A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I attended a baking class taught by Peter Reinhart as part of Johnson and Wales Chef's Choice series, a series of Saturday morning recreational cooking classes. As part of that course, not only did we bake challah, but we brought home challahdough. Faced with a double portion of baked bread and unbaked dough, I used the unbaked dough to revisit the shaping lessons in Hamelman.
For the first braid, I improvised around the star loaf given in Hamelman. I made two changes. First, I used four and a half strands for each leg rather than six. That is, I cut three strands in half and created each leg with the half strand and two strands each from adjacent legs. Second, I used larger strands.
One suggestion I'd make for this loaf is to use small pieces of parchment for each of the formed legs. This makes it much easier to position the legs when combining the first three legs to make the intermediate legs.
For the most part, this loaf worked nicely. It was quite large—it came within an inch of the walls of my oven on either side, and I had to use two overlapping cookie sheets to bake it. Still, I think I had a better loaf this time than last. If I were doing it again, I would pay closer attention to the braid pattern at the top of the leg even if this is somewhat obscured by the rosette added in the middle of the loaf.
For the second loaf, I followed Hamelman closely. The major difference this time was that I extended the inner loops beyond the outer ring more in forming the loaf, joined them tightly, and then used a bench knife to get a good, clean edge. In retrospect, I should have used a bit more water joining them because I did get some separation at one point (upper left). Still, this is much better than last time.
These were fun loaves to revisit and much less formidable the second time around.