Plaited fruity loaf, with toddler help

The second week of the Great British Bake Off was all about bread. In the final ‘show stopper’ round, the contestants had to bake a decorative loaf which would really wow the judges in terms of creativity and flavour. A few of them opted for plaits of some sort; this is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, because I quite like plaiting my hair for fun, and I don’t have little girls to do this on! So, inspired by this round of the GBBO, I decided to bake a simple plaited loaf, with 3 strands.

OK, I know, that’s not exactly showstopper material (though perhaps marginally more impressive than the tomato loaf that the contestant who lost baked!), but I also wanted Andrew to help and have a go at feeling the dough and shaping it into the ‘sausage’ shapes with me, just like he does with his play dough – anything more complicated would have likely ended in disaster! He enjoyed himself and was happy to help me with this relatively easy loaf. Joel also got involved after we’d finished and I was about to clear up – he wanted to play with the left over flour on the board, so I let him have this ‘sensory’ play time.

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I also used something that wouldn’t be allowed on the bake off: our bread maker to mix the dough (though they are allowed general mixers, so it’s not much different 😉 ) Working with a toddler is one thing, but also hand mixing and kneading dough with him is another – he went straight to the dough handling and shaping stage with me. So it’s not exactly of bake off standard, but I like being inspired by the show each week.

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For the flavour, I went for a sweet dough, based on the hot cross bun recipe in our bread maker’s recipe booklet, except I did half white and half wholemeal flour and left out the salt. That’s why it looks a bit darker than your average hot cross bun – we didn’t burn it, honest!

It came out very well; it was approved by the boys, especially Joel as it is so soft and easy to eat without teeth, and Andrew was impressed that he got to eat something that he helped make. I think it’s a good idea to get kids into handling food in the raw and cooked states, so they can learn about how food is made from scratch, rather than everything coming out of a packet.

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Here are the ingredients that we put into the bread maker and then put it on the dough setting. Once the dough was made we took it out and cut it into 3 even parts, then shaped each part into a long strand (or sausage!), before plaiting them in a traditional ‘left over centre, right over centre’ method. We then left it to prove as a loaf for 30 minutes, before baking it for about 15 minutes at 180ºC.

1 cup = the 200ml cup that comes with the bread maker, but as long as you use the same size cup for all ingredients, it doesn’t really matter how big it is.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup melted margarine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 2 cups white bread flour
  • 1 3/4 cups wholemeal bread flour
  • 2 tsp fast action yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup raisins

Red fruit Chelsea Buns (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 7)

I made sure that I really appreciated watching this week’s episode of the Great British Bake Off (GBBO), even more than I normally do, because it cost us quite a bit of money to download, as we’d got to the limit on our monthly broadband package and ended up paying a pay as you go mobile 3G rate, which soon adds up when you’re talking about hour-long downloads. Oops! It is a bit ridiculous that we even have to have mobile broadband in such a built up area, but we just couldn’t get a decent speed through the phone line, and Virgin won’t dig up our road (I know, hard to believe, but they won’t, we’ve asked more than once!)

So I was determined to make time this weekend, despite being out for most of the day on Saturday, to bake Tom something nice, to try and make up for my expensive downloading. This week’s bakes were all about sweet dough. The first was on the theme of regional buns (for example, Bath buns, Lardy cakes, Saffron cakes, and of course Chelsea buns); the second bake was jam doughnuts (which looked very hard to make, and we don’t have a deep fat fryer); the third bake was a celebration loaf (for example, Brioche or Stollen). I made a Stollen at Christmas, and the contestants mostly seemed to be proving their doughs for the third bake overnight, so I thought that a celebration loaf wasn’t a great option for my limited time this weekend. Instead I went for a regional bun that I’ve thought about making a few times, but never got round to it – the Chelsea bun.

In Cambridge there is a famous cake shop called Fitzbillies that makes the most amazing Chelsea buns – they are their own secret recipe. When the original Fitzbillies shop had to close down in the bad economic climate, many people, including comedian Stephen Fry who tweeted about it, were gutted to lose the place to buy these lovely buns. I can’t say that I bought them that often, because they were pretty expensive, but I did on a few occasions as a treat, and was sad to hear about this independent cake shop closing down. However, I was then very happy to learn, actually again through twitter, that new owners had bought the Fitzbillies shop and were doing it up in order to re-open under the same name. The icing on the cake (pun intended) was that they had even managed to gain the secret recipe for Chelsea buns along with their purchase, so the famous buns would be back in town in no time! Hooray! And I went and bought one or two not long after they first opened.

Not that I’m aiming to make anything quite as special as theirs (I don’t know what it is about them specifically that makes them so yummy, it’s a secret, clearly), but I’d often thought about having a go at baking some Chelsea buns that were at least good enough to eat. Whilst looking through our dried fruit container, to see how much we had and whether I needed to buy any more to make the buns, I remembered that I had recently bought some more unusual dried fruit for Andrew to eat as a snack as a change from his raisins, which included raspberries and cherries. These made me think that baking Chelsea buns with a bit of a twist from the usual fruits would go down well, so I went for them instead of raisins/sultanas/currants.

The recipe I used for the dough was from the BBC Food website, and it turns out that it’s actually from another series of the GBBO. Here’s a link to the recipe. I adapted it (as always!) to include red fruits (raspberries and cherries) instead of the usual dried fruits, and I decided to bake the buns close together (see picture below) rather than spread apart on a baking sheet because I like the squarer, more compacted together shape for Chelsea buns than perfectly round and crusted all the way round, I guess because they remind me of Ftizbillies’ famous ones – they have a square-ish shape to them. I found there wasn’t a lot of glaze for the amount of ingredients that the recipe said to put in, so if you like them sticky and extra sweet, I’d probably double or treble it. I quite like the fact that they’re not as sickly sweet as the Fitzbillies ones, because my sweet tooth has definitely been affected by pregnancy.

I wouldn’t win any prizes for the most consistent baker, who makes buns all perfectly the same size and shape, but the main thing is that the taste and texture are good. It’s quite handy actually that some are smaller than others (due to the shape of the rolled out dough, which ended up creating a roll that was thinner at both ends than in the middle), because the smaller ones are a perfect snack size for Andrew. He had one more or less straight from the oven, once they’d cooled down enough to eat – ‘hot’ is one of his favourite words, and he knows to wait until food is no longer too ‘HOT, HOT’! My other boy approved too, so I feel less bad about the fact that it cost us more than a few pennies to watch the episode of the GBBO that inspired this bake.