Harvest Celebration Loaf

harvestloafthumb.JPGWe were commissioned to make a traditional harvest celebration loaf for the harvest display at a local primary school - here's how we made it

In order to make this loaf, you need two batches of basic bread dough, one egg and a little water

I didn't have a bowl big enough to mix a double amount of dough, so I made two separate mixes, then kneaded them together to ensure uniformity

harvestloaf1.JPGMake the double batch of dough as per the instructions on the above-linked page

Once it has been kneaded and has risen the first time, divide it and set one half aside

harvestloaf2.JPGRoll out one half of the dough into a large oval shape, as big as will fit on a cookie sheet

Shake some flour on the rolled dough (to prevent it sticking together), then fold it in half lengthways

Cut it so as to make a sort of mushroom shape

harvestloaf3.JPGSpread this piece out flat on a lightly-oiled cookie sheet

Prick it all over with a fork, then brush it with water - this will help the rest of the pieces to stick in place

NB: this is a full-sized cookie sheet - 12 inches square - it looks smaller in this picture only because my hand is close to the camera lens

harvestloaf4.JPGRetrieve the other half of the dough, cut off a piece about half the size of a fist, then divide the rest in half

Set aside one half (and the small piece)

harvestloaf5.JPGRoll out the piece of dough to about four inches wide and 12 inches long

Cut into thin strips with a long straight-bladed knife - aim for strips about the thickness of a drinking straw

harvestloaf6.JPGRoll each of the strips between your palms to make them round

Arrange them on the bottom part of the base section - they should all be fairly even at the bottom end, but the exact placement of the top ends is not critical - aim for a generally fan-shaped arrangement

Brush lightly with more water as you go, to help them stick, but be careful not to squash the stalks out of shape

harvestloaf7.JPGRetrieve the other large piece of dough and cut it in half again, then roll out one half to about a finger's thickness

Cut into a diamond grid - forming pieces about an inch long from tip to tip

You'll need to repeat this for the other half - ending up with about a hundred little diamonds of dough

harvestloaf8.JPGUsing the tip of a pair of good scissors, snip a series of short cuts right along both sides of each diamond of dough

Make the cuts diagonal so as to make it look like an ear of wheat

harvestloaf9.JPGArrange a row of wheat ears all the way around the top edge of the base - let them hang over the edge a bit

Continue the row back across the tops of the stalks - so it looks like ears of corn drooping over forwards

harvestloaf10.JPGRoll out the last small piece of dough into long strip, then cut it into six thin ribbons

Roll each strip between your hands to make it thin and round

Pinch the ends of three strips together, then plait them - repeat for the other three

Now is about the right time to preheat the oven - 180 C

harvestloaf11.JPGTuck the ends of the plaits under each edge of the base - then bring them around the front of the stalks

It's not necessary to knot the ends - just loop one over and around the other

Continue adding wheat ears in concentric rows, toward the middle - when you get to the centre, you might need to cut a couple in half to fill in the last couple of gaps

harvestloaf12.JPGOne final traditional touch is the addition of a small harvest mouse, fashioned out of a trimming of dough saved from one of the earlier steps

Then brush the loaf gently with beaten egg and place in the oven - initially for 15 minutes

After the first 15 minutes of baking, remove the loaf from the oven and brush with egg again - the crust should have set by now, so you can brush into every little crevice without fear of squashing any details

Place the loaf back in the oven (the other way around, to help it bake evenly) for another 15 minutes, or until golden brown and glossy all over