Shaping braids: six strands without using six hands

challah-6-strand

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. aiko30066

    What recipe did you use to yield enough dough to make this six-braid challah?
    Thanks.
    Hi there. I linked up to our Classic Challah recipe. The recipe will show a 4 stranded braid in the pics, but you can do a 6 strand with it as well. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  2. erinhibshman

    I know what I am doing this weekend! Thanks for the step by step directions. I have done the 3 strand many times, but it’s nice to change it up and s-t-r-e-t-c-h yourself every once and awhile. Have a great weekend!
    Have a great weekend yourself Erin! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  3. "Amanda@TheChallahBlog.com"

    Those are lovely! I tend to make my 6-stranded challahs with much shorter, squatter braids because I like them taller. But those are stunning! I have many pictures on my blog (www.thechallahblog.com). Definitely going to try your smooth-rope method!
    Thanks so much for sharing Amanda, can’t wait to get over there and check out your pics! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. AnneInWA

    I need to make bread today for sandwiches, but I was debating on whether or not to also do a brioche for french toast. You just settled it for me – challah it is. I love a good challah, warm with butter or warm with butter and fresh blackberry jam, baked praline french toast, panini, oh the list goes on and on…. I guess this means I will be making two challahs just to have enough for all of my plans! I will have one happy tummy this weekend (although the jeans won’t be to thrilled!). Thanks MJ, I always love your posts!
    Thanks Anne,
    I hear ya about the jeans. The zipper on my winter coat gave up the ghost, and I’m trying to convince myself it wasn’t from being stretched too tight. I mean, it was an 8 year old coat, right? Right!? :) ~ MaryJane

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  5. "Dawn DeMeo"

    That looks gorgeous! I’ve mastered the 4-stranded braid, but now you have me wanting to give this 6-stranded version a try. And I LOVE that challah recipe anyway! I think I’ll make some while my sap is boiling down this weekend, then I can make some amazing french toast with it all.
    That sounds awesome! I adore french toast and challah just takes it to the next level. Have a great weekend, may your sap flow like Niagara Falls. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  6. waikikirie

    How sweet is your DH to make that rope “toy” for you?? I think I will get my own DH to do the same for me so I can practice before diving in…xoxxo
    Tee hee, he has to make them for the doggies too, but not so many strands :). ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  7. Anne

    MJ, this is lovely, LOVELY! Making a six-braid loaf would be something new for me. But I am very encouraged by your detailed pictures and will give this a try very soon. Next on the shopping list, though, is the nylon rope. What a clever idea. Thanks so much for sharing all these with us. Next to hard crust loaves, Challah-type loaves are what we do most often. A good presentation matters; it always compliments good taste! Thanks again.
    You are most welcome Anne. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a new skill for life, and you’ll always be finding new ways to use braids. Enjoy! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  8. benita

    This example will make a great addition to my families Christmas baking projects. I often take things I see and read in this blog home and make them for Christmas. At Christmas time lots of my cousins get together to do baking and these blogs provide great examples and hints. I have made four stranded braids but have never done the six. Time for me to learn.
    How wonderful that we can be a part of your family time. Just think how dazzled the cousins will be when you show up with this in your bag o’ tricks. :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  9. OMyGanache

    This looks gorgeous. Looking forward to trying it. My way of learning must be different because I couldn’t grasp the technique until I broke it down this way. After making your arms, there are four steps:
    L arm to middle position
    R leg to L arm position
    R arm to middle position
    L leg to R arm
    Repeat
    Does this sound about right?
    That is exactly right. Start with one arm and move the opposite leg to the opposite arm. Glad the lefts and rights worked out for you. Happy braiding! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  10. Deb

    MaryJane, I love your writing. I like making bread too, but your writing makes it even better. Anytime you can call someone “dude” in print, it’s a good day.

