The Russian Braid

The name “Russian” merely refers to pattern you give to the dough rather than the recipe itself. Take it from someone who knows what he’s talking about, this recipe is far from being even remotely related to Russia. I found it on an Italian food blog, Profumi e Colori (Scents and Colours), and I decided to keep the name the blogger used in the first instance. Little did I know that it would lend itself to some sort of play upon words too (sometimes a linguist really finds these things attractive).

Right, the recipe itself is not difficult, all you need to ensure is that you respect the three proving intervals, otherwise your braid will not be as soft as it should be. Creating the actual braid is not difficult and the link above takes you to the original page (in Italian), where Manu has made a step-by-step picture guide to help you to create the pattern. I will try and describe it below. Also, please make sure you use (strong) bread flour for this recipe and for any recipes which include yeast, because you need a flour with a high gluten content to allow the yeast to work its magic and make the dough rise.

I have slightly modified the original quantities only because I thought the original recipes was a little bit too buttery for my taste.   Also, the recipe does not ask for any filling in particular other than butter and sugar, but you can always use cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices you like. Jam is also an option, although it would have to be a very thin layer in order not to moisten the dough too much.

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Ingredients

  • 200ml whole milk, at room temperature
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 90g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 600g strong bread flour
  • 7g sachet dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 30g unsalted butter, softened (for the filling)
  • 1 tsp caster sugar (for the filling)

Method

  1. First, prepare your “dough” for the first proving. To do so, mix the milk with the dried yeast in a large bowl and start adding flour, tablespoon by tablespoon, slowly whisking that in with a balloon whisk, until the mixture thickens up nicely and reaches the consistency of custard. I used approximately 5 tablespoons. Once that is done, lightly dust the surface of the mixture with some extra flour and put aside to rest in a warm environment until big cracks appear on the flour layer and the mixture below starts bubbling up, more or less like a volcano. This is called “starter” or “leavened dough” and all it does, is that it creates a yeat-rich base for the dough to be built around.
  2. If for whatever reason the yeast doesn’t start working and no cracks appear on the surface, you can speed up the process by warming up a little bit of water in a big pan and suspending the bowl with the starter on top.
  3. Next, incorporate all of the other ingredients and knead the dough for at least 10 minutes, until very soft and pliable. Once that is done, shape into a ball and put it in a bowl, cover it tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for at least 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. This is the second proving.
  4. Now comes the fun part. Lightly dust your working surface with flour, then tip the risen dough onto it and, using a floured rolling pin, stretch the dough to a big rectangle. Try and keep the edges straight as much as possible as it will make it easier to roll it up later (I know it’s easier said than done!).
  5. In a bowl, mix the butter and the sugar served for the filling until creamy, then spread on the dough in an uniform layer. Next, roll the dough. Start from one of the shortest sides and tightly roll the dough up into a long cylinder – well, Swiss roll more like it.
  6. Trim the edges with a very sharp knife so they are straight. Cut approximately 3cm worth of roll from one of the edges and keep aside. This will be used to make one of the roses.
  7. Using a very sharp knife and making sure not to squash your roll, cut it vertically in the middle, leaving about 2cm at one of the ends. Separate the two strands you obtain.
  8. Now, grab one strand with each hand right where they meet to form the bit you haven’t cut through at the top, then turn that inside out. This will create one of the roses.
  9. Start braiding the two strands by alternating them on top of each other until you finish the dough.
  10. Transfer the braided dough into a greased and floured loaf tin, ensure it sits nicely inside and then join the two strands at the bottom with the rose you had cut from the dough previously. You should now have a rose at the top and one at the bottom.
  11. Cover with clingfilm or put it in a plastic bag and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This is the third proving.
  12. Pre-heat your oven to 180C, then put the loaf tin on a baking sheet, then slide into the oven and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, until puffed up and golden.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly, then unmould from the tin and serve while still warm.

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