Saturday, 8 February 2014

Paul's eight-strand plaited loaf

I was watching my hands the other day while I was writing a blog post. I have no idea when or how it happened, but my hands look old. The skin is definitely starting to lose some of it's elasticity and it's no longer smooth like it used to be. This despite the fact that I have always treated my hands really good, I hardly ever go to sleep without giving them a good rubbing with hand cream. And I always keep hand cream in my drawer in the office as well, so I can add a bit during the day if my hands feel dry. Still all these little lines are starting to form. Then I had a look in the mirror, and I could see all these lines around my eyes as well. I still keep thinking of myself as being young, but the fact is I am starting to show my age. I have not been a twenty-something for quite a while. I'm all for people looking their age, but I would just like someone to explain to me when all of this happened? I look around on Facebook, and my friend's children are going to school now (in Finland, children go to school at 7 years old, so much later than here in the UK). How is it possible my friend's kids are growing up at the speed of light when I don't feel any older. Well, at least now I have to face the fact that although I don't feel older, I certainly look it. It just feels so strange. But I guess I have not only changed on the outside, I have changed inside my head as well. I would never want to be in my 20s again. My life has certainly got much better as I have gotten older. I feel much happier and calmer. I am lucky to have surrounded myself with wonderful friends, although many of them I don't get to see nearly as often as I would like to, but they are still there. I am learning to enjoy the things that really matter, and ignore the things that don't.

After this long and completely pointless rant, I will elegantly link the previous paragraph to this one by saying that one of the things I really enjoy is a good loaf of fresh bread. I was watching the Great British Bakeoff Sports Relief the other week and immediately afterwards got inspired to dig out my Great British Bakeoff cookbook. For a long time, I have wanted to try out Paul's eight stranded braided loaf and the other day I thought I should just go ahead and try. 

Plaited loaf:
500 g strong bread flour (I only had all purpose so I added 2 tsp wheat gluten)
14 g (2x7g sachets) dried instant yeast
7 g salt
20 ml olive oil
340 ml water
1 beaten egg with a pinch of salt added, for glazing

The howto:
Weigh the flour into a bowl. Tip in the yeast and the salt but make sure they don't touch. Add the oil and mix. Then add three quarters of the water and mix. Work in the rest of the water. When the dough is coming together tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Place back into an oiled bowl and let rise until doubled in size, about one hour. 

Knock back the dough (knead it a few times to remove the air). Divide into 8 equal parts (use a scale to make it easier and more exact). Roll out to strands about 40 cm (16 in) in length. Attach one end of the strands to the work surface. Number the strands from left to right 1-8. Every time you move any strand, you need to renumber all the strands, so that the one most to the left is always number 1, the next one is number 2 and so on. 

Plait as follows:
1) 8 under 7, then over 1
2) 8 over 5
3) 2 under 3, then over 8
4) 1 over 4
5) 7 under 6, then over 1

Repeat from step 2 until you get to the end of the strands and tuck the ends under the end of the loaf. I couldn't find a youtube of Paul doing the plaiting, but here is another video of how to do it if you are struggling with the instructions.

Leave the loaf to rise at room temperature on a baking sheet for about an hour. Towards the end of the hour, pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C. Brush the risen loaf with the glaze, and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a hollow sound is heard when you tap the underside of the bread. Cool on a wire rack.

The verdict:
I was surprised that the plaiting was much easier than I thought it would be. It's just a few simple steps which are repeated over and over. The thing that was much harder though was to keep the loaf a constant thickness throughout as my strands would get thinner and thinner towards the end of the strands as they got stretched from all the action. So that is definitely something to work on next time. Other than that, it's a rather simple bread dough, just give it a good kneading and it should be fine. I think I should have kneaded mine a bit longer as the top of the braid was splitting a bit when baking.

The bread itself is a basic white loaf, tasty but the real wow factor is more in the shaping of the bread. I love the sheen it gets from the egg glazing. I ate the bread for breakfast simply toasted with a bit of butter, and we made some pulled pork sandwiches with it as well.

If you want to see how your loaf measured up with the Bakeoff loaves, have a look over here to see the British Bakeoff bakers get judged on their plaited loaves. 

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