When baking a challah, the braids are not staying together. They spread and split apart on top (see below).Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
You have to braid them fairly loosely or they've nowhere to rise and will split sideways and any other way they can. I've read that if you dust the strands with rice flour before braiding loosely this can help.
It's possble your loaves are underproofed. When they don't proof long enough you get a lot of oven spring, which can cause the loaf to split.
I make Challah almost every Friday and used to have this problem some in the beginning as well. No more. Generally, make sure the dough is not too wet. If it is too wet (soft) you tend to rip the gluten structure during the forming of the individual strands. You may not see it, but some damage is there, and during proofing and oven spring this gets exaggerated and you have problems.Also, do not overmix your dough, as the gluten may become very strong, again causing you to work too hard to make your strands, with the same effect. If you do end up in this situation, give the dough a longer bench rest to relax it, and, if necessary, work the strands to desired length in two steps with a 5-10 minute rest in between.Finally, you need no rice flour, but dusting each formed strand with a little flour helps keep the strands better separated, allows for more give when your braid is perhaps a little tight and uneven pressures develop during proofing. You want to braid tight without pulling or stretching. This will give you a nice finished braid without creating too many pressures.To help with the gluten becoming too strong (not enough extendability in the dough), use less bread flour and more AP flour instead. This also tends to help create more of that soft, tear away, texture. Another thing that I've started to do is to egg wash three times instead of two: once immediately after braiding, once about 5 minutes before baking, and once more just before. The latter combined with using convection setting on my oven (I use 360 convection) has done wonders to make sure that the space between the braids gets a nice brown looking, but soft, crust as well. I used to have these spaces look much lighter. Taste was great anyway, but this looks better. Experiment with 3, 4, 5, and 6 braid and see which one you like! --dolfSee my My Bread Adventures in pictures
That's great advice Dolf. It helps me quite a bit as well.
Thank you all for your thoughts, especially Dolf for the thorough and detailed post. When I prepare the dough next, I am going to make the dough less wet, i.e., stiffer. Hopefully, that will affect what has been happening in the oven.