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Braiding Bread?
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Wed Jan 20, 2010 11:16 pm    Post subject: Braiding Bread? Reply with quote

In the brand spanking new Artisan Breads (part of the CIA's "At Home" series), instructions for braiding bread are given as pinching the ends of the strands together, then doing your over-unders.

Virtually every other set of instructions I've read directs to start in the middle, and braid in both directions.

I've never understood the purpose of starting in the middle. So, a couple of questions:

1. Does braiding from the middle serve any function, other than being traditional?
2. Do the instructions in Artisan Breads represent a change in direction in the baking fraternity?

A related question. The book includes directions for a six-strand braid. In the past, if I wanted something that big, I would do something like a four-strand base with a second three-strand braid on top of it. What do the bread-makers here think of a six-strand version?
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clotilde
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Joined: 24 Sep 2004
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Location: Paris, France

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2010 4:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've never braided bread myself, but I'm curious about such things so I've often watched instructional videos etc. and the way I understand it, starting from the middle is simply for the purpose of handling shorter strands of dough -- less cumbersome, I guess.
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georgia



Joined: 16 May 2006
Posts: 456
Location: california

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2010 8:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been making challah for years--the one bread I braid, and I always braid from the middle. I divide the bread into three strands, make an "X" first with two strands then lay the last one straight vertically through the center. Braid in both directions, tucking in the ends.

I think starting from the middle assures symmetry in the loaf. If you begin braiding at one end and just keep going, the strands can get long and more stretched by the end of the loaf, resulting in one end looking sort of scrawny and unloved Sad

I haven't seen the artisan breadbakers' new guidelines. I'm trying to picture how that works.

As for making a large, two layer challah...isn't something that usually done for holidays or special occasions, etc? I've never done one, but I'd think you would have to be careful in the baking so that the bread would bake through without the exterior's getting too dark due to the additional baking time.

By the way, my favorite challah recipe is from "The Cheese Board Collective Works", by the Cheese Board Collective. It's delicious, and it's never failed me.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2010 10:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Georgia, there's no significant increase in baking time with a double-decker, because the total mass remains the same.

What you do is make a regular recipe. Then divide it, with 2/3 in one lump and 1/3 in the other. The big lump is used to make the 4-strand base, and the small one to make the 3-strand top.

If the crust is getting too dark you do the same as always: tent it with some foil, so it slows down the darkening.

All in all, the double decker's make a very dramatic presentation. I wouldn't both on a day-to-day basis. But for a celebration it really is worthwhile.
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georgia



Joined: 16 May 2006
Posts: 456
Location: california

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

KYH, I see what you mean about mass, but I was thinking of a recipe that typically yields 2 loaves and using that total amount of dough for one large, double-decker challah. I would think the baking time would have to be increased by at least a bit.
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gingerpale



Joined: 23 Jan 2006
Posts: 1324

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lol .. I've braided only hair.
Georgia thank you for mentioning the "The Cheese Board Collective Works" I have this book and am still (100 years later) afraid to try.
Donna said her (WAY popular tried-and-true international) stollen is simpler than the "...Cheese Board..." stollen. So the challah suggestion is encouraging. I made a rum baba (baba au rhum!) this Christmas that was lovely, but I sort of want that same bread/cake texture without the rum--because I think you could soak it with other things..or no-thing? Would that be challah?
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georgia



Joined: 16 May 2006
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Location: california

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

gingerpale, absolutely try the Cheese Board book. It's wonderful. One of the reasons I love it is that it's so generous. Those recipes are exactly the baked goods they sell at the store. Who else gives away their recipes??

The challah can be made in your mixer (I'm assuming a KitchenAid...i.e., with a nice, strong motor and a dough hook). They give you a specific flour measurement, which I think always helps anyone who doesn't make a lot of bread or who is fearful of trying. The dough mixes beautifully in the mixer; then I usually give it a minute or two of hand kneading. The dough is springy and smooth and lovely...like a baby's bottom!

Over the holidays, I made this same bread as the small "turbans" they suggest and added golden raisins, chopped dried apricot, and dried cranberries. One recipe yielded three of those, and they were nice gifts for my neighbors plus Christmas breakfast for us.

By the way, I reduce the baking temp to 350. Just works better for me and my oven. (Come to think of it, I think I reduce the sugar slightly, too...1/3 cup instead of 1/2...this is from memory, so I hope I'm right. Personal preference.)

Try this bread and anything else that catches your fancy in this book. Everything I've made from it has turned out delicious. I can't promise that the challah will be the baba substitute you're searching for, but at least you'll have great challah when you're finished.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 1:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Georgia, you point is well taken. But consider this, if you use the entire recipe you're also making a loaf that is longer than usual (otherwise it would be imbalanced and fall over). So, again, there's not that much difference in the depth that the oven-heat has to penetrate. It's the total physical size that's impressive.

