Sunday, 25 November 2012

Eight-strand Plaited Loaf

Or as I like to think of it, Octopus Bread! Yeah, so, this weekend we had no bread and I thought this was an excellent opportunity to try out a loaf that was one of the technical challenges in this year's Bake Off; Paul Hollywood's Eight-strand Plaited Loaf. And here it is:

Look at it there, all shiny and brown and glossy. Not quite as good looking as one of Paul's, but pretty damn sexy. This recipe makes a soft, chewy bread with a crisp crust. It's a fairly simple bread, made with the most basic of ingredients: yeast, salt, water and olive oil. But there's a reason why it was used as the technical challenge for bread week on the Bake Off. You're thinking: 'It's just a plait. Plaiting's easy, right?'

WRONG. Plaiting eight strands is very hard, especially when you are plaiting with eight strands of dough, which are prone to stick to each other, stretch thin in places (making for an uneven plait), remain stubbornly unstretchable in others and become tough once baked if overworked. I had to painstakingly undo my plait at one point and start again.

So, if you haven't been too put off by my dire warnings, here is the recipe, which I have purloined from BBC Food:

You will need:

500g strong white bread flour (with extra for dusting)
7g sachet fast action dried yeast
10g salt
340ml water
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 egg, beaten

1. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure than you put the salt and yeast in separately, or the salt will kill the yeast.

2. Add the olive oil and ¾ of the water, mixing with a spoon or spatula and adding the rest of the water as needed until the mixture forms a soft, sticky dough.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead with floured hands until silky, smooth and elastic. This should take about 10 minutes. I actually used my hands instead of my mixer this time. Wouldn't Paul be proud?

4. Oil a mixing bowl and put the dough in it. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour to double in size.

5. Put the dough back on the floured surface and knock it back by kneading. Then split into 8 equal parts. Roll out each part to a strand about 40cm long and stick one end of all the strands together by pressing dough onto work surface until it sticks.
 6. Now here comes the tricky part. Number the strands one to eight in your mind. Every time a strand moves it will assume the number of the position it has moved to. For example, in the picture below, strand 8 has gone under strand 7 and over strand 1. It is now strand 1. Follow this sequence: place 8 under 7 and over 1. Place 8 over 5. Place 2 under 3 and over 8. Place 1 over 4. Place 7 under 6 and over 1. Repeat every step (excluding the first), until all the dough is braided.
7. When all the dough is plaited, tuck both ends of the loaf under to give it a tidy finish and place on a floured baking tray.
8. Leave in a warm place for an hour to prove. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 5. Once the dough has proved, brush it with the beaten egg and put in the oven.

9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust is crisp and the loaf makes a hollow sound when tapped on the base. Eureka! Bread!

Do you believe in me yet, Paul? *cries silently*

Ciao, bakelings.



  1. I fed you on Wednesday! And I'm afraid there will be no feeding for a while now, unless we all met up over Christmas or something. But I will feed your eyes with more blog posts! I'm going to try a panettone for Christmas.