"Braiding bread dough is fun and easy to do. If you can braid hair, you can braid bread. If you can't braid hair, then braiding bread is a great way to learn how to braid hair." Elizabeth Yetter - The Spruce Eats
This is a quickie inspired by a section in the Coles Magazine on braided breads. Why bother you might ask. Well just because really. I have no good reason.
However, because of that quote from The Spruce Eats, I did momentarily ponder on why people do braid hair, and when did they start doing it. So I checked, and obviously it's a bit of a can of cultural worms. Wikipedia, and other 'history' sites, maintain the first evidence is a stone figurine called the Venus of Willendorf, from some 25,000 years ago, although I did actually see a figure of 30,000BC, so I'm a bit confused. Very old anyway. There is also a similar one from France - the Venus of Brassenbouy. Both have hair that appears to be braided - although some believe that the French one anyway is a hat of some kind not hair. And you could sort of apply that to the other one too.
But then many Africans claim that around the same time, in Namibia they were braiding hair, and that there is a long tradition of braiding hair, which is not just a fashion thing.
"In many African tribes, braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe. Braid patterns and hairstyles were an indication of a person’s tribe, age, marital status, wealth, power, and religion." Alysa Pace
It was also a social thing, because it takes a long time to create some of those styles, and was also a way of dealing with the crinkly hair. Other indigenous cultures too have long histories of braiding hair, whether for fashionable or cultural reasons. Anyway it's obviously a hot topic - particularly for African Americans, and so that is where I am ending that particular line of enquiry.
So why did they start braiding bread? Well here is one somewhat gruesome explanation:
"Braided breads have been around for centuries. In some ancient societies if a married man died, it was the duty of his wife to follow him to the grave and be buried at his side. Later, the actual wife was replaced with a braid of her hair, which eventually became a loaf of braided bread." Helvetic Kitchen
Which sort of makes sense. Then there's Challah bread - the Jewish braided bread that is eaten at the Sabbath meal. Most seem to think that the tradition began in the Middle Ages in Europe and one possible explanation was that braiding the bread kept it fresher. Whether this is true or not there seems to be general agreement that braided bread started appearing in the Middle Ages. Challah bread is made from a yeast dough enriched with eggs and often has more than three braids woven together - the one on the right has six. And it is generally sprinkled with sesame seeds.
But perhaps people started braiding bread because it was fun, and it looked good. It's fun to eat as well as it is often torn apart rather than sliced. It sort of invites you to tear into it doesn't it?
Anyway these days it's a pretty trendy thing - that and scrolls which are similar but on a smaller scale. Sometimes the braided bread is just that - braids of whatever bread you are making shaped into one braid - like the Challah bread. Then there are the more complicated ones which spread each braid with something - either sweet or savoury - and the Coles Beetroot and feta bread shown at the top of the page and in its finished form below is one of those. Their Tomato and basil pesto twist is another such example. But you can also do other things with your braided loaf - you can put it into a tin so that it's sort of half high tin and half braid such as their Rum and raisin brioche loaf. Or you can shape it into a circle or wreath as they more commonly call it as in the Cheesy Bacon Ranch & Chicken Braided Bread Wreath from The Kitchen Whisperer or the Cinnamon Twist Loaf - which is not so much plaited as twisted (from Chatelaine). And when I think about it, a braid - well I think anyway - can be either a plait or twisted strands, whilst a plait is always plaited - one braid over the other, rather than just coiled together.
I will end this mini diversion about nothing really, with an Instagram sensation - well so I believe - Braided Nutella bread. This particular one is from Sweet Sour Savory but Google Nutella braided bread or Nutella Star Bread, as it is sometimes called and you will see some amazing creations - including the Nutella Braided Christmas Tree (Steve's Kitchen) - also shown below. Over the top? Well it's Nutella.
Some people really have nothing else to do with their lives.