Weekend Baking: White braided bread star

Outer braided star constructed

Outer braided star constructed

I’ve never made bread. In fact, I don’t have a Kitchen Aid-style mixer, or dough hook. So I tend to avoid making things I can’t make by hand or with the aid of my trusty (if cheap) electric hand whisk. So why I leafed through my newly bought copy of Swedish chef (well, pastry chef) Bo Friberg’s Professional Pastry Chef: The Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry and thought “I know, I’ll make the most complicated braided bread” I have no idea.

A word, as they say, on the text. It’s quite the most amazing cookery book I’ve ever bought. Detailed, prescriptive (but with a clear explanation of why which really helps) and yet lighthearted, it even includes a dog biscuit recipe in honour of the author’s two Akitas. It’s also absolutely huge, but this to is to its credit as it’s so comprehensive, includes plenty of photos and explanatory illustrations and it holds the page open nicely due to its phenomenal weight. This is the Baking Bible. I’ve made one recipe and I love it already.

The basic white bread mixture is a combination of yeast dissolved in milk, cake flour, bread flour, a little sugar and salt and of course a little butter. I went with 00 milled light plain flour as the cake half, and Tesco’s own-brand strong white bread flour as the complement. The butter is unsalted, of course, and it really, really helps if it’s room temperature.

Dough star (pre-egg wash, seeds and final rising)

Ready for egg wash, final rising and seeds

Although I just about managed to effectively combine the dough by hand, going through the short rising, punching down and chilling process quite effectively, I’m never going to do this by hand again. Not only does it go from soothing, therapeutic kneading to hand-breaking labour, it’s just not as light and effective a finished product. That said, forming the strings and following the braiding process to make first the other ring and then the rounded centerpiece proved to be remarkably straightforward. I’m not the world’s most co-ordinated person, but I made sure I didn’t rush things and used all the helpful hints the text provided (such as popping the cookie-cutter in the middle, as seen in the photos).

Now, I know it can be a little frustrating if you’ve stumbled on this post and are thinking “where’s the damn recipe already?!”. Thing is, now you know where it’s from you can probably go and find it for free and not pay £38 for the book like I did. But I love this book. Why would I want to encourage people not to pay for it? I think the author deserves to be very well-off because the recipes are tasty and the instructions are clear. I wish I could make it up to you with a chunk of the fresh bread, but thems the Internet breaks, I guess. I promise that if I invent a recipe – or change it enough from the original to make it feel new – I’ll post it in full.

Completed bread star

Completed bread star

Given my inexperience and mild impatience, I think the results were something to be proud of! The bread itself is just a little more dense and doughy than I’d like, I think largely down to the inefficient mixing process. It’s also saltier than I prefer, so I might use a finer ground salt next time to spread it around better. I’ll probably try and track down fresh yeast next time as the dried stuff was a bit of a pain to dissolve (though it smells surprisingly nice). The suggested sprinkling of poppyseeds in the middles, and second layer of egg wash were definitely good ideas, so I’d do that again.

Lunch was a hunk of hot-from-the-oven bread with butter. How terribly Gallic of me.

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