Shaping braids: six strands without using six hands

Hey there, you. Yes, you. Give yourself a pat on the back because YOU make a dang good loaf of bread.

You’ve worked hard, perfected recipes and techniques, and now you’re a kitchen hero.

So, what’s next on your punch list?

How about some knock-their-socks-off presentation? How about a six-strand braid?

Ouch, that hurt. You laughed right in my face. You guffawed in my general direction. You chortled at my suggestion that you can easily make a six-strand braided bread.

Dude, that’s cold.

Well, my mama didn’t raise but one fool and it ain’t me. You CAN make a six-strand braided bread and I’m here to prove it. If you take the directions step by step and move one rope of dough at a time, you’ll have a braided loaf of beauty on the table in no time.

I took plenty of photos and labeled each one so that you can know what strand to move, where and when. Don’t be put off by the “little man” analogy. It’s not meant to be childish, but rather to give you a familiar set of references to keep you on track. Arms and legs are something we see everyday, and this technique has taught hundreds of people in our classrooms for years learn how to braid bread.

Divide your dough into six equal pieces. You can certainly weigh the pieces to make sure they’re all exactly the same, but for me eye-balling has always worked out fine. Here I’m using a nice challah dough.

To get the smoothest ropes, you need to do a little prep to each piece. Begin by flattening the piece of dough. Then take the upper edge and fold it over to the center. Seal this seam well by pressing with your fingertips.

Fold the now-top edge over the center to touch the counter. Seal this seam as well. You’ll now have a short rope with only one seam and a smooth surface all over.

The folding also builds structure into each rope, so that they’ll be well supported internally as they rise and bake.

Roll each strand as you would roll Play-doh or clay to form a rope. At some point the rope will start to shrink back.

At this time, just set that rope aside and roll another. The shrinking is the gluten strands letting you know they’re tightening up, and they need a chance to relax (literally) before you can roll them any more.

Take your time and work at rolling the strands until they’re about 14″ to 16″ long.

NOW, we’re ready to start braiding. I’ve switched the text from under the photos to right in the photos so you can see exactly what is taking place where.

Here’s the little man analogy I was talking about. Relax, and let’s go with it.

Keep in mind to always drape gently, don’t tug tightly or the braids won’t rise properly.

Looking at the man, what do you see? If you said 5 legs and one arm, you’re exactly right.

There, that’s it. Move a leg to make an arm.

Move an arm, make an arm. Move an arm, make an arm.

One of my favorite tricks for making neat ends on braids. Try it!

When the braid is complete, you can look back on it and see which parts were formed by the arms and legs. The top bumps were the arms, when they moved to the center. The side bumps are the legs, when they crossed over to the opposite side to become new arms.

Now you can raise and bake your loaf as usual. This beautiful challah went home with Andrea from the test kitchen to share with her family.

So, not sure you want to make loaf after loaf of bread to practice? Check out this great toy.  My husband David put it together for me a few years ago when I was learning braids. It’s six strands of nylon rope he purchased at the hardware store. He melted the ends to prevent fraying (yay blowtorches!) and bundled together at one end with a zip tie.

Now I can sit and braid while watching TV, listening to music or a book, and I don’t have to worry if I have to start over 10 times. The ropes aren’t going to break or rise too quickly and they won’t dry out, either.

Start off with the little man. Two arms, 4 legs.

Arm to the center, make a new arm. Opposite arm to the center, make a new arm. Check every now and then to see if you’ve stayed on track.

Even with rope, you’ll be so pleased at the lovely braid. It’s amazing how intricately the strands become woven in repetition.

Ah, it’s good to see that you’ve stopped laughing and really seem focused. I have every faith in you, and soon you’ll be braiding everything in sight.

Be sure to take lots of pictures and share with us. You can send them to me here (maryjane.robbins@kingarthurflour.com) or post them on our Facebook wall.

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. M Lepizzera

    I could not master the six strand braid when I made the pumpkin braid, so I just braided two three braids together. I will try to do this again, but I will practice with cord first. The directions were good, but the bread was rising too fast and I didn’t want to spoil the whole recipe.

    Reply
  2. LIIZZIES kitchen & confectionary

    Thank its so beautiful.am used to making the four strands I guess with your demonstration now I will try the six atrands.thanx

    Reply
  3. Margie

    I have been making challah for about a year and a half. And I started by stacking 2 braids on top of one another. But more often than not, the top braid would begin to topple over while it was rising. So, while researching, I found your instructions. I started by tying 3 shoe laces together to make 6 strands and started practicing. This morning I braided my first 6 strand challah. I proofed my dough in the refridge overnight. So I didn’t need to worry about the dough rising too quickly while braiding it. It took about 10-15 minutes per loaf this time to braid them. But they came out so pretty!! Yay! Thank you for your instructions. It took practice and concentration but it was well worth it. Thank you again!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Margie, so happy your challah is standing straight and tall. We’re glad we could help – enjoy! PJH

  4. mikelib

    I made the test bungee cords and practiced until I had the braid down pat. Then when I braided the loaf I did it all from memory. Thanks you for the instruction and methodology, my 6 braided loaf of Challah came out just like the picture.

    Another splendid recipe to add to my Easter/Passover baking
    Wonderful! I hope you have a safe and wonderful holiday with your family and friends, filled with all kinds of good things to eat, including your breads! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  5. Aaron Frank

    This is fantastic! Can you make a poster? I’ve done this once or twice and put numbered Post-It notes on the ends to keep the strands straight.

    Lately I’ve been braiding my challah (3 or 4) the folding the ends under and putting it into a loaf pan. It’s still braided and has some of that look but it fits in the toaster easier.

    Thanks,
    What a cool idea about the poster. I know when I had the photos on my camera if you scrolled through them really fast, the loaf “braided” itself. :). ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  6. gaa

    Thank you MJ for such an informative post!! After reading it and printing it, I picked up some cotton clothes line rope at the market (couldn’t find the bungy things) and made up a practice man. After a couple of practices, I realized that the braid is really not that hard once you get into the groove. Your instructions were excellent. So this past weekend I gave it a try with real bread dough. I made a batch of chocolate bread dough and instead of making two rounds, I made six ropes. (I also loved your instructions for building structure in the ropes. These were the best ropes I ever did!) Following your instructions, I made a pretty darn good 6 strand braid. Such a beautiful loaf of bread! (And tasty too!) Thank you for so freely sharing your talents!
    I am so excited for you! I’m glad you bought the ropes and jumped in with both feet. I’d love to see pictures some day. 🙂 ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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