Here is a simple bread recipe that can be made as a loaf, a simple three strand plait or, well whatever you want to really. As I was having one of those relaxing baking days I decided to push the boat out and go for a nine strand plait. When you get the hang of it, the plaiting is not actually that difficult, yet can produce a complex structure that makes quite a centrepiece for when you are entertaining guests.
This particular dough is one of my favourites, but of course you can use just about any hand or machine-made dough. If this one doesn’t suit, just pick the one you like and are most familiar with. The one I suggest today has a good texture and with the addition of herbs and cheese a good, strong flavour too.
I find bread making by hand to be very enjoyable and very easy to do. The only trick is to get the right amount of liquids to dry ingredients. The good news is that it is easy to fix, adding a little more liquid if the mix is too dry, a little more flour if the mix is to wet. Once you get the feel for just how soft the dough should be the rest is easy. You have to knead the dough of course, but it is not that big an effort, again a little practice makes perfect!
I make quite a bit of bread as I live in a small village without a bakery. It was not always the case as we had an excellent local one until relatively recently. We would pop in for some freshly made bread, and almost always walk out with some other local (sweet) delicacy they had, still warm from the oven. Not for lack of clientele did the bakery close, but alas, close it did. A young couple opened a small shop selling bread in the centre of town, unfortunately it did not take off. Perhaps the locals, in the majority septuagenarians or greater, didn’t approve. Perhaps it was because the dough was brought in ready made, with only the final bake performed on-site? Anyroad, whatever the reason, all I really know that we now have no bakery! (And yes I can use anyroad, it was officially added into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016).
One of the biggest problems in this region of Spain is the ever increasing population growth of a few major cities and towns, with the corresponding drop in the local villages. Although much has been done to improve the infrastructure, in particular with faster new roads and motorways, in many cases it has just meant that people can now leave more quickly! More has to be done to support those who wish to live in the villages and to entice new residents to stay. In particular, the information super-highway here is little more than a dirt track, with monopolic service providers having little inclination to invest in new technology. The use of information technology has become so integral to our everyday lives it can be quite difficult to survive without it!
The lack of a bakery is just one result of a declining and ageing population. We have one restaurant whose owner is infinitely closer to his retirement than his coming of age, the same could probably be said of the blacksmith too. There must be something badly wrong with the world, or our management of it, when we have high unemployment in this country, a large number of displaced refugees across Europe and the Middle East, and yet in a nice little village in Northern Spain there is nobody interested in opening a bakery……
Well until things change, I will continue to make bread…… so let’s get stuck in and start plaiting those strands:
Nine Plait Herb and Cheese Bread
Makes 1 loaf
150ml Warm water
150ml Warm milk
1 1/2 tsp Salt
7g Dried yeast (1 Pkt)
85g Mature cheese
1 tbsp Dried herbs
Boil the water in a kettle then pour the required amount into a measuring jug. Add in the required amount of milk. Mixing the two in this way should ensure that the mixture is warm by the time you come to use it!
Mix together the flour and salt.
Rub in the butter.
For further details see the article on rubbing in.
Stir in the yeast. Grate in the cheese and add the herbs then mix again.
Add most of the water and mix into a dough, adding the full amount only if required.
Mix using a swirling motion with the tips of your fingers only. Just keep your fingers stiff and move your hand round and round until the dough comes together.
The final mixture should be quite soft but not so soft that it is starting to become sticky.
Knead until elastic. This probably will take about 5 to 10 minutes or so.
For further details see the article on kneading bread.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave for about an hour to double in size.
Set the oven to 190ºC, most heat from the bottom and fan if possible.
Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces, then cut each piece again into 3.
With the flat of your hand roll out each piece into a long sausage. Each piece needs to be of the same length.
Press one end of all the strands together to hold in place whilst you plait the rest.
You can plait from either side, but I’ll start from the right.
Take hold of the rightmost strand and pass it OVER the two strands to its immediate left then UNDER the next two.
Take hold of the leftmost strand and pass it over the two strands to its immediate right then UNDER the next two.
Just repeat the above, over and over, until you reach the end of the dough.
Press the ends together to finish of the plait. These ends can be trimmed off, folded over or just left, it is a question of aesthetics.
Place onto an oiled baking sheet.
Paint the top of the loaf with a little milk and bake for about 35 minutes.
Although a nine strand plait looks complex, I do assure you that once you get the hang of it you will find it is not that difficult. If you have doubts, then just make a 3 strand plait, the bread is delicious and looks good either way. If you do go for a 3 strand plait or a loaf please note that the bread will probably need another 5 minutes or so in the oven. The 9 strand plait is a flatter bread and therefore bakes quicker.
If you enjoyed the recipe and want to try another plaiting technique, then try my Chocolate Spread Biscuit Plait:
Or, if kneading isn’t your thing, then why not try one of my no-knead bread recipes. This recipe for Ciabatta is so easy and the results are so delicious:
tsp – Teaspoon – 5ml
tbsp – Tablespoon – 15ml
Imperial to Metric Measurement:
1 oz – 28g
1 lb – 16 oz – 454g
1 gill – ¼ pint – 142ml
2017 Lincoln W. Betteridge