The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Braiding bread dough. Where the heavy work lies

ibor's picture

Braiding bread dough. Where the heavy work lies

I have years of experience in bread making but what still stumps me is the heavy work of rolling out the ropes needed in braiding. While doing this I  lighten the effort by rotating the ropes to let the gluten relax, but it still takes me 50 minutes of exertion to form four 12 in ropes.

Do professionals have an easier way of doing this (without special machinery) or I just have to take my hat off to them? I do it any way.

amolitor's picture

Basically as soon as the dough starts to fight you and spring back from your efforts to elongate it, stop. Let that rope rest for 10 minutes. If you keep fighting it, the dough will just get stronger and will spring back more aggressively.

I might make as many as three passes? Three (or more) balls of dough to a "batard" shape, let it rest. Roll them out a bit more, now they're like a baguette maybe. Rest again. Maybe one more pass to elongate a bit more, maybe not. Anyways, let it rest again, and then braid. So it might take me 30 minutes of time, but I'm only working for 5-10 minutes of that time.

Remember that you can get a lot of length during the braiding process as well, you can tug each rope out a bit as you lay them over one another. It takes a bit of practice to get an even braid this way, but it can be done.

proth5's picture

50 minutes for 4 12 inch "ropes" is just way too much work.  You don't tell me what you are doing, but here are some thoughts:

  1. Your dough may start the process too dry and over mixed - when you are dividing it, it should not be fighting you.
  2. You want to pre shape effectively.  Flatten the dough into a rough square and then roll it up to form a "mini rope" - it will be easier to shape from there.
  3. Let the pre shape really relax - 20 minutes or more
  4. Is your work surface steady?  If you are using a bread board on a countertop - put a damp towel underneath so that it does not move - that way your effort goes into rolling dough, not moving your work surface
  5. Your work surface should have no (or very minimal) flour.  In dry climates a spray bottle will dampen the work surface enough to get good traction.  You should feel some traction between the dough and the bench (yeah, "some" - there's the trick)
  6. Take two hands overlapped and roll the "mini rope" into a dog bone shape.
  7. Then with force originating from your shoulders, separate your hands to roll the dough using a downward and outward pressure to elongate the dough.  This is not delicate baguette rolling - this is real pressure on the dough.  Your fingertips and the heel of your hand should maintain contact with the bench.  You should hear little schritching sounds of skin against bench when you roll.
  8. If the dough fights you, let it rest - but I can roll a 24 inch rope on two tries (max) and I'm no pro baker.

I'm sure folks will point you to videos that show how to do this shaping and those can be helpful, but this one area where I feel it is especially important to get the feel of how the dough should roll out.  It really does go rather quickly and easily once you get the hang of it.

Hope this helps.


ibor's picture

Thank you very sincerely for taking the time to compose such an extensive answer, trying to cover all angles of the problem. Yes, I do all what you describe in it.

About over-working the dough. One of my first thoughts about ways to alleviate the rope forming chore was to eventually form the ropes right after mixing the ingredients, without kneading the dough; but according to Dan Lepard, kneading’s basic objective is to distribute the ingredients more evely in the dough, so this option is out. Quality takes precedent over work. After all, if I don’t want the work just skip braiding. Once more my respects to professional bakers, who don’t have the option.

About pre-shaping. This is basic and I do it foremost to eliminate air-pockets from the dough.

My present thinking is to try a flour with 10 -12 % of gluten instead of the 14% one I am using now.

Much obliged

proth5's picture

made challah this weekend and was working with a beginning baker.

I was not advocating a lack of mixing/kneading - the dough needs to be properly developed - just not over developed.  My dough is mixed in a small spiral with an improved mix and then gets an overnight retard.  This dough is fully developed.

My challah formula uses  33 % of 14% protein flour and  67 % of 11.5% protein - so there may be an issue with the flour - but I think not entirely.

While you are not a beginner baker, what I found hardest to convey, was the "down and out" motion/pressure in the hands through the rolling process.  This slowed her down a great deal.  If you are really doing all the steps (including really let the pre shaped dough relax) described, this may be your issue.  The downward pressure while you elongate the dough is very hard to describe, but crucial to rolling the strands quickly and efficiently.

 As I expressed to my student - even if we are not pro bakers with a heavy schedule - even as home bakers, being able to get through the base tasks quickly allows us to get to the "fun" parts sooner.

So good luck with the lower protein flour...

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

I tried to make a 10 inch pizza dough and I could not get the dough to stretch beyond 4 inches.  It just kept coming back to 4 inches.  Was I having the same issue of not allowing enough time to relax and maybe over kneading?

ibor's picture


But you are offering the solution yourself:  "Was I having the same issue of not allowing enough time to relax and maybe over kneading"