The Great British Bake Along – Week Three

Welcome to Bread Week! Now we are getting into the serious stuff. I have to admit that bread baking is something I don’t have a great deal of experience in. I have been to a fabulous bread making course at The Thoughtful Bread Company in Bath, which I can totally recommend. Other than that fantastic weekend of baking, I have made about 3 loaves of bread in my entire life. One I blogged about after I went to Winchester City Mill a few months ago, one was an unmitigated disaster / experiment that turned out like a breeze block and the other was soda bread, which doesn’t really count.

Needless to say, I entered this week with some trepidation. I was secretly hoping that the technical challenge would be crumpets because if there is an upper limit to crumpet consumption, I am yet to reach it. Alas, it was not to be as Mr Hollywood has decreed that this week I must make a cottage loaf.

I remember my Mum buying cottage loaves when I was a kid, so at least I had an idea what they are supposed to look like. At first read, the recipe looked pretty straightforward, requiring no special equipment – bonus! I started by weighing out the dry ingredients, remembering to keep the salt and yeast separate as I understand that salt can stop the yeast from working. At this point, the recipe asks for softened lard to be added to the dry ingredients, which is not something I have ever come across in bread making before, but who am I to question Lord Hollywood and his infinite wisdom?

On the show last week, I noticed that the contestants mentioned that this is a traditional recipe and therefore the expectation from the judges would be that the dough should be brought together and kneaded by hand. I added the water to the dry ingredients gradually, until all the flour had been incorporated. 

The recipe demands that the dough be “soft but not soggy” at this stage. Mine was soft but admittedly a little sticky. I decided to counteract this by using a little more flour when kneading, which worked a treat. Mr H’s recipe told me to knead for 5-10mins. This is nothing but a bare-faced lie, Paul Hollywood. I had Netflix on whilst I was kneading and got through almost an entire episode of Easy before the dough started to change. BUT – it did change, and I could even tell when it had. The dough went lovely and silky, and was much stretchier than before. I set it aside to prove until it had doubled in size, which was about 1.5hrs.

After the dough had risen, I knocked all the air out of in and shaped it into that two-thirds / one-third Victorian lady hairdo shape. I then gave it the (now infamous) “two-finger treatment” that is apparently how Paul does it… You would not believe the amount of times I have been asked about the two-fingers this week. Filth. I slashed the assembled loaf and allowed to rise for another hour. Once risen, the loaf went into the oven.

About two minutes later, the top of the loaf started to erupt up and over. I thought the finger thing was supposed to stop this from happening!? It ended up looking like this.

But inside it was light, soft and the crust was lovely and crispy. 

It was undoubtedly a lovely loaf, but I was not happy with the wonky top, so I had another go. I made the top ball slightly smaller and made the two-finger hole quite a bit bigger. This helped a little with the appearance but was still wonky. I decided to be ok with the comical shape because I don’t think it’s worth amending the recipe just in case it impairs the final loaf, which is basically made of heaven and clouds.

If you think you can’t make bread, have a go at this one. It’s fab! Official recipe here: Paul’s Classic Cottage Loaf

See you next week!

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