At last – I’m finally blogging this magnificent recipe courtesy of Mary-Anne, finalist of The Great British Bake Off series 2 (a very popular baking competition here in the UK, now filming its third series and yes, I applied and no, they didn’t want me – waaaaaa!). ANYWAY! Back to bread. I’ve made more of these loaves than possibly any other big loaf (I think to be correct, the recipe I’ve actually made many more times is for flat breads but that’s for another post 😉 ) and for very good reason. It is so satisfying, so deeply savoury, almost smoky, a little bit sticky sweet from lots of caramelised onions and oh, lest we forget the molten nuggets of cheese studded throughout the loaf! It has never cooled before being devoured in my house so the cheese is always the texture and temperature of golden lava…
It’s almost indecent to post a picture of a loaf this good isn’t it?! I mean come on, look at those rivulets of Double Gloucester (our “house” cheese of choice) advancing over the nubbly, rugged earthy brown rolling hills of read which is a health-promoting mix of granary flour, toasted rolled oats and rye. It is, in every way, the perfect loaf to me and one which must be tried as it is pulled from the oven, with or without cool slabs of butter – it does not need the moistening from the slick of butter but it is just too mouth-watering a prospect to not try at least once! Let’s get started, you’ll be kicking yourself forever more if you don’t!
These are the basics of what you’ll require. As with all food, the end product is only as good as the sum of its ingredients. Buying a good quality flour improves flavour and texture – I love Hovis’ granary flour which has plenty of seeds in it and a special nutty taste perfect for this recipe. Having never plucked up the courage to ask my local supermarket for fresh yeast (which used to be given free but I believe the bakeries have cottoned on to us home bakers and are charging for it across the UK now anyway!) I use Doves Farm dried yeast. Always. And as I’ve mentioned it before, I add it directly to the flour, never reconstitute it first in warm water – that just serves to prolong the process and does not add to the end result! Just check the use by date is ok first ;). This recipe requires 500ml of real ale and my favourite by far is Speckled Hen but of course, do substitute your favourite if you have one 🙂
It will make the dough very liquid indeed to add so much liquid but as long as you don’t mind getting sticky (or have a stand mixer like me!) the adage of “the wetter the better” holds very true in bread making. In fact, it ends up looking rather batter like after all the dough ingredients are well mixed.
Fear not! After proving and knocking back followed by adding in a little extra flour, it will be workable. And look how much carbon dioxide those busy little yeasts make!
Pretty cool huh? Bursting with life this loaf is! So, once you’ve patted out your dough (and I do highly recommend doing so on a long piece of reusable silicone baking parchment that you’ve floured well) then spread with onions slow cooked during the proving process with a little Marsala to finish them off, scatter over a cheese of your choice and we’re ready to form our loaves.
Here’s where you can play around with the final form of the loaf. I’ve made it in a single free form loaf, two 2lb tin loaves, mini loaves, or in one giant long loaf tin. Really, be as creative as you like. In the free form format, know that the final loaf tends to be flatter as it spreads out on proving and baking, being such a liquid dough. It puffs up a lot more in a tin but honestly, it’s the sort of bread you just rip off chunks and naw on them fresh from t’oven so do as you please! I fancy a nest of bread rolls next time. Here, I used the silicone parchment to roll the dough up like a Swiss roll (not half as technical as it sounds!) then plonked in my long loaf tin. I did make a couple of mini ones as well for Hungry Hubby as the big one was for the girls in work and he was beside himself when I said he couldn’t have the Big ‘Un!
Just be sure to chuck a handful of ice cubes in a tray at the bottom of your preheated oven, the instant before you deposit your proved loaves – it helps the dough to rise more as it keeps the crust soft by way of the steamy atmosphere it creates, so it puffs more before it “sets” and bakes 🙂
You are now 40 minutes away from the best loaf that ever was created – get the butter out the fridge, along with some chilli jam and plenty of ham to make the best sandwiches you’ve ever tasted. I leave you with some piccies of loaves I’ve made from this recipe – each one unique in looks but identical in taste. Please, if you never try any other homemade loaf, try this one – then let me know how it went!
Get my ever so slightly tweaked version of Mary-Anne’s recipe here – Ploughman’s Loaf