There are many different ways to shape a loaf of bread. At the Whole Grain Store bakery we have several methods that we utilize: challah rolls, baguettes, modified batards, pan loaf rolls, single twists, just to name a few. In this post I will talk about three methods we use that are easily adaptable to the home bakery.
The dough roll is a good starting point for making a loaf of bread. It is most easily used when making a traditional pan loaf. To begin, take a piece of dough (ideally somewhere between 1 and 2 lbs.) and place it on your kneading surface. Gently press or punch the dough into a general rectangle-like shape until all the air bubbles have been removed. Next fold both of the longest sides inward and punch out the air bubbles in similar fashion. Now start on one end and roll the dough tight enough to form a solid loaf but not so much that the outer layer tears. Place in a loaf pan (greased or ungreased depending on the bread) and let the loaf proof in the pan until it has risen just above the top. It should rise slightly more in the oven (a trait referred to as ‘oven spring’) and produce a nice finished loaf.
In this method you start by rolling two separate pieces of dough and twisting them together to make a pan loaf like the dough roll one above except it will have a fancier look to it when it is all finished. Start by taking your piece of dough and cutting it into two equal pieces. Next roll each one into a cylindrical shape, just slightly longer than the pan it will eventually go in. You should roll enough to remove the air bubbles but not so much that the dough becomes worn out and/or torn. Then lightly twist the two together and place into the pan. It is not necessary to fold the dough under or try and form it into a loaf any more than simply placing it in the pan as shown in the picture. As the dough rises it will take on the shape of the pan by itself and will produce a nice finished pan loaf without any additional shaping.
Challah Braid-6 Strand
The Challah braid is an excellent way to make a fancy looking loaf without a ton of trouble. It can be tricky at first but once you master the method, it may quickly become one of your favorites.
Begin by cutting the desired loaf size into 6 separate pieces of equal size and weight. Roll each one out until it is long and thin and arrange them in a fashion that loosely resembles a six legged spider (even though none of those exist, to the best of my knowledge). Press down the middle (or body) of the spider so as to prepare a good anchor for what comes next. Below is a picture that might help give you an idea of what this looks like. Then cross your arms so that your right hand is underneath your left and grab each of the top two strands coming off of the body. Pull the right hand’s strand underneath the left hand’s strand and place the left one down so as to create what would be the spider’s new bottom leg on the right side. You should still be holding the other strand in your right hand. Now with your left hand do the exact opposite motion and pull the top leg on the right side underneath the one that your right hand is holding. This should leave you with a strand in your left hand and the one your right hand was holding should now be the lowest leg on the left side. Continue going back and forth until the loaf is fully braided and place on a pan. Let rise until almost double in size and either glaze with egg or just place in the oven as is. Bake until desired color is achieved (we bake ours for approx. 24 minutes).
This should sound pretty confusing but don’t get frustrated! This method takes some practice and it’s difficult to learn from words on a page. If you’d like to get serious about this method I would suggest searching some videos on youtube.com and ehow.com.
Here’s another six strand method to try out: