This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the technical challenge for week two (bread week) of series three: an eight-strand plaited loaf.
Any ordinary cat has nine lives, but not every loaf of bread has eight strands, plaited together to form an impressive-looking bread centrepiece. This was a series three technical challenge for the Great British Bake-Off, and while some of the bakers certianly struggled with it, I thought it was a rare example of a task that looks quite challenging but actually came together fairly easily (which is not the same thing as saying ‘perfectly’).
I don’t want to sound overly blasé about it, but the making of the bread dough for the plaited loaf posed no significant challenges. It’s a very simple, indeed basic, white loaf; made with instant yeast and white bread flour, it puffs up quickly and rapidly becomes springy and elastic to the touch. It’s easy to handle and – compared to the sourdough breads I often make – an easy pleasure to knead and prove.
The breads judged in the show rasped loudly when cut into (doubtless this owed quite a lot to sound effects), but in my oven the crust remained quite soft, with a slightly leathery, resilient chew. This is pretty typical unless I use the fan setting on the oven. The glorious bronze of the baked loaf – a similar shade to that achieved by 1970s sunbathers on the Cote d’Azur – is achieved by means of a simple egg wash.
Very minor adaptations (method) from Paul Hollywood’s recipe on BBC Food
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 7g sachet fast action / instant dried yeast
- 10g coarse sea salt
- 340ml water
- 1½ TBS olive oil
- extra flour for dusting
- 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. Stir the ingredients together until evenly mixed.
- Add a good splash of olive oil. Add three-quarters of the water to the flour mixture, and mix together by hand, then add the rest of the liquid.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Weigh the dough, divide the total by eight, and then divide the dough into eight equal pieces of that weight (electronic scales are really helpful for this – otherwise, you can eyeball it). Roll out each piece into a strand about 40cm long.
- 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 (see image, above)
- For the following braiding sequence, 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
- Place the plaited dough onto a floured baking tray, and leave to prove for another hour, until doubled again.
- Preheat the oven to 200C.
- Brush the loaf with the beaten egg wash and bake in the oven for 20-25mins.