A gorgeous-looking bread that is sure to wow your guests. The recipe is very flexible in that you can shape it and change it by adding different flavourings to make alternative breads such as focaccia.
MAKES 1 LARGE LOAF OR 2 SMALL LOAVES
500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast
2 pinches of salt
2 pinches of caster sugar
325ml tepid water
Olive oil for greasing
1 egg, beaten
50g black and white sesame seeds
Combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Then pour in the water and mix with a fork until the dough comes together.
Tip the dough onto a work surface dusted with a bit of flour and knead for 10 minutes until well combined – when you press your finger into the dough it should spring back. The dough should be also be nice and smooth. Place it back into the mixing bowl and cover with cling film or a damp tea towel and allow to prove for an hour in a warm place.
After an hour, knock back the dough. To knock it back all you need to do is punch all the air out of the risen dough. Now you are ready to shape.
You can make two small loaves or one large one. I like them smaller but it’s entirely up to you. For two loaves, cut the dough into six equal pieces. To be accurate, it helps to weigh the dough and then divide it by six. Roll each piece into a long strand. Each strand should be the same length. It helps if you have very little flour on the surface so it forms a smooth strand. If you have too much flour on the surface remove some of it. Dampening your hands will also help you roll the dough out perfectly.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/410ºF/gas mark 6.
Now it’s time to plait. Take three strands. Place them parallel to each other and join the ends furthest from you together. Press them together so they hold and become one. Take the left- hand strand and fold it over the middle strand.
Then take the right-hand strand and fold it over the first strand, which should be in the middle at this stage. Keep folding each side piece alternately over the middle piece until you reach the end. Ensure you keep the plait as tight as you can. Once the plait is complete press the ends of the strands together.
Place the bread onto a baking tray that has been greased with olive oil. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Brush the plaits with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and bake for 15–20 minutes depending on the size. To check that the loaves are properly cooked, turn each one over and tap the base. It should sound hollow. If not, return to the oven for another 5 minutes.
I love serving this bread warm. I make it the day before, cool it down, wrap it in tinfoil and then reheat it in the oven at the same temperature it was cooked at for 10 minutes before serving.