I love braids. I’ve had long hair since I was a kid. In fact, I don’t even remember cutting my hair short or sporting any hairstyle except mynatural length. The most I’ve done is trim it now and then. My hairstyle continues to be the same for the last two decades! How boring is that! I’ve sported a braid for as long as I remember. I do sometimes do a ponytail, but that’s as far as I’ve gone on the hair-styling front.
I think a lot of it had to do with my family. My mother has long hair and I’ve only always seen it braided up. All the aunts in my family have long hair, again all braided always. Growing up, my grandma always emphasised on our daily hair-care routine – oil the scalp and hair every morning and evening with coconut oil and braid it up.
Till I was 10 or 11 years old, I only washed my hair with a natural herb called shikakai. It doesn’t lather up like shampoo, nor does it smell like your typical synthetic hairwash does. In fact, it leaves some residue in your hair that you need to brush out once your hair dries. But it cleans well and is, well, natural. Those days though, I fought with amma to use shampoo and eventually succeeded. The result of that ‘success’ is now telling on the length and quality of my not-so-long hair. Still, I braid it up with glee.
Given my love of braiding, it wasn’t unusual that I took so to braiding bread as well. Although bread is braided in a lot many ways, the one braid I make almost always is the three-strand braid. The braided loaf and the Russian rose bread are the two most common ways I braid my bread. Both make for wonderful presentation and are fun to make too.
The Russian rose can be both savoury and sweet. I’m presenting both here today. For the sweet one, I’ve used a sweet cinnamon sugar filling and for the savoury, I’ve used a tangy mint and coriander chutney. Other savoury filling options could include tomato chutney/spread, sundried tomatoes, garlic and spring onion greens; sweet fillings could include almond butter, homemade jams, nutella or chopped chocolate.
The recipe given below is for the sweet cinnamon-sugar filling. If you’re making a savoury version, simply change the filling to one of your choice. You can also lightly spice your dough depending on the filling; I tend to add any combination of red chilli flakes or coarsely crushed pepper or chopped green chillies or chopped garlic or coriander leaves or dried herbs (oregano/basil/thyme/mint/kasuri methi ie. dried fenugreek leaves) to the dough when making savoury breads.
Russian Rose Braid
Adapted from My Diverse Kitchen
(Makes 1 medium-sized rose braid – 7-8 inches across or 2 small rose braids – each about 5 inches across)
For the dough:
Plain flour – 1 ½ cups
Whole wheat flour – 1 ½ cups
Ground flax seeds – 1 tbsp
Active dry yeast – 1 ¾ tsp (or use 1 ½ tsp instant yeast)
Sugar – 2 tsp
Salt – ¾ tsp
Oil – 2-3 tbsp
White vinegar – 2 tsp
Warm water – 1 cup (plus up to ¼ cup, if required)
(Also keep grease and set aside a springform pan or loose bottomed pan of 7 inches for a large rose braid or two 5 inch pans for smaller braids. If you don’t have either, line your regular pan with parchment paper
Butter – 50 gm (use almond/cashew paste thinned with 1-2 tsp of coconut oil for vegan version)
Granulated sugar – 1/3 cup (I used granulated brown sugar)
Powdered cinnamon – 2 tsp
Add the yeast to ½ cup of warm water. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes for the yeast to prove
Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl (along with instant yeast, if using)
Once the yeast turns all frothy, add it to the dry mix along with the remaining ½ cup of warm water. Mix the dough up. It should be soft and elastic, not sticky.
You can add up to ¼ cup of additional warm water if the dough seems too dry; but add only about a tablespoon at a time
Roll the dough into a ball, grease a large bowl (more than double the quantity of the dough), place the ball of dough in it and cover it. Let the dough rise till it nearly doubles (or almost fills the bowl)
Lightly sprinkle four on your work area and place the ball of dough on it. Roll it out into a thin large rectangle
Brush butter (or nut paste-oil combo) all over the rolled out dough leaving a border of a quarter of an inch all around. Mix cinnamon powder and sugar and sprinkle it uniformly over the buttered area
Roll the dough up tightly from the longer side (somewhat like a katti roll, only tighter) into a long cylinder. Using a sharp knife, cut through the dough so that it makes two long semi-cylinders that exposes the layers of the filling
Carefully adjust the halves so that the layers face upwards. Twist the two halves to make a single twisted rope
Keep your baking pan ready. Start coiling the twisted rope starting with its thinner end in the centre of the base of your springform pan. Once coiled, tuck the other end of the rope neatly underneath the braid. Place the springform around the base. If using a loose-bottomed pan, gently place the base into the greased pan
Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise once again till swollen and puffy (around 30 minutes). Take care not to proof it for too long, else the dough will start cracking while it proves, ruining the beautiful shaping
Bake the bread in a preheated oven at 200 deg C for 10 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 175 deg C and bake it for another 15-30 minutes, depending on the size of your bread. Remove the bread from pan and cool on wire rack before serving