It could be because Simon Cowell is no longer on X-factor, but Paul Hollywood seems to be becoming eminently more attractive with each passing series of The Great British Bake Off, regardless of how intimidating he tries to be. I also like to blame my fear of bread baking on his his pedantic critiques of the contestants noble bread baking efforts. Nevertheless this did nothing to hinder my immediate desire to attempt the technical challenge of this series’ bread episode – the 8 strand plaited loaf. This could have been because I’m a glutton for punishment and like to bite off more than I can chew, or because I was actually Rapunzel in a previous life.
I’ve been longing to attempt it for the last 2 weeks, but have been side tracked by a vast amount Super Mario Bros party food. So in the mean time I have had to placate myself with practising the plaiting technique using Baby Bear’s playdough. If you have also been seduced by the beautiful loaf and want to try it yourself, I would recommend doing this, because it gives you a much better feel for it than practising with string or ribbon.
The recipe I followed when I actually got around to attempting the loaf was the one found in the Great British Bake off book which accompanies Series 3, but at the moment it is also available on the BBC website.
500gstrong white bread flour
2 x 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
20ml olive oil
340ml luke warm water
extra flour for dusting
extra oil for greasing bowl
1 free-range egg, beaten lightly with a pinch of salt
Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl and add the salt on the other side. Salt should not be placed on top of the yeast, as it can kill it and make in in-active. Add the oil and then stir with a wooden spoon until evenly mixed.
Measure out 340ml water and add three-quarters to the flour mixture, and mix together by hand, then add the rest of the liquid. At this point my mixture resembled very sticky gloop, but I continued to mix the ingredients together by squeezing the gloop between my hands in the vain hope that all was not lost!
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead by hand until the dough looks silky and stretchy. This will take approximately 10 minutes. But my dough was still a big lump of sticky gloop! So I shook a little more of the strong white flour into the bowl and mixed again with my hands. It was still very sticky, but a little less so than before! I kneeded the dough by stretching it between my hands and squeezing it between my fingers for 5 minutes, buy which point it had moved closer to a dough like consistency than a gloop splodge. I used more olive oil spread over a board and rubbed over my hands to stop the dough sticking, and then kneeded for a further 5 minutes in the more traditional sense.
Oil a medium sized mixing bowl and place the dough into the bowl. Cover with cling film and set aside to rise, for about an hour, or until the dough doubles in size. This actually happened. I was so very surprised that I hadn’t managed to murder the bread before it even made it to the oven that I did a little dance. When risen, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead, to knock the dough back. Shape the dough into a ball.
Divide the dough into eight equal pieces then roll out each piece into a strand about 40cm long. I had to add a little more flour on the surface to be able to roll them, and found it was more a of a roll/stretch movement combined. Also, more was nowhere near 40cm, probably more 30cm but it was late and I couldn’t find the ruler to measure them. Lay the strands out on the lightly floured surface like an octopus, fanned out from a central point at the top. Stick all the ends at the central point to the table with your thumb. It needs a good firm thumb print, otherwise they tend to come apart mid plait. Not good.
Number the strands of dough from 1-8 from left to right. Every time you move any strand it will take the new number of its position in the row.
Step 1: place 8 under 7 and over 1
Step 2: place 8 over 5
Step 3: place 2 under 3 and over 8
Step 4: place 1 over 4
Step 5: place 7 under 6 and over 1
Repeats step 2-5, until all the dough is braided.
Tuck both ends of the loaf underneath to give a tidy finish. If your strands have a light coating of flour on them, it will stop them sticking to the wrong strands and produce a cleaner plait. I learn the hard way! Keep going until the very very end of your strands, as it produces a much neater finish to the end of the loaf.
Place the plaited dough onto a floured baking tray, and leave to prove at room temperature for another hour, until risen again. I was a little confused as to whether I should cover it in cling film again at this stage as the recipe said nothing, but in the end I just left it open on the side in the kitchen and it rose well.
During the last 15 minutes of the rising process, preheat the oven to 200C. Brush the loaf with the beaten egg wash and bake in the oven for 20-25mins. If baking this again, I would leave the salt from the egg wash because I found the loaf slightly too salty for my taste buds, but each to their own. The loaf is baked when it is golden in colour and produces a hollow knocking sound when tapped on the bottom. Leave to cool on a wired rack. I ate some straight away, who can resist warm bread?!
It turns out Big Bear won’t eat this. Why? Well apparently the plait means it’s girly bread. Now, if only I could work out how to plait cupcakes!
Mummy Bear x