chocolate braided bread
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The braided bread is quite a challenge for me, the messy baker. I’m absolutely no good at tidy shaping. My challahs invariably have one end thicker than the other. Spacing of cookies suffers giant quadruples melded together. And I am a lousy cake decorator.
Let’s face it – I’m not very artistic. I can’t draw to save my life, any pottery-type activities result in shapeless lumps and even my dress sense is wanting at the best of times. As painting goes, I can put makeup on – just about.
The braided loaf can be made savoury, with various fillings and spreads; or sweet, brioche-like two colour plait. It is seriously impressive, especially before baking. The thing is it’s rather intricate to put together.
Making two doughs is a doddle. Even rolling them out into similar sheets is not that bad, provided the dough texture is not too runny. The fun starts when you have rolled them together: the slashing and braiding.
One roll was slashed deeper than the other. When I tried to even them out, I sliced it in two (very much like shortening table legs). Braiding would have been easy if the rolls wanted to shift; they didn’t and tried to come apart when moved. And of course, like with challahs, one end ended up enormous and the other skinny. Plus the loaf turned out far too long for the tin.
I won, in the end. It wasn’t an overwhelming victory, and not very honourable. It didn’t look like what I saw on Instagram (I swear those things are made from Play-Doh) but when baked, it cut into very lovely zebra swirly slices.
Of course, don’t expect any difference in taste – it’s all just for show. Although, as Charles Spence says, a lot of taste is in the eyes of the beholder.
- 150ml (2/3 cup) whole milk
- 100g (a stick) butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 50g (¼ cup) caster sugar
- 15g fresh or 1½ tsp instant yeast
- 160g (1½ cup) plain flour
- 150g (1 heaped cup) strong white bread flour
- ½ tsp fine salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 egg yolk
- For the plain dough:
- 20g (3 tbsp.) ground almonds
- For the chocolate dough:
- 20g (3 tbsp.) cocoa powder
- 1 tsp. plain flour
Heat up the milk and butter in a small pan or in a bowl in the microwave until the butter has melted. Let it cool down until just warm.
Stir in the sugar, the vanilla extract and add the yeast. Mix the flours with the salt in a large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer. Pour in the milk mixture, add the egg and the egg yolk and mix with the dough hook attachment or by hand, with a wooden spoon, until it comes together.
Now divide your starter dough between two bowls; about 350g for each portion. Add the ground almond to one and the cocoa and the flour to the other bowl. Mix each (it doesn’t matter which you do first) with an electric mixer for at least 10 minutes or until each dough becomes smooth, elastic and clears the sides of the bowl. Cover both bowls and leave them in a warm place to double in volume - it will take an hour. Butter a loaf tin.
Turn out each piece of dough onto a lightly floured surface. Stretch or roll them out to rectangles of 40 x 20 cm or thereabouts. Place the dark dough on top of the white one, it needn’t be very tidy. Roll them both up along the long edge into a long tight sausage.
Cut the roll in half and place the two pieces side by side, lengthwise. With a sharp knife, make a lengthwise slash into half the thickness of each roll. Braid the two, starting in the middle, by putting end of one over the other, alternating.
Gently scoop the braid underneath and place it in the tin. Cover it with cling film and leave in a warm place for 1 hour or until it rises to the top of the tin.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Bake the loaf for 35-40 minutes; leave it in the switched off oven for half an hour. Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.