Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local church. They were then used as the Communion bread during a special mass thanking God for the harvest.
For all of you English History buffs this custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church (that whole “we don’t divorce” thing reared it’s ugly head – thanks Anne B.), and nowadays we have harvest festivals at the end of the season.
As with most things that I bake I try to learn something new. Whether that new thing is a technique (steaming in a home oven) or a lesson of history about my faith (I’m Catholic). Without exception this experience with the Cornsheaf Loaf has been one of my greatest with bread. I raised my tolerance for rolling out thin rolls of dough (next time I promise to make it to 30) and I saw the beauty of possibilities that my poor little oven can produce. After a long business trip and some stressful life experiences that I am still very much caught up in, this was a much needed refreshing break.
The recipe (100 Great Breads - Paul Hollywood)
5 1/2 Cups white bread flour (plus extra for dusting)
3 tbsp of salt (Lewis note: I use fine ground sea salt)
2 cakes fresh yeast (Lewis note: I used 2 ¼ tsp instant yeast)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water (Lewis note: I ended up having to use about 2 cups)
1 egg beaten for egg wash
- Put the flour in a bowl 12 inches in diameter and then add the salt to the left and the yeast to the right (these two aren’t buddies so don’t let them meet right away)
- Add the olive oil and slowly start to add the water. (Lewis/Author's note: for all of you EVO fanatics out there – that stuff doesn’t matter here. First, this isn’t meant to be eaten only stared at; Second, most of the flavor of the olive oil will bake out anyway.)
- Begin squeezing the mixture together in your hands. The main idea here is to get all the flour up and out of the bowl and end up with pliable dough.
- Now shape the dough into a ball and tip out onto a lightly floured surface
- Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until well mixed (experienced bakers will knead faster) Now is not the time for vanity, this is NOT a pretty ball of dough and therefore WILL NOT be as pretty as your usual balls of dough for other bread.
- Place the dough back into the bowl and let rest for about an hour. You are not really looking for the dough to rise, you’re just letting the dough rest and the yeast activate.
- Tear off about a quarter of the dough and roll it out to make an 18 inch rectangle at about 1/2 inch thick.
- With a knife, cut out a keyhole, or Cornsheaf, shape from the dough about 18inches long and 8 inches across the top.
- Using the dough trimmings and scraps roll out 20 – 30/ 8 inch strands
- Braid three strands and place them under the keyhole dough on the baking pan; push down on the dough to flatten out the bulge that will be produced by having the braid run under the keyhole shape.
- Brush the keyhole outline with a little water.
- Place the hand-rolled strands lengthwise along the bottom to resemble a cornstalk.
- Next, rip off small pieces of dough and roll into balls, then slightly elongate them. Brush the round head of the dough with a little water. Place a row of balls to just overlap the top edge of the strips on the straight length. Place the balls all around the edge and then fill in the center.
- Let the Cornsheaf rest for about an hour to let the dough rise a little.
- Preheat the oven to 400F/200C
- Brush the Cornsheaf with the egg wash and bake for 30 minutes
- Lower the temperature to 300F/150C and bake for 30 minutes more
- Cool on a wire rack.
Just like the directions this took a LONG TIME!!! I am a veteran of 3 day bread proofing and this was by far the hardest task I have attempted. As you can tell by my photo I only managed to squeeze out about 10 or 15 “stalks”. I think overall the end result is beautiful.
I believe the final count on time to completion came in at just around 3 hours. 1 Hour mixing/proofing, 1 Hour assembly, 1 Hour baking(30 min 400F, 30 min 300F). PLAN AHEAD! My hands were killing me after shaping all of the 'stalks' and as I said I didn’t even make it to the halfway point! Of course now that I have succeeded in completing one I will definitely do this again with all of the new lessons learned.I hope my attempt encourages you to try this new and different challenge in time for the holiday season. Whether you’re celebrating the American Thanksgiving holiday or a Harvest celebration – this creation will be a conversation piece.