That said, it's been my experience that changing the physical size of a dough hardly ever effects baking time significantly. For instance, if instead of two loaves of challah you were to make individual braided buns the buns would likely bake only about five minutes less than the full loaf.

Or, a real life case. I often make the Pane Sicliano in Bread Baker's Apprentice. I've formed the double-S shape into three loaves, as Reinhart suggests, into one hommongous loaf, and into rolls. The baking time, in all three forms, is about the same.

If you play with sizes, and are concerned, I would recommend using a thermometer. Bread usually is ready at from 190-210F internal temperature.

And, of course, the thump test is always a fairly good guide.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 1:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lol .. I've braided only hair.

Ginger, you poor deprived child. Braiding (sometimes called "plaiting" in olden times) can be fun.

I've done my share of hair. Friend Wife used to wear hers considerably below her waist, until caring for it got to be a fulltime job. And, as an historic reenactor, I used to put my own long hair up in a "club."

Lou Wentzel, a colonial hero from what is now West Virginia, had a personal war with the Shawnee. Killed more than 100 of them in one-on-one combat. As a taunt he never cut his hair---when he let it down, according to his brother, it would drag on the ground. Now that was a braiding job!

In the maritime world, braids are referred to as sennets, and sennets are part of the arcane artform called "fancy knotwork." You may know it as macrame. There are 400 basic sennets, and unlimited ways of combining them.

I well remember making a new runner to cover the accomodation ladder on my ship. We used a 16-strand Russian sennet, made from 1/2 inch rope. The final pad would be 40 feet long, which, IIRC, required 180 feet for each strand.

Picture this: 16 seamen, each with a coiled rope in their hands. "Ok, #1, you go over the next two guys, then under the next one. #2, you....."

Like I say, it can be fun. And after something like that, braiding bread is a cakewalk. Laughing
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georgia



Joined: 16 May 2006
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Location: california

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 4:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

KYH, I think we're really on the same page. My definition of "a bit longer" and yours of "about the same time" are equal, I suspect. We're only speaking of minutes here. And, yes, I use both the thump test and the thermometer. I worked in a culinary program for a number of years and had the privilege of meeting Peter Rinehart (lovely, lovely man...great baker...) a couple of times (no...he'd never remember...) and benefitting from his expertise. It was the first time I'd ever seen anyone use a thermometer for bread, but it's been a most comforting back-up for me ever since.

Ultimately, for me, it comes down to color, aroma, "thumpiness", and oven idiosyncracies when determining doneness. All of this comes with experience, of course, but I always do everything I can to get new bakers to try bread baking. The rewards are so much greater than the effort.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 5:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ya know, Georgia, I used to think you were a bit of all right. But not anymore. How could I while eaten up with jealousy? How dare you have gotten close to Peter Reinhart, when I have yet to have that pleasure.

You're on my list now. Wink

I'm a big fan of Reinhart's work, and wish he'd have one of his workshops close enough for me to attend. In fact, I was asked, on another list, if I'd recommend the new CIA book over Reinhart. My response: With a good baking book, my recommendation is always that it be acquired in addition to, rather than instead of, anything by Reinhart. Let's face it, Bread Baker's Apprentice is a hard act to follow.

To be sure, the 12-steps of bread baking in BBA and Artisan Breads are slightly different. But the irony, of course, is that as addictive as bread making is, a 12-step program just makes sense. Wink

Anyway, I'm sure you're right; our differences have to do more with choice of words than what happens in the oven.

I think the hardest lesson newbies have to learn isn't about technique, or the magic of dough. It's that bread making is a totally sensory experience, and that the dough and bread talk to you through touch, and smell, and visual appearance, and aural transmission. Indeed, my only objection to bread machines is that you don't get to play with the dough.
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georgia



Joined: 16 May 2006
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Location: california

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 8:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I suspect my recollections would carry more weight if I'd bothered to check my spelling...Reinhart...I'm usually a real stickler, former English teacher that I am Embarassed

I do remember a few specific things about Peter Reinhart...he arrived in the very early hours of the a.m. in order to prepare several stages of bread mixing/rising, etc. samples for the class. Did it himself...many others asked to have all of that prep work done in advance of their arrival. He was most pleasant, modest, encyclopedically knowledgable. He brought sourdough starter to share with the participants...anyone who wished it carried home a little blob of starter. Just a thoroughly terrific experience.

