Ploughman’s Loaf

Ploughman's Loaf


Well, here we all are again – another week, another Great British Bake Off round. This week, as you probably already know, was Bread.

When the first series ended, I was so excited at the idea of a baking competition that I decided to write down what things I would have baked, had I been in the competition. I didn’t have a signature loaf (who does? I mean really – ‘fess up now), but I knew I wanted it to be distinctive.

I really like picnics and eating outdoors, but soggy sandwiches just ruin things – so I started thinking about how to get the bread to taste so great, you wouldn’t need to make sandwiches at all – reasoning that with a flavoursome loaf, some water and a couple of apples, you’d be all set for a picnic and no danger of squished sandwiches.

The Ploughman’s Lunch is a classic of many British pubs, and although some maintain that it is an invention of the English Country Cheese Council in the 1960s, evidence exists to suggest that a ‘Ploughboy’s Lunch’ was being served in pubs in wartime Britain, and farmworkers have traditionally eaten bread and cheese for lunch in the fields for centuries.

After many variations and tasting by friends and family, I finally settled on the recipe below.

Here is my Anatomy of a Ploughman’s Loaf:

  • Granary Flour – wholesome and nutty with the malted flakes, but lighter than using 100% wholemeal – since I was going to be adding extras into the mix, I didn’t want to start with a base flour that was too heavy.
  • Rye Flour – for extra flavour
  • Oats – Very nourishing and filling – toasting them in a dry pan enhances the flavour . Do try and get the whole rolled ones if you can – ordinary porridge oats will do at a pinch, but they’re much more floury and liable to disintegrate.
  • Cheese – a nice, strong cheddar, cut into 1cm cubes so that they didn’t just disappear into the bread, but left pockets of cheesiness to enjoy. If you’re using the UK system of grading cheese strength, I would recommend a 5 or 6 (strong) cheddar. If you can find it, Collier’s Welsh Cheddar, in its distinctive black wrapper, is amazing. See those holes in the picture? That’s where the cheese cubes were before baking – and now those holes are lined with melted cheesy goodness.
  • Onions – after discounting using actual pickled onions and then trying many variations including red onions, shallots, spring onions and chives, I finally settled on ordinary onions, caramelised in oil over a low heat for about an hour. This both reduces the moisture content and intensifies the flavour.
  • Beer – the traditional accompaniment to a ploughman’s lunch, I decided to mix the dough using a bottle of nicely flavoured traditional ale. I chose Speckled Hen, but feel free to experiment. Replace with water if preferred.

The smells coming from the oven as this loaf bakes is amazing. It’s so tasty, I don’t think it even needs butter – just eat it plain. The unplanned surprise bonus is how awesome this tastes when toasted – the cheese re-melts, the onions soften, and the crunch of the granary flakes and toasted oats make for a hearty mouthful.

Be warned though, this really is a meal in a loaf – it is very, very filling and will last several days, even in households with the most hearty of appetites.

I hope you enjoy!

Ploughman’s Loaf

500g  Malthouse (Granary) Bread Flour
70g whole rolled jumbo oats
85g rye flour
500ml beer (1 bottle)
2 sachets fast action dried bread yeast
150g strong cheddar cheese
4 onions
vegetable oil
white bread flour for kneading

  • Put the rolled oats into a dry frying pan over medium heat and toast until lightly browned and toasted.
  • Mix the dry ingredients, including yeast and toasted oats.
  • Add beer and stir to combine.
  • Dust work-surface with flour and tip out dough.
  • Knead to elasticity (10 mins), using scraper to lift and turn the dough.
  • When the surface of the dough is nice and smooth, roll it in oil and set to rise in a covered bowl until doubled in size.
  • While the dough is rising, chop the onions. Don’t cut the pieces too small or they will just disappear in the loaf – about 2cmx2cm is ideal.
  • Heat some oil in the frying pan and slowly cook onion until caramelised (40 mins-ish).
  • Transfer the onions to a sieve set over a bowl to drain and cool. NB The oil that drains from them has an amazing flavour – try using it to flavour another dish
  • Cut the cheese into 1cm cubes.
  • When the dough is risen, knock back and fold in the cooled onions and cheese. NB It’s a little tricky, but try and get the onions and cheese to sytay on the inside of the dough. The onions especially will ‘catch’ very easily in the oven. Try patting the dough out fairly flat, sprinkling the cheese and onions, then folding the sides in until all gathered together. Make sure the seam is on the bottom.
  • Form into a loaf shape and set to prove again.
  • Heat oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • When the loaf is risen, dust it with Granary flour. Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut slashes in the top and then bake for 40-50 minutes or until the bottom sounds hollow.
  • Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Cost: £4.60 (using beer), £2.90 (using water), August 2011

23 Comments on “Ploughman’s Loaf”

  1. Gotchers! – Can’t wait to try this

  2. Becky says:

    This sounded delicious on the programme – such a good idea! I’m looking forward to trying it – thinking it would be good for when my husband and I go hiking, when yummy food rather than squishy food is a definite plus! Thank you for sharing!

