Why buy an expensive gift basket that gets thrown away anyway when you can make an edible one yourself? I have made my own bread since I was 14 years old and now wanted to try out this recipe I got from my grandmothers cookery book. A bread basket from plaited yeast bun. It looks impressive but is easy to make, though time consuming. For Easter fill it with coloured eggs, for Christmas with cookies, for Thanksgiving with vegetables and to welcome your new neighbour just add a pouch of salt. For national days fill it with fireworks and ammo. Jokes aside, the recipe is divided into 2 parts because you need to let the baked dough rest over night. Please read everything before you start so you can organize steps and adjust them to your schedule.
Step 1: Equipment:
Step 2: Ingredients:
- 1000 grams flour
- 30 grams yeast
- 25 grams sugar
- 250 ml milk
- 150 ml water
- 60 grams lard
- 60 grams butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1 egg (and icing sugar)
- chocolate coating (optional)
All ingredients should be at room temperature for better usability and a good result.
Step 3: Preparing the Yeast:
Pitch the yeast to a starter by crumbling half of the block of fresh baker's yeast into half of the milk (125ml). Add the sugar and stir with a wooden or plastic spoon. Avoid any metal as it can kill some of the yeast because of the oligodynamic effect. We want to multiply the yeast, not reduce it.
If you have only dry yeast, you need to rehydrate it in warm (35-40C, 95-105F) water and wait 15 minutes. Then add a spoon of sugar, cover and place in a warm area out of direct sunlight. Wait another 30 minutes until you check the solution for foam.
Step 4: Preparing the Flour:
Sift the 1000 grams of flour. With such a large amount of flour it is necessary to avoid lumps and you aerate it for a better mixture at the same time. Especially when you live in a humid climate and because lumps create many of those tiny white spots in your dough like in picture 3.
Step 5: Mother Dough:
Add the yeast starter to the sifted flour and mix. If your kitchen machine or food mixer doesn't have a splash guard or a cover for the bowl, you should do this with your hands. Otherwise a lot of flour powder will make a mess during the first strokes. If you have made dough before, you might think you did something wrong because there is not enough liquid to form a smooth dough. It is all good, cover the mother dough and let it rest for 30 minutes at a warm place.
Step 6: Temper the Fat:
Meanwhile temper the butter and lard (each 60 grams) in a double boiler. It should be melted but not too hot (35-40C, 95-105F) when you add it to the dough with living yeast. You don't want to kill the yeast before you let the dough rise or even burn your hands when you knead.
Step 7: Proofing and Leavening:
Now you add the rest of the basic recipe to the mother dough and let it rest covered for another 30 minutes. Add 125ml milk, 150ml water, the molten butter and lard, an egg (whisked) and a teaspoon of salt. Knead the dough with your hands for 10 minutes until smooth and cover the bowl with a tea towel.
The structure of the dough comes from a matrix of the starch in the flour with water. The yeast creates gas bubbles which are contained by this structure when the starch gelatinizes and sets, making it fluffy and chewable. The fat and shortenings help to hold the structure in the dough together by coating and lubricating the individual strands in the matrix. The shelf life of our basket gets extended and you (or your presentee) can admire it for a longer time.
Step 8: Measuring:
Put your bundt cake pan (or any similar bowl that you can use in a stove) on a sheet of baking paper and draw a line around it. Then use a ruler to measure the diameter. The diameter multiplied with 3.14 gives you the circumference of the cake pan. In this case it has a diameter of 15cm and therefor a circumference of 47cm. You need those 2 data to know the lengths for your weavings and braidings.
Step 9: Harvesting the Wicker
After 30 minutes you take the dough out of the bowl and onto your silicon baking mat. The dough is not sticky and can be used for several hours before it dries out. Roll out the dough to a rectangle of 35cm (twice the diameter plus some extra) width and approximately 30cm height with a tickness of your index finger. Use a dough scraper to create 24 strips of 35cm length. Or use a pizza wheel if you placed the dough on a sheet of baking paper. A silicon baking mat does not like blades. The stripes can also be produced with an adjustable pasta machine. Keep the rest of the dough in your covered bowl.
Step 10: Weaving the Bowl:
Take 20 of the strips and roll them into a cylindric shape. You can push in the edges with your thumbs and index fingers to make the rolling easier. Lay 2 stripes next to each other and weave in another stripe at right angle, alternating above and below the 2 stripes. Continue weaving with all 20 stripes until you have a rectangle.
If you want the weavings without any gaps, use a rolling pin and gently seal the strips together. An advanced way to create the weavings is a spider web pattern right on top of the bundt cake pan. But these are better for flat shapes like a victorian cake basket and the different lengths of the woven circles makes it complicated.
Step 11: Fitting the Bowl:
Grease the outside of the bundt cake pan and drape the woven dough over. Press it gently onto the bowl to match the shape. Cut the excess dough off around the edge of the bowl with a dough scraper.
If you don't have a bundt cake pan you can take any oven-safe bowl and cover it with tinfoil.
Step 12: Beaded Edge:
Roll one stripe to double the circumference (94cm) of the cake pan. Fold it in half and twist it into a cord. Lay around the bowl and hide the ends behind the loop (or put them through from the front and press them together). This connection is now defined as the back of your bowl. Because you don't want to see it when the basket is ready.
