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I've been making challah regularly for years and would like to find a way to make the ropes longer before braiding so the end result can be a longer loaf, but they always shrink up. I've read that letting the dough rest will accomplish this but I have not had luck with that. My challah is always delicious and I'm happy with my recipe. I just want to have more flexibility in forming the loaves.

My method: I use a bread machine "dough only" cycle. I use either all AP unbleached flour, or half AP flour - half whole wheat flour.(I adjust the amount of water accordingly to make sure the dough isn't too dry.)

To make a rope, I either roll it on a floured board, or I hold it in the air and roll between my two hands.

How can I get the ropes to not spring back?

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    The only solution I've ever had for this problem is rolling the ropes longer than I want, braiding, and letting it relax back. Unfortunately, this is highly unpredictable and leads to loaves of uncertain length! – Erica Oct 1 '17 at 0:24
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Patience, my friend!

If your dough springs back, you are in fact doing everything right. A good dough will be elastic, that means you can stretch the ropes to a certain point and beyond that, it will return to the original length - and after that, start tearing. If you leave the dough alone for a few minutes, the gluten strands in the dough will relax a bit, allowing you to stretch the ropes longer. Rinse and repeat...

Now I can see why working in intervals over, say, twenty minutes is not what you want. We want to get things done and probably have other stuff to do, right? But there are a few things that help:

  • Don't start with balls of dough, but with longish rolls. Take your dough portion for a strand, flatten slightly and roll it up lengthwise. If the dough is still flexible, hold your (left) thumb parallel to the long axis and (with the right hand) pull the dough over it section by section and seal the edge by pushing down. This will give you an even narrower strip to start with. (I posted some pictures in another answer, but work lengthwise, not crosswise as in that answer)
  • Alternate working on the individual strands. Always roll one only until you get just to the border where it starts to spring back, then take the next. By the time you are through your three / five / ... strands, the first will have relaxed enough to allow more stretching. Bonus: it's a lot easier to get all strands to the same length.
  • I like your suggestions. I do start by making a big log and then cut that into three, so the portions are already somewhat elongated. Thank you. – Arlo Oct 1 '17 at 17:29
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    It's both amazing and educational to see what 10 minutes of "resting" will do for dough that has been stretched to the limit. Depending how much dough you are working with, you may need to just step away from it for a few minutes (if you get through the other pieces in 5 minutes, step away from the whole batch for another 5 before starting on the first piece again.) – Ecnerwal Oct 1 '17 at 18:58
  • @Ecnerwal absolutely. When I used to bake hefezopf for our kindergarten (for sale), we'd roll twelve to sixteen strands at a time. That was enough to get them to relax. – Stephie Oct 1 '17 at 20:09
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I am surprised to hear that you are rolling your ropes. All the traditional bakers I know don't roll them, they pull them. It is not a strong pulling motion like kansui noodles, it is more of a special "milking" motion which both twists and pulls at the same time. It is done repeatedly, starting with a ball and ends with a long uniform rope - you need practice for the "uniform" part though. It has the advantage of actually aligning the gluten sheets, letting them shear along each other.

If you try it that way, I'd say the most important thing is to not try to do it in one pull. With each stroke/twist motion, you only add a few centimeters before moving your fingers back to where you started and repeating. Resting is good before you start, but not necessary between the motions unless one part starts tearing through.

  • This is very interesting. I've never heard or read anything about this method for bread dough. I'll look for a video to see it in action! Thank you. – Arlo Oct 6 '17 at 20:39

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