I am SO in love with this!
Why? Let me count the ways...
1) It's delicious
2) It's truly beautiful, like a work of art
3) It's delicious
4) It fills the house with wonderful aromas
5) Have I told you it's deeelicious?
Now, I know what you're thinking: "I can't possibly make that!" I beg to differ! I thought that too when I first looked at a picture of it online (see? that's where the 'work of art' comes in). Sure, it takes a little extra time and effort, but hopefully you'll see that this tutorial will give you everything you need to make this work.
If you're still not convinced, I'll tell you a little secret: this tutorial is the FIRST time I've ever made this bread! Yup...this is it. Now there are no excuses! Let's get to it!
Step 1: Let's Gather Our Ingredients and Equipment
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 (0.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon cardamom (I use more because I like more of a cardamom taste, about 1 tablespoon)
- 8 - 9 cups flour
- KitchenAid mixer, bowl, paddle attachment and dough hook (or hand mixer, or large bowl/spoon if you don't have a KitchenAid)
- sheet pan(s)
Step 2: Prepare Your Ingredients
Heat your ingredients:
- On the stove, heat the milk in a small saucepan until small bubbles form (see pic 1)
- Remove from the heat and add the butter, sugar and salt; stir until the butter is melted (see pic 3)
- Let cool until it is lukewarm
While waiting for the milk mixture to cool, prepare the yeast:
- In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
- Let it sit for about 10 minutes until the mixture looks creamy
Step 3: Mix Your Ingredients
In the KitchenAid bowl and the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer, or a large bowl and a spoon):
- Add the milk mixture, and beat in the eggs, 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the cardamom, and the yeast mixture.
- NOTE: the mixture will look lumpy, or curdled (see pic 2). Don't panic! I promise it will be fine!
- If using the KitchenAid, remove the bowl from the mixer, and remove the paddle. Cover and let sit for 20 - 30 minutes, or until the mixture looks bubbly (see pic 3)
Step 4: Add Flour
And now for the rest of the flour! Does anyone remember Paul Harvey??
- Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough "cleans" the side of the bowl (see pic 2).
- Knead the dough by either putting it on speed 2 on the KitchenAid for two minutes or turn out onto a lightly floured bowl and knead by hand for six - eight minutes.
- NOTE: if you are not sure how to knead, check out this great video on Allrecipes.com: Kneading Tutorial
- Once you have kneaded the dough and it looks smooth and elastic, put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and turn it until all sides are oiled (see pic 3).
- NOTE: You can use almost any oil, but I would not suggest olive oil as that is a strongly flavored, savory oil, and this is a sweet bread. I used vegetable oil in my bowl.
- Cover the bowl and place it in a warm spot until doubled, about 1 hour (see pics 4 and 5)
Step 5: And Now for the Fun Part!
Punch that dough!
Come on! You know you want to! Maybe you want to save this recipe for when you've had a really bad week? Go on! Punch it!
Wait...that's enough! STOP! Whew...okay, now let's get serious
- Once you've deflated the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
- Cut the dough into three equal sections (this dough makes 3 yummy loaves!). Cut each of the three sections into TWO equal pieces. Yes, I know we are going to braid this, and normally braiding means three, but we're going to do this with two. TRUST ME!
Step 6: Let's Braid!
Now hold on a minute! Don't stop now! I know this looks overwhelming (and if you look at the pictures, it looks more like a bunch of octopi than bread), but it's easier than it looks. Don't give up on me yet. Take a deep breath.
- Let's work on one loaf at a time. Take each of the two sections and roll each into a long rope. Start in the middle of the dough and roll outwards with your hands, lengthening the rope until you get a long snake. My ropes are about 26" each.
- Starting with pic 3, we'll do this one step at a time. Start with a criss-cross.
- Fold the top right rope over the bottom right rope
- Fold the bottom left rope over the bottom right rope
- Fold the top left rope UNDER the bottom left rope
See? That's not that bad, right? It will definitely take some practice, but I know you can do this!
- When you get to the end of your rope (no pun intended.....well, maybe....), pinch the ends together.
Now, first, if you didn't get it exactly right this time, remember you have two more loaves you can practice on. You can also take this one apart and redo it. Trust me, when I first did this, I took mine apart several times until I got it just right. It's really quite a forgiving dough.
In the end, if this doesn't work for you, you can always go back to the previous step and cut each section into THREE pieces instead of two so that you can do a normal braid instead. You'll just have to pinch the three pieces together at the top before you braid to make sure they don't come undone. BUT: don't sell yourself short. Just repeat after me: "I think I can, I think I can."
Step 7: Let's Bake It!
And now for the grand finale!
- Transfer that beautiful dough onto a lightly greased sheet pan (I used spray grease).
- NOTE: tuck under the pinched end (or ends, if you used the three-section braided method)
- Cover and let it rest in a warm place for about 40 minutes or until it's almost doubled.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Before placing in the oven, make an egg wash (I use one egg white and just a touch of water) and lightly brush it on top of the dough. Sprinkle some large-crystal sugar on top of the egg wash.
- NOTE: this is an optional step, but I think the larger sugar crystals on top make it look prettier. You can also opt to add a glaze on top after baking if you prefer, or go nude!
- Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
- Let cool completely on a wire rack.
TA DA! You did it! I realize this bread takes a bit of extra effort and time, but hopefully you will see that it's totally worth it! Let me know how it works for you!