  3. sueslade says:

    As a farmers wife I feel duty bound to try out this recipe on my husband!

  4. PRDH says:

    This has just shot to the top of my ‘things I’m going to bake’ list. It’s a stunning idea!

  5. Flicking through Tastespotting I regonised the ploughmans-loaf as similar to the one on the BBC bake-off I had seen shortly before. Curious for the recipe I looked up your blog and it still took me some time to realize that it was not only similar but exactly the same! So nice to have found your blog. I love the show even when I’m not that into baking. I like the tone and unfussines. Nice judges as well (I think).I also feel a bit country-proud for beeing Dutch, like your succes rubbes off (you having a Dutch husband). Silly me. Looking forward to the next episodes. Groeten, Gerry Deuroo

  6. sehyr says:

    yum yum yum!! cant wait to try this!!

  7. I have a signature loaf…well, it’s the one I get the most requests for when I can be bothered bread making!! A treacle milk bread- my attempt at reproducing Northern Irish Veda bread.

  8. […] I’m desperate to try out her Ploughman’s Loaf recipe I found on her blog here […]

  9. M E Collins says:

    This looked so fabulous during the show, I had to find this recipe. Loved watching you MAB—Don’t know who the winner is, guarding myself from spoilers I hope it is you, yet everyone seems lovely…( I loved Janet as well)
    Thanks for all the fun!
    your pal in Chicago!

  10. Emily Boyce says:

    Hi Mary-Anne, we’re very tempted to make your wonderful ploughman’s loaf, but how much salt and sugar would you suggest using? We’re thinking 2 tsp of each?

  11. jobakes says:

    Mary-Anne, first can I say how much I loved you on GBBO and how sad I was that you did not win. You’re so gifted and inspirational in your baking – I’d so sign up to a class of yours if you were holding them (like Holly and Jo are)!
    Second, I just made this loaf tonight after it being on my “must do now” list for far too long and oh my word, it didn’t disappoint! Amongst my friends I’m famous for fiddling with recipes but my only wee lil fiddle was to add a tbsp of balsamic vinegar to the onions just a minute or two before they were finished cooking and wowza did it deliver big time on the flavour! I was meant to be making fishcakes for hubby but instead I carved four big slices of this loaf and topped with branston pickle and honey roast ham and ate with a lovely big sweet royal gala apple for dinner. Thank youso much for sharing this recipe – its amazgly fantastic and I’ve told all my foodie friends about it! Xx

  12. T Scholes says:

    Hi Marie-Anne,
    Tried & Loved the bread!!! Takes ages to cook – 1 hour and 1/2!

    Hope the cook book is going ok!

  13. Emilie says:

    Dear M.A,
    Lovely recipe! i just wondered what brand of flour you use for the granary flour?
    Many thanks!!

  14. […] 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 […]

  15. Tamal Ray says:

    Hi Mary-Anne, roughly how much of the beer would you recommend using in the dough? Just wanted to know what sort of consistency I should be aiming for.

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Tamal!
      I use all of the beer, and then add flour during kneading until it forms a soft-but-manageable dough. It’s much easier to add dry than try to add liquid to a too-dry dough. Hope this helps! M-A 😀

  16. Laura says:

    Thanks for recipe. Now my dough proving 😊 , because im muslim , im not using alcohol , i replace a beer with water , could you tell me what none alchoholic softbdrinks i can usein recipe to replace beer ? Kind wishes

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Laura!
      By the time the loaf is cooked, there’s no alcohol left, as it evaporates with the heat of the oven, but if you’re not comfortable using beer with alcohol even to mix the dough, you could use a non-alcoholic beer to keep the flavour similar.
      Other suggestions would be a fruit juice such as an unsweetend apple juice. Another choice could be a vegetable juice. You could even experiment and mix juices such as apple and tomato, or juice some celery and onion, or carrot.
      Hope these help! M-A 😀

  17. thepeebles says:

    I just made this using the recipe on the BBC site – I should have used this one! More detail!
    I accidentally used twice as many onions and didn’t let them drip. We also beat it a little too much when mixing in the filling – we now know for next time to roll it in as more of a swirl. It didn’t rise in the oven, we think the onions weighed it down too much. We will try again!

    Anyway, all that aside and even with all of our mistakes it was absolutely DELICIOUS. We LOVED it. We hope to get it right next time, but are fine with making it and eating it numerous times until we get it right.
    – Alison & Rich in the USA

  18. Oka says:

    Hi, Mary-Anne. I made this loaf today, it was delicious! Thank you for a wonderful recipe. I am Japanese living in Japan, just finished watching GBBO series 2, it was joy to watch you baking, you inspire me so mush. I am so happy to find your blog, can’t wait to try other recipes too! ( maybe chocolate orange mousse cake next time.)

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