Eight Strand Plaited Loaf

3 Oct

I LOVE the Great British Bake Off. I absolutely love it. Passionately! Paul Hollywood I’m not too sure about, although I’m sure he’s a massive softie at heart. Mary Berry is just a wonderful woman. Aah….I am so not looking forward to the end of the series ūüė¶

 

Anyway, one of the tasks was to make an eight strand plaited loaf. I love bread, but I don’t often make it. I’m one of those people who¬†loves homemade things, so if there is any good home made food around I will eat it, pronto. It’s not good for my waist line! My housemates and I are in the habit of having a bit of a family dinner every now and then, so I thought it might be a great opportunity to give the bread a go. I was a little apprehensive as on the show it was made to look incredibly difficult, but actually it was quite straight forward (to be fair though, I did have the complete recipe). It took a lot longer in the oven than the recipe suggested, but it turned out beautifully (and I’m quite a perfectionist, so ‘beautifully’ means that I was SUPER happy with it!). Definitely tap it with a finger on the bottom – if it seems a bit doughy, or its not hollow-sounding, don’t be afraid to put it back in. I ended up baking mine for around fifteen-twenty minutes more at a slightly lower temperature with the bread upside down; remember, every oven is different!

One thing I have learned about bread, which I didn’t know before, is that it can¬†be overproofed. I knew that dough could be overworked, but I never knew about overproofing. Essentially it means that you’ve lost too many of the carbon dioxide bubbles from the dough which causes it to just flop. This not only looks pretty sad, but affects the texture (and can even affect the taste). So, follow the proofing time in the recipe!

I was¬†intrigued¬†to know where the whole plaiting thing came from, and after a bit of reading it turns out it takes a lot of inspiration from Jewish ‘Challah’ bread. This is a loaf of bread which is traditionally eaten on the Sabbath and during special holidays. To give you a bit more history (because I quite like foodie history), let’s start with the book of Exodus in the bible. You might want to get a cup of tea and a slice of cake, and settle down for this one.

Exodus tells us the story of how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and up to Mount Sinai, where they all met God and He gives them some new land because the leaders in Egypt are being prettttttty mean to them. If we start from the beginning, the Israelites had been a bit stuck with some land troubles, and so they were welcomed into Egypt to try to help them out. Joseph (who was also an Israelite, and was pretty awesome – after a load of rubbish happened to him (like his brothers selling him as a slave to some randomers) he ended up in Egypt, he worked hard and remained honest….he was the one with the technicolour dreamcoat!) was actually one of the leaders in Egypt at the time, and so the Israelites and the Egyptians had a pretty good relationship. BUT THEN, at the ripe old age of 110, Joseph died. And that was when things started to go a bit awry. The Israelites were flourishing, and the Egyptian¬†Pharaoh started freaking out that they might start taking over the whole country. Not only did he decide that he had to make the poor Israelites slaves, but he also ordered that all the male babies had to be killed! Possibly a little bit of an overreaction?!

Then came Moses to save the day. Moses was one of the little babies who had been secretly hidden away, as his mum plonked him in a little reed basket and let him drift away down the Nile. He survived, of course, and a whole load of other exciting stuff happened, but to cut a long story short God told him that it was time to go and save the enslaved Israelites. He was pretty polite at first, and of course, the Pharaoh said no (surely that was kind of predictable). So God pulled the wild card and sent ten plagues to Egypt to properly freak the Pharaoh out. It worked, and he wanted everyone out IMMEDIATELY. So Moses and the Israelites wasted no time, and they all started the nice little trek up to Mount Sinai. Another cool little God trick was to part the Red Sea so that the Israelites could get across (because by this time, obviously the Pharaoh had changed his mind and sent a load of warrior angry Egyptians after them to bring them all back, make them slaves again, and probably punish the life out of them). However, as soon as the Israelites had crossed, God then swished it all back together again so that all the scary horrible warrior Egyptians drowned. Ha.

Anyway, enough about that. What did they eat during this super stressful manic trek? God provided ‘manna’ every day of the week, apart from Saturday (‘shabbat’, a holy day when no work was allowed to be done – including baking!), for which two portions of manna would appear on the Friday so they wouldn’t go hungry. So tradition has it that the Challah represents the manna. It acts as sort of a representation of being freed from the horrid Pharaoh by God.

But why the plaiting? During my reading I’ve found so many different reasons for the plaits, all which have wonderful religious and inspirational theories behind them. This is one which I feel is possibly most all encompassing: normally Challah is made with six strands, and it represents how everything in life becomes ‘tied together’ for peaceful harmony and unity. Because the six days before Shabbat are all very busy, and I believe Shabbat itself is supposed to be the day of peace and unity, when the Challah is eaten on Shabbat it is a reminder of this fact and a reminder that one must bring all aspects of harmony, peace and unity into the home and life.

I like food with a story. Especially when it’s about making the world a more peaceful, united and happy place. Happiness, of course, is increased even more because this bread tastes SO GOOD.

If I have misunderstood any of the religious theory behind my stories, please do let me know and I will correct them ūüôā¬†

 

Recipe (thank you, Mr P. Hollywood)

  • 500g/1lb 2oz strong¬†bread¬†flour
  • 2 x 7g sachet fast action dried¬†yeast
  • 10g/¬ľoz fine¬†salt
  • 1¬Ĺ tbsp¬†olive oil
  • extra¬†flour¬†for dusting
  • sunflower oil¬†for greasing bowl
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten lightly with a pinch of¬†salt
  • pinch¬†salt

     

    1. 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. Stir the ingredients together until evenly mixed.
    2. Add a good splash of olive oil. Measure out 340ml/12fl oz water and add three-quarters to the flour mixture, and mix together by hand, then add the rest of the liquid.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces then roll out each piece into a strand about 40cm/16in long.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. Tuck both ends of the loaf underneath to give a tidy finish.
    10. Place the plaited dough onto a floured baking tray, and leave to prove for another hour, until risen again.
    11. Preheat the oven to 200C/375F/Gas 5.
    12. Brush the loaf with the beaten egg wash and bake in the oven for 20-25mins, or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
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