My grandmother taught me to make bread and it was always a totally sensory experience. Had to be...we barely measured anything. I have numerous recipes with instructions to "add some flour", "add some more flour", "add flour until it looks right".

And I know EXACTLY what each of those instructions means!
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 3:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Was a time, Georgia, when virtually all recipes (or reciepts as they were then called) were written that way.

Many a colonial-era recipe, for instance, has instructions like: "add flour 'til enough."

The problem, in the modern world, is we now have 2 generations that have grown up using the words "cooking" and "microwaving" as synonyms. When people raised like that decide to get into real cooking and baking they lack a basic geshtalt; the sort of things we used to learn at our mothers' knees.

So, on one hand, I understand their need for precision in terms of ingredient amounts and directions (you ever wonder why modern recipes say things like, .......in a medium pan over medium-high heat......? Or why they spell out, "in a very little oil, over high heat,...." instead of just saying "saute?" That's why). But, on the other hand, I also see how such recipes act like straight jackets. Not knowing better, such people simply follow the recipe slavishly.

In my own classes I focus on technique. Recipes are secondary. The one thing I want my students to learn is that good cooking consists of good techniques applied to good ingredients. That's the whole secret. Well, that and Saint Julia's injunction to not be afraid!

When it comes to baking, I was kind of in the same boat. Mom was a great cook. But, like so many good cooks, she didn't bake. For us, the nostolgic aroma of fresh baked bread wafted up from a white paper bakery bag, not the oven. So, for the longest time, when I baked bread I slavishly followed the recipe (note the word "recipe." Who knew from formulas?). When it worked, I was ecstatic. When it didn't, I had no idea why, and figured it was something I'd done wrong.

About three years ago I decided to change that, and got into bread making on a serious level. Among other things, that meant discovering Peter Reinhart. Wow! For the first time I started understanding what was going on, and the magic that converts flour, salt, water and yeast into a loaf of bread.

At this rate, I figure another 20 years and I can call myself a baker.
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gingerpale



Joined: 23 Jan 2006
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 7:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Haha Georgia thank you for "assuming" a Kitchenaid mixer for me! I've been assuming one for years, I've mostly assumed that nice shiny copper/cinnamon colored one, but assuming is as far as it's gotten. I cook for only 2, a bakery-bought loaf of French goes stale before we finish it. Consumer Reports likes the Cuisinart now--the old Kitchenaids were great but now weaker I think.
Now Rainey has said more than once that mixing the dough in a breadmaker, but finishing in the oven, is fine. I do have a breadmaker (seemed like a good idea at the time) so I'll try that with the challah. But the recipe makes 3 loaves--I hope cutting it down to 1/3 will be OK? Will report. (Next week.)
Except for the no-knead, every loaf of bread I've made (hand kneading OR breadmaker) has been too dense. I want bread that stretches and then tears apart--not breaks into pieces!
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 9:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Now Rainey has said more than once that mixing the dough in a breadmaker, but finishing in the oven, is fine.

Ginger, I can't stress enough, whether cooking or baking, that any way that works for you is fine. If somebody objects, then they need to be taken out behind the barn for a little chat.

It's like the perennial argument about using a scale vs volume measurements. For various reasons, I prefer scaling. But if anyone tells you you can't make a great loaf of bread with volume measurements, that person is an idiot. You certainly can. Hundreds of home-bakers do so every day.

For me, the tactile sensations of bread making are an important part of the miracle. Doesn't mean it's crucial to anyone else. Just means it's what works for me.

Re: stand mixers. I also only cook for two. But I won't give up my KitchenAid Pro 6.

KA's have had a checkered on-again, off-again history, but the current ones seem to be part of an on phase---at least those on the higher end do. The problem people mostly have with them is choosing the wrong model for their needs. If you're a serious bread maker (that is, several loaves made often), for instance, and choose an Artisan, shame on you. But if you're mostly a cake and cookie baker, and do that in small batches, the Artisan serves your needs just fine. Only one I'd shy away from right now is the Classic. There are reasons---such as plastic gears and other parts---for its low price point.

Having been on the recieving end of both good and bad Consumer Reports studies, I have no faith in any of their conclusions. There are established test protocols for most manufactured products, and if you decide to make up your own tests than your conclusions are automatically suspect, IMO. The idea is to compare apples to apples with replicable proceedures.

That aside, although mechanically built well, in-the-field Cuisinart users report a major operating problem: the bowl-mount system is awkward to use under the best of conditions, and tends to lock the bowl to the stand, making it difficult to remove the bowl to empty it. If you watch Food Network and other cooking shows, you can often see that problem in action.

Me, until such time as I can justify owning a Hobart, I'll stick with the KA.
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