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My first attempt at the plaited loaf

Dear Friends,

I’m back in the land of the living – here in beautiful Big Sur. I am so thankful to be able to sit here – working (!) and looking down the south coast. The sun is shining. There is a nip in the air. Some of you know that I’ve become a little, shall we say preoccupied with baking bread? I was so inspired by the wonderful bakers in The Great British Bake Off, that I bought the book from the current series. The book for this season was all about “Showstoppers.” I wanted to take the technical challenges. I started with Paul’s Plaited Loaf. For those of you outside the UK, a plait is a braid. Paul Hollywood’s plait has 8 strands. I’m not very spatially oriented, so unable to see the pattern, I just had to trust the process and follow the instructions carefully. I loved making this loaf, so much so that I made it again two days later. It as a fun contribution to take t a dinner with neighbours. Unable to contain my excitement that I had actually managed to do this, I posted photos of my loaf on Facebook. I threw out the suggestion to my fb friends that we made the day after Thanksgiving here in the US a day to bake bread and share it with friends. The day after Thanksgiving is a big shopping day in the US. There are sales and crushes of people fighting for that very special and very limited deal. Instead of going shopping I suggested we stay home and bake.

To my absolute delight this idea was welcomed by quite a few of my friends, and even more by some of your friends. How exciting! Thanksgiving is on Thursday November 22nd this year. Friday is a holiday for all but the retail industry. It isn’t a holiday in Europe, and so I would like to invite as many of you who would like to, to join across the continents and bake and break bread.

It would be great if you could email me photos of your bread baking and breaking experiences, and tell me any stories you’d like to share. I am posting a few bread recipes below to help you get started. I’ll add more over the next couple of days.

The idea is to bake. Bake whatever kind of bread you like. A friend asked if it is okay to use a bread machine. Of course it is. Use a machine, a mixer, do it by hand, basically just bake bread. Be as creative or as careful as you like.

The easiest loaf I know how to make is the No Knead Bread from the NYTimes. If you decide to do this you need to start it the night before you want to serve it. Delia Smith has a great recipe for a quick and easy wholemeal (whole-wheat) loaf. And of course, you might like to try the plaited (braided) loaf. If you would like to share other bread recipes with us, please respond to this post with a comment that includes the recipe.

For Delia’s recipe go to: http://www.deliaonline.com and type in the search box “Quick and easy Wholemeal Loaf.”

I would encourage all of you who love to bake to buy The Great British Bake Off. How to Turn Everyday Bakes into showstoppers. Linda Collister, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood  ISBN 978-1-849-90463-6

The photo in the book is far better, as I’m sure is the actual loaf than the one I made. You can have a look at my photo though to get a rough idea of how it looks.

Happy baking!

The Great British Bake Off

Judge’s Technical Challenge

Paul’s Plaited Loaf 

500g strong white bread flour

10g salt

2 x 7g sachets fast-action dried yeast

20ml olive oil

340ml water, at room temperature

1 beaten egg, mixed with a pinch of salt, to glaze

1 baking sheet dusted with flour

  1. Put the flour in a mixing bowl. Put the salt on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other, making sure they don’t touch as the salt can kill the yeast. Add the oil, then stir together with your hand or a spoon until everything is evenly mixed.
  2. Add three-quarters of the water and bring the mixture together with your hands. Work in the rest of the water. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it is silky and very stretchy. The dough should be slightly soft but not sticky, nor dry and tough.
  3. Tip the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise at room temperature for about 1 hour until doubled in size.
  4. Punch down (knock back) the risen dough to deflate, then turn it out onto a lightly floured worktop and shape into a ball. Divide into 8 equal pieces. Using your hands, roll each piece on the worktop until it is a thin, sausage-shaped strand about 40cm long.
  5. Lay the strands of dough out on the floured worktop like an octopus and tack all the gathered ends to the table with your thumb. As they are laid out in front of you, number them 1-8 and proceed to plait following the sequence below. Note that every time you move a strand, the order of the numbers will revert to the original 1-8 sequence.

Step 1: Place strand 8 under strand 7, then over strand 1.

Step 2: Strand 8 over strand 5.

Step 3: Strand 2 under strand 3, then over strand 8.

Step 4: Strand 1 over strand 4.

Step 5: Strand 7 under strand 6 then over strand 1.

Repeat from step 2 until all the strands are plaited, then tuck the ends under the loaf to neaten.

  1. Set the plaited loaf on the floured baking sheet and leave to rise at room temperature for about an hour until almost doubled in size. Towards the end of the rising time preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6.
  2. Brush the risen loaf with seasoned beaten egg to glaze, then bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the underside.
  3. Cool on a wire rack.

Recipe taken from: The Great British Bake Off. How to Turn Everyday Bakes into showstoppers. Linda Collister, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood  ISBN 978-1-849-90463-6

No Knead Bread: NYTimes  (Sorry, I can’t find my photo of this one.)

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.