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