I dedicate this post to my Facebook friend Cheryl Hinson who inspires me with her beautiful bread creations she shares on the Cast Iron Facebook page. Every time she posts a photo of her amazing bread creations, I ask, “How did she do that?!” Recently, Cheryl posted a photo of her spiral braid that made complete sense to me so I set out to see if I could replicate her work of art and share what I learned.
You can use any bread recipe that calls for about 3 cups of flour. Here’s the recipe I used for Three Sisters.
- 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups flour (15 to 17 1/2 ounces) flour
- Poppy Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
In a large bowl, mix water, butter, two eggs, one egg yolk (save the egg white for later), sugar, salt and yeast. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, and mix until creamy, then add more until a stiff ball of dough forms. I love my Danish dough whisk. If you don’t have one, a large fork works well. Of course, an electric mixer with a dough hook works too!
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and begin kneading by hand, slowly adding more flour, a few teaspoons at a time, until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Place dough in a dough bucket or a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic. Let the dough rise in a warm place until it is doubled in size, about an hour to an hour and a half.
While the dough is rising, prepare a 12″ camp Dutch oven by cutting out a piece of parchment to cover the bottom of the oven.
When the dough has doubled in size, gently turn it out on a large working area. My counter top is about 40 inches across the diagonal, which is just barely large enough for this project.
Divide the dough into three pieces. Weigh each piece and redistribute the dough until they are equal in weight. My dough weighed just shy of 30 ounces, so each piece needed to weigh 9 3/4 ounces.
Gently roll each piece into a taut ball by cupping your hand over the dough and gently moving it in a circular motion. To make the three long strands of dough (the three sisters), gently press the ball with flat open hands and roll back and forth. The dough will be springy and will want to pull back into the ball shape, so keep constant even pressure on the dough. Work the strand from the middle, pulling gently outward, until it is at least 40 inches long and less than an inch in diameter. Set it aside and shape the other two sisters.
I rolled one sister in poppy seeds and the second one in sesame seeds. The seeds didn’t stick very well, but it was good enough to create a visual distinction between the sisters.
Braid the sisters together. Lift and move the right sister over the center sister, but not over the left sister. The right sister is now in the center. Lift and move the left sister over the center. The trick is to make sure the left and right sisters come in at a 90 degree angle to form a tight weave. The long strands make it feel awkward at first, but they are flexible and easy to manipulate. When you get to the end, tuck the last piece underneath and do the same to the top end.
Place the sisters on top of the parchment paper inside your 12″ camp Dutch oven and arrange into a spiral shape. Make sure the dough isn’t touching and has about a finger-width between itself and the sides of the oven.
Fire up a chimney of charcoal! To bake at 375 degrees, put 18 hot charcoals on top and 9 underneath and bake for about 30 minutes. To avoid a hot spot, after 15 minutes, turn the lid clockwise 45 degrees (from 12 to 3 on a clock) and then lift the entire oven and turn counter-clockwise 45 degrees (from 3 to 12 on a clock). Bake until bread is golden brown and the center of the bread registers 200 degrees.
This recipe works beautifully in a 12″ camp Dutch oven. I haven’t tested this in a 10″ but expect it would work by shortening the length of the three sisters from 40 inches to about 35 inches. For my non-Dutch friends, bake this on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or sprayed with oil.