A braided loaf of bread looks really impressive. But it takes less time to execute, than shaped rolls, and only requires rudimentary braiding skill (can you braid hair? then you can braid dough). Because it is easier and faster than shaping rolls, I like to use a loaf of braided bread when I am tasked with bringing rolls to an event or dinner.
I have 2 methods of braiding bread dough. One method uses a refrigerated roll dough. And the other, this double-braid method, uses any yeasted bread dough. You can even buy frozen bread dough for this method of braiding. In any case, it makes the finished bread "fancy" enough for gifting, or for serving at holiday meals.
This is the loaf I made a week ago, using a fruit and nut, yeast bread dough. But you can use plain bread dough, whole wheat, rye or French bread dough for this sort of braid.
With bread dough that is ready for it's final rise, divide into thirds. Use 2/3 of the dough for the bottom braid, and 1/3 of the dough for the top braid. Set the 1/3 portion aside and begin working with the 2/3 portion.
Using your hands, roll the larger portion of dough into a long log (about 15 inches), and flatten slightly.
With a knife, cut the flat log into long thirds. Gently roll these strands, on a floured surface, to round out the cut edges.
Pinch the 3 ends together, gently, and begin braiding, as you would hair.
If your braid is loose at the "beginning" end, flip it upside down, undo that first pinching, and re-braid that end, only. Doing this, should tighten up your final result, into one uniform braid. Place this bottom braid on your buttered, baking sheet.
Now, work your 1/3 portion of dough, the same way as the 2/3 portion: rolling into a log (but this time, make your log about 18 inches long); flatten and cut into 3 strands; braid; check for looseness; pinch together any breaks. My braid, above, had two problems. It was too loose at the "beginning" end, and it had a break. I flipped it over and re-braided/tightened the "beginning" end, and I pinched the break back together.
Place the second braid on top of the first braid, allowing the ends of the top braid to fall over both ends of the bottom braid.
Use the palm of your hand to gently smash down the ends of the top braid, onto the baking sheet.
Tuck these flattened ends under the bottom braid. Doing this is what gives the finished loaf a neatly-braided look, after baking.
Allow to rise until nearly doubled in bulk, and bake.
My other method for braiding dough isn't really a braid, at all. I especially love this other method for a Christmas morning bread. I baked a filled loaf, yesterday afternoon. I'll write up a post for that one, for tomorrow morning.
I used a standard, refrigerator yeast roll dough, and filled with an almond filling. At other times, I have used nut/cinnamon/sugar filling, fruit/nut fillings, and cream cheese/herbs (for a savory filled bread).
This bread-braiding method comes from my Scandinavian heritage. I've always called it Crèche Bread, as it resembles the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloth, in the manger. However, when I went to verify that that is indeed what it is called, I couldn't find it anywhere, online. In any case, check back tomorrow, if you'd like to see a simple, but impressive method for filling and "braiding" bread dough.
Have a great day!