    Happy cooking!
    Thanks Deb. Hanging around teenagers, I do hear “dude” a lot, so I guess I’ve picked it up. They say “derp” a lot too, but I haven’t quite figured that one out. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  11. Sheila C

    I don’t even like challah and I want to make this because it is so stunning. What a clear explanation of how to do the braiding – you’ve made it seem very simple!
    It’s like the Hokey Pokey. “you put an arm in, you move leg up, you put an arm in…” . Good thing you all couldn’t hear me singing! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  12. cpebbles71

    Up until now, I never would have entertained the idea of making such a beautiful braided bread. Your step by step photos and instructions are so encouraging that I think I might actually be able to tackle this wonderful Challah. Thank you for such clear instructions!
    Really, really, you can do this. Move an arm, move a leg. It really makes sense when you have a common reference. Keep in touch, let us know how it goes! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  13. jlgirl617

    Hooray! I love to make lemon challah (served with homemade chicken soup, yum!), but I always end up making the 3-strand braid because the 6-strand has never worked out for me, despite muli-colored diagrams and frustrating yarn endeavors (the nylon would be muuuuuch better for that!). Thank you!
    I hear you on the diagrams. I’ve never been able to follow string A over strand B or such. Arms and legs, that’s more my speed. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  14. Catherine

    I wish I could try this now! I’ve always been lazy and just braided up two three-stranded braids and then put one on top of the other– it looks surprisingly good!
    The stacked braids does make a very nice presentation too. I’ve seen Jeff, our master baker, do 3 stacks of 3 in a very long loaf. It reminded me of the Titanic in a way. Regal and majestic. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  15. Bridgid

    I have practiced this using playdough. If you use different colors it really shows how this works. Thank you so much! And, as always, I love you MJ, PJ & KAF!
    Bridgid, what an awesome idea! Did you know we have a recipe for homemade playdough, in case you run out? ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  16. daphnewoman

    Holy moly! I’ve been trying to do this for YEARS, following the directions in the BAking Sheet some time ago. Never did figure out the “arms” part. I think I see a nice loaf in Challah in my very near future! Thank you for the PICTURES!!!
    So glad to help. Sometimes you just need to see it to get the “ah-ha” moment. Have fun! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  17. andiep

    This is such a cool process and brilliantly explained and demonstrated. Back in the “dark ages” (1956) when I attended Dunwoody Baking School, this was called a “crown braid” and we had to make very long 6-strand braids of Danish pastry dough, form it into a ring and produce an even level of the “crown” around the ring. It took me numerous tries to produce one that gave me a passing grade and it was a chore. After I graduated, I worked in my mom’s bakery and I avoided, whenever possible, having to braid anything.
    It was not until several decades later, when I was baking for fun, and recreation that I again braided anything and with questionable success.
    Your demo has encouraged me to give it another try. Thanks so much.

    Reply
  18. Teresa

    We make three-strand bread braids to decorate our Easter Pascha bread (Russian/slavic tradition). For all these years (decades!) we have formed the ropes by rolling the bread between our hands (with the rope hanging in the air). When I saw this blog post, I shared it with my sister and cousin, and we followed your instructions to roll the dough to shape the ropes.

    Wow, what a difference. So much easier and the resulting ropes are more consistent for all the bakers (before it was only my sister Susan whose rope shapes were consistent). For the first time, it wasn’t obvious which braids Susan made and which ones the others of us made.

    We have always had one “good” pascha bread that we put on the Easter table, and two also-rans. This year all three of them look good.

    We had a hard time deciding which one to mark for Easter Sunday before freezing. We chose the largest rather than the best-looking because now they all look good.

    Thank you!!!
    How wonderful! I’m so glad that the rolling helped. I didn’t start any kind of sibling war, though, right? :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  19. nateanddi

    Finally got around to reading this post today. My next sourdough potato loaf is going to be a 6 instead of a 3 braid. The recipe I use is out of Sunset Baking and turns out rather like a challah. Can’t wait.
    Great! I think it will make a stunning loaf. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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

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