Step 13: Pedestal Foot:
Put three strips next to each other on the baking mat and press all the top ends together. Plait the strips. Always take the outer strip of 2 parallel strips and lay it in between the other 2 strips so it is now parallel to the lone strip of the first step. Continue until the end. If you put the endings upon each other to create a ring, then this braid should have half the circumference of your bowl and will be used as pedestal foot for your basket like in picture one. The endings of this braid should be aligned to the endings of the beaded edge.
Step 14: Scalloped Flange:
Create three strips of dough of 50cm (47cm circumference plus some extra) and press all the top ends together. Plait the strips like in the previous step. This time you lay the endings next to each other to create a ring with the braid facing you. Adjust the ring to the circumference of the cake pan drawing on the baking paper from the measuring step 8.
Step 15: Bail Handle:
Take the rest of the dough and create 2 stripes of 56cm. The length should be the circumference of the cake pan plus 20%. Cut the copper wire to a piece of 70cm and create the shape of a closed handle with the width of the diameter of the cake pan (15cm). Use copper wire without a coating. The coating could melt in the oven and poison your bread. And it could give it a nasty smell. Copper is an essential trace element in our body and therefor perfect for modeling edible food. Twist the 2 strips around the wire. Connect the 2 ends of the wire like in picture 5 to make sure the expanding dough does not change the shape of the handle too much.
Step 16: Glaze and Baking:
Preheat your stove to 220°C (400-430°F). Separate your 2nd egg and whisk the egg yolk. Keep the egg white in a container for the gluing tomorrow. Apply the egg yolk on all outsides of the bowl and foot with a kitchen brush. Depending on the size of your stove you may have to bake the parts separately. Because of its height, the bowl will get dark very fast on top. You bake it for 15 minutes and then lay a sheet of baking paper on it to bake it for another 10 minutes. The full baking time is 25 minutes or until golden brown. Take it out and let it cool down.
Step 17: Baking the Flange:
Glaze the flange with the whisked yolk and bake it also for 25 minutes in the stove.
Step 18: Baking the Handle:
Glaze one side of the handle and put it into the stove for 15 minutes. Take it out and turn it around. Now glaze the untreated side and bake it for another 15 minutes. Always check that the 2 wires are connected so the handle doesn't expand when the dough expands. After baking all parts put them aside and start creating some additional decoration made of chocolate.
Step 19: White Chocolate Decorations:
This basket is for Christmas and I wanted to add some seasonal decoration. Abstract Christmas trees of white and dark chocolate in the back of the basket are a small treat for the kids. Start with the white chocolate coating to avoid having to clean the pastry bag or using a secound one. Then there are no inclusions from the dark chocolate. We all had that kid in school who ruined your light marker pen on fresh dark ink. Heathen! Temper the white chocolate in a double boiler and draw some trees made of triangles on baking paper. Fill the pastry bag with the molten chocolate and redraw the trees. With some excessive chocolate you can draw some shenanigans.
Step 20: Dark Chocolate Decorations:
Temper the dark chocolate in your double boiler and draw the same trees on baking paper. Finish the shenanigans. Then put everything into the fridge or freezer to let the chocolate harden again.
Step 21: End of Day 1:
With the chocolate in the fridge we end our first day now and let the bread ripen during the night. It will be more solid and therefor easier to assemble without breaking apart. When assembling put all the ends of plaits of all parts right above each other in the back of the basket. This way it is easier for you to hide them and the basket looks all good in the front.
Step 22: Start of Day 2:
Remove the bundt cake pan from the bowl and lay it on its burnished side. Fill the bowl with a crumpled serviette or when available, with some clean straw.
Step 23: Combine Handle and Flange:
Use a bread knife to even the length of the handle.Then either stick it into the flange with the copper wire, or use toothpicks to connect them when the wire is too bendable. If you want to use the basket at a buffet then pull the wire out. To make the edible basket foolproof you can connect the handle to the flange with long pasta (Spaghetti or Maccheroni), just pre-drill the holes.
Step 24: Gluing the Bowl and Handle:
If you did not want to keep the egg white over night you can do the same with icing sugar. Mix it with water until it has a gluey consistency. Use a kitchen brush, if not available a table-knife, and coat the top of the bowl. Then apply the flange with the handle. Make sure the side with the plait endings is in the back in alignment with the endings of the beaded edge.
Step 25: Gluing the Bowl and Foot:
Take the foot and find a good fitting for the bowl. Again, the endings of the plaits should be in the back and right below the ones of your flange. Then coat the top of the foot and the bottom of the bowl with the sugar water. Assemble together, wipe off all excessive sugar water and wait until the sugar water has dried. For a better stability you can use tooth picks again, stick them from inside of the bowl into the inside of the foot to be out of sight. Now you can start decorating the basket. Take the chocolate trees out of the fridge and glue them to the back of your basket with the rest of your sugar icing.
Step 26: Finish:
Fill the basket with appropiate items. I got fruits, chili jam and a tiny bottle of wine. In december the orange will become a pomander with many cloves sticked into it.
English is not my first language and I hope everything was comprehensible and helpful. If you have any questions or need help with your own bread basket, feel free to ask!