough to meet the other and seal the fold with your thumb or the edge of your hand.
Rock and roll the dough on the counter to stretch it starting from the middle and moving towards the end to form a long rope (how long you want the rope to be depends on your baking sheet. Leave about 4 to 5 inches of space on either side of the baking sheet for the dough to expand during proofing and baking). Repeat the process for the other three pieces of the dough.
Connect all the four strands at one end, with the tips facing you. From the left, number the strands as 1,2,3 and 4. Follow this pattern: 4 over 2, 1 over 3, and 2 over 3. Do remember that position numbers refer to the actual position of the strands on the counter (starting from your left) rather than to the strands themselves (thus the number of a given strand changes as you move through the braiding process).
Repeat the braiding until you run out of the dough, pinching the tips together when you get to the end.
Line your baking sheet with a parchment paper and place the shaped loaf on the sheet. Spray or brush it with oil and cover with a cling film.
Once the dough has doubled in size, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Remove the cling film and bake the bread for about 45 mins to 1 hour(you can brush the dough with egg wash or milk if you want to before you place it in the oven). The bread is done when it has browned on all sides and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom with your knuckles. Remove the bread from the baking sheet and place it on a wire rack to cool completely.
Storage Suggestions: This bread can be stored at room temperature in a ziplock bag for upto 3 days or frozen for up to a month.