Along with baking, another thing I love to do is read! Although right now I am reading less than I once was, reading is still a big part of my life. And one of the first genres of books I read obsessively was historical fiction. I loved reading about history so much I ended up studying it in University (although the word study should be used loosely when said in relation to me and school). Why am I telling you all this? Because thanks to my years of reading things like Pillers of the Earth, Catherine Called Birdy and The Other Boleyn Girl I actually knew what Paul was talking about when he said “plaited loaf”. Now someone from the UK would probably tell you that plait is still used today and is in fact just the word for braid. But to me, plait is inextricably linked with castles and everything historic. Enough reminiscing, time to bake….but first let me wistfully scroll through Goodreads!
Ok, that’s done (with several books added to my TBR list to show for it).
This recipe was surprisingly simple. It was very close to Paul’s standard white loaf which I have become very well acquainted with over the last few months. Lately I have fully embraced the conveniences and tricks that have been getting me a better result. I happily leave the kneading to my mixer and use my oven as a proving drawer. And my kitchen timer stops me from wondering off and over proving the dough. So there isn’t much excitement to be had for the first part of this bake.
I combined my ingredients and as I said, let my mixer do the heavy lifting. After just a few minutes I got a nice smooth ball of dough. But really how many pictures of white dough can I post here without it getting boring. So instead here is a picture of 340ml of water.
You’re at the edge of your seat, I know! Well after my dough was done proving things got a bit more interesting. It was plaiting time.
This portion of the bake felt a lot more like construction rather than baking so I got out my equipment. The kitchen scale, a pen, and a tape measure that has become a staple in my baking cupboard. In an effort to be as precise as possible I set about weighing out equal portions of dough (insert pithy math comment here).
The next part was actually really difficult. Rolling those balls of dough into 16-inch strands was maddening. As soon as I would get the dough to the length needed I would set it aside by the tape measure and watch it shrink back to half its size. As a result, I’m sure I way over worked this dough. I was rolling and pulling and stretching each strand to within an inch of its life and ended up with some not so great feeling, kind of deflated strands. Sadly this wasn’t the last of the trauma this dough was going to have to endure.
Next came the actual plaiting. It is at this point that I would like to point out that a simple 3 or 4 strand braid would have been kicking my bread game up a thousand notches. Instead, Paul is asking me to go from just barely making a passable loaf (in the shape of a ball no less) to an 8 strand loaf?! This was going to take concentration! and organisation! and patience! (These are not words I would normally use to describe myself). Deep breaths! Step one: lay out my strands and squish them to the table at the top. Check.
Step two: just do it. The instructions themselves were fine. It says exactly how to move each strand and if you do what it says you will be successful. The problem comes when you miss a step or you think you missed a step. I was sailing along “8 over 5, 2 under 3” until about two thirds down. I don’t know if I actually made an error or if I just had some sort of existential crisis but I lost track of everything and didn’t know what step I was on. And when you have come so far and are holding sad limp pieces of dough in your hand the idea of undoing everything and starting again is enough to make you cry. Instead I did a few more half hearted movements, brought the ends together and called it a loaf.
You can’t tell too much, but the end on the left is a little wonky. You can see too all the excess that I ripped off in the top right. I could probably have gotten a few more links out of it but I don’t think me or the dough would have survived. So back in my makeshift prooving drawer and then into the over to bake. After the egg wash and 25 minutes in the oven I had an 8 strand plaited loaf!
The bread itself was fine, just white bread, and the crust was actually a little soft for my taste. When I see bread that pretty I expect something with a flavour to match. And while I love white bread it did seem to be a bit lacking. My husband decided that the braid was a bit of a gimmick. While I don’t think I was totally defeated by the 8 strand loaf I might just be a little worse for wear.