Say what? What is a plaited loaf? Simply, plaited means to braid or weave. Typically plaited loaves are made of Challah bread. They are beautifully woven into a simple braid, or even up to eight strand braids. I haven't quite mastered that bit, as far as an eight strand braid, but I can do a mean three strand braid and with extra mental power can knock out Paul Hollywood’s plait… which I have included as a link instead of trying to explain.
So, who knows why, and I try not question inner cravings, but as warm as it has been kicking off the summer solstice I have been craving fresh baked bread. Yes, not the typical “…but it’s swimsuit season!” craving I would prefer ( I wish I could get a craving for dust and lemons this time of year) but a craving none the less so I am going for it.
I also had the desire to make a plaited loaf. Not just any loaf mind you, but a rich, tasty, duel flavor loaf; One of those flavors being chocolate!
I have a rich dough recipe that I like using on occasion, almost brioche style (without the eggs), but with the addition of crème fraîche. The crème fraîche really adds that rich European flavor that I love and also adds almost a malted flavor to the chocolate portion of this dough. If it is hard for you to find crème fraîche or you just are not crazy about the flavor, you may substitute whole sour cream. Not that 2% or fat-free nonsense, go full on sour cream…. and forget for a moment that it is swimsuit season.
1 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 packet of dry active yeast (.25 ounces/7 grams)
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces crème fraîche
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
Turbinado sugar for topping
- In a sauce pot gently heat the milk, sugar. and butter. Stir and heat until the butter has almost melted then set aside. The residual heat will continue melting the butter. Let the milk cool to “blood temp” or body temp.
- In a mixing bowl (for a stand mixer with dough hook attachment preferred. If not do so by hand) ) add the flour. On one side of the flour mound add your yeast... on the opposite side add the salt. Salt inhibits the yeast from doing its job, so keep them separated until it is time to start mixing. Attach your dough hook, and pour in the warm milk mixture. Turn on the mixer and let the dough hook start mixing and kneading.
- Add in the crème fraîche and continue the kneading. The dough will be soft and sticky but should pull away from the sides of the bowl after around 5 minutes of kneading. If not sprinkle in a bit of extra flour. Remember it is easier to add dry instead of adding wet when it comes to dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and begin to hand knead. Knead until the “stickiness” has turned into soft and satiny. Add a little flour when kneaded. Shape the dough into a football and cut down the center lengthwise creating two equal sized halves. Roll both halves into a smooth ball. Place one of the balls in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic film. Leave the other half out on the table.
- Sprinkle the surface with one tablespoon of cocoa powder, place the second dough ball on top, and begin to knead. Knead until all the cocoa is incorporated into the dough. Add the the second tablespoon of cocoa and repeat the process. It will feel dry, but I promise if you keep kneading until you have a solid piece of chocolate dough it will eventually smooth out. Knead this dough by hand for 5 minutes or until you have a no streaks and all the chocolate is incorporated. Place in a second oiled bowl, cover with plastic film and let both doughs rise and double in size. about 45 minutes.
- One by one, turn out each dough onto the table. Punch down the air bubbles and flatten the dough into a rectangle. Flip the butter half into you like a baguette, and begin rolling the dough “snake style” into long equal sized pieces. About 20-25” long. Do both doughs this way. Lay one horizontal and the other on top creating an “X” shape.
- Now watch this video and see how Paul Hollywood does the plaiting: https://youtu.be/fCt07r01rCs . If you know how to do the common three strand braid and feel more comfortable doing that, by all means, please do so. Break the two doughs down to equal sized strands; either two chocolate and one plain, or Visa Versa.
- Once your loaf is plaited, place it on a baking sheet with oiled parchment paper. Add a loose covering on top and allow the loaf to rise 40 minutes. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Brush the top and sides of your loaf with an egg wash, making sure to get into the weaving. Sprinkle the top with turbinado sugar for crunch and extra sweetness. Bake the loaf 15-18 minutes or until cooked through and golden.
- Remove from the oven and let the loaf rest at least 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with softend butter or raspberry jam. Perfect for brunch, or an “I’m not leaving the house all day” treat.