You can give your favorite kneaded yeast bread or coffee cake an intriguing twist by shaping it into a braid. For picture perfect results, just follow these simple directions. Plan to make one braid from a recipe based on 3 ½ to 4 cups flour, and two braids from a recipe based on 5 to 6 cups of flour.
Preparing the dough:
1. Mix up the bread dough following recipe instructions.
2. Knead the dough and let it rise in a warm place till double.
3. Punch down.
4. For each braid, divide the dough into thirds and shape each portion into a ball.
5. Cover and let rise 10 minutes so dough will be easier to handle.
6. On a lightly floured surface roll each ball into an evenly thick rope about 16 inches long.
7. Line up the three ropes, 1 inch apart, on a greased baking sheet.
Braiding the bread:
1. Begin in the middle of the ropes and work toward the ends.
2. (Working from the middle is easier and helps avoid stretching the dough, which results in an uneven loaf.)
3. Braid the ropes loosely so the dough has room to expand without cracking or losing its shape.
4. Gently straighten the ropes on the baking sheet.
5. Pinch the ends of the ropes together and tuck the sealed portion under the braid so the ropes, won’t come apart during baking.
6. Cover the braid and let rise in a warm place till almost double.
7. For a crisp, shiny crust, brush the braid with a mixture of 1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon milk.
8. If desired, sprinkle with a little sugar, sesame seed, or poppy seed atop each braid.
9. Bake as directed in the recipe.