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Homemade Braided Bread

You wanna impress somebody?  Make them some braided bread!  Trust me.  It’s a no-fail way to get a little applause when you walk in the room.  Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but still…it’ll impress.  And the best part about it?  It’s actually WAY easier to make than it looks.  Again…trust me.  Now, if you scroll through the recipe just to see how long it is, you’ll feel like it’s gonna be too much.  But it really isn’t.  It’s lengthy because I just wanted to give some tips here and there throughout, and also I wanted to be as clear as I could on each of the steps involved.  I only did it this way because the idea of making bread can be daunting to a beginner, and for good reason.  But let me calm some nerves here:  This recipe can be completed, start-to-finish in about 2 hours.  It’s not going to take you all day long, or keep you bound to the kitchen for hours on end.  So, go ahead and give this recipe a try.  I really think you’ll be pleased…and the first person you’re going to impress is yourself!

 

INGREDIENTS:

4 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (or 2 packages)
¼ cup water
¼ cup butter
½ cup sugar
2 heaping teaspoons salt, plus more for crust
2 eggs, plus 1 egg for washing
1 cup milk
About 5 cups flour

UTENSILS:

Mixing bowl
Kitchen towel
Rubber-tipped spatula
Cookie Sheet, greased

DIRECTIONS:

1. In mixing bowl, mix yeast and sugar until well combined.
2. Over low heat, scald milk. Just before it comes to a boil, remove from heat.
3. To the milk, add water, butter and 2 heaping teaspoons of salt. Mix until butter is melted and mixed in well.
4. Feel the milk mixture. It should be warm, but if it is hot to the touch, allow it to cool to a lukewarm temperature. Once it has reached a lukewarm temperature (so as not to kill the yeast), pour the mixture into the mixing bowl that contains the yeast and sugar. Mix well to incorporate.
5. Allow yeast to proof for about 5-10 minutes. At the end of that time, you should see a brown froth has formed. This means your yeast has “proven” itself to be alive and active, able to be used to make bread. If the mixture has not formed a substantial brown froth, then your yeast is not good to use.
6. Add two eggs to the yeast mixture, and just enough flour to form a sticky dough that will hold together (about 3 or 4 cups).
7. Scrape the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Flouring your hands (not the dough), work additional flour into the dough until it gets just beyond the point of being sticky. Be careful not to add too much flour. You want your dough to be as soft and elastic as possible, without being sticky. The more flour you add, the more firm and tough your dough will become.
8. Once your dough is ready, form it into a ball and return it to the mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow the dough to rise for about 30 minutes, up to an hour.
9. After the first rise, pull the dough out of the bowl and onto a freshly floured surface. Knead the dough just enough to add enough flour to keep it from being sticky. Remember to flour your hands, not the dough directly, so that you avoid over-flouring.
10. When the dough is ready, split it in half. Set one of the halves aside.
11. Gently form the first half of the dough into a log shape. Using a knife, divide the log into thirds as evenly as you can. It doesn’t have to be exact, but the more even the sections are, the better.
12. You may need to lightly flour the freshly cut edges of each section of dough if they are sticky.
13. Rubbing each section of dough between your hands, form them each into strands of dough about 12” long. These will be the strands of your bottom braid.
14. Place the 3 strands onto your greased cookie sheet. Pinch the top ends of the strands together and braid the dough. Pinch the bottom ends together at the end of the braid.
15. Repeat steps 11 through 14 for the second half of the dough that you had previously set aside, but instead of forming the braid on top of the cookie sheet, you will have to do it on the floured surface.
16. Once the second half is braided, gently pick it up by both ends and place it on top of the first braid.
17. If you want, you can pinch the top and bottom braids together at each end.
18. Cover the dough with the kitchen towel, and allow to rise for another 30 minutes or so.
19. Towards the end of the second rise, preheat your oven to 350°F (325°F if using a gas oven). While it is warming, use a basting brush and wash the dough with a beaten egg. Garnish with salt to taste.
20. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the outer crust is a deep brown.

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