Nothing like a bit of healthy competition to strengthen a friendship… When you think of Harvest festival, a baking war is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. More like cauliflower fluffy and cabbages green. But not for us.
It started like this:
Elise: Daniel wants me to bake a wheat-sheaf out of bread as a prop for his sermon. Have you done it before? Do you have a recipe?
Alice: No I haven’t, but actually I was going to bake a wheat-sheaf too. Here is the recipe I thought about following: https://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/recipes/harvest-wheatsheaf
Elise: No way?! Yes, I saw that recipe and this one too: http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2011/09/22/harvest-festival-sheaf-bread/
Elise: Arg, I don’t do fancy baking, that’s your thing. Yours is going to be way better than mine.
Alice: We’ll see.
And so it began. We won’t always do blogs together; we actually have quite different cooking and baking styles. Alice does fancy-pants, decorative and mainly sweet stuff, while Elise is more of a homely, make it in a big pot and slap it on the plate cook. But every now and then we share our cooking projects.
Ok, so the recipes I’m looking at say you need a good 4-6 hours. I’ve probably got about 2 . Oh well, nothing ventured… I’m taking the ingredients from https://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/recipes/harvest-wheatsheaf and the shape/instructions from http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2011/09/22/harvest-festival-sheaf-bread/ (minus the mouse).
Better use the breakfast room table given the quantity of dough needed. Next, find baking tray big enough.
Hmmm, not sure that is big enough. Well, it’ll have to be. Ok, easy bit, make the dough. Much less yeast than a normal bread – don’t want it to rise in the oven and lose it’s shape. Other difference with a usual loaf: no proving time. So straight to rolling it out, after dividing it into three. Roll out first third into a rectangle. Yep, that’s fine. And cut into a mushroom shape. Again, not so bad. Baking tray definitely smaller than the recipe suggest, probably won’t need all the dough. Now, divide the second third into 30 and roll each piece into a long string to make an ear of wheat. Sounds simple. Oh, it isn’t. First one takes a good ten minutes, rolling it between my hands but it looks ok and has stuck to the base. Great. Second also takes ten minutes. My hand hurts a bit actually. Third one, this is taking a bit longer. Sore hand, dough is a bit elastic and has a tendency to snap (when I get impatient and just try to stretch it). And so it continues… By the time I’m at the last few strings, I’ve wasted most of the third of dough because I’ve worked the attempted strings too much and they’ve gone to rubber. But time to move onto the plait to go round the middle with the last third of dough. All fairly straight forward but definitely not going to need all of the third for one plait. I’ll just make some extra ears of wheat to stick on. And it’s finished. Egg-wash and bake.
Recipe says 25 mins in the oven if you want to eat it. Why wouldn’t you want to eat it? Out of the oven it comes 25 mins later. Looks good! Phew! But definitely not edible. It’s essentially a load of breadsticks stuck to a mushroom shaped cracker, and it’s been worked to death to get the right shape. Oh well, it’ll look great in church, when Daniel will use it as a prop and his side-kick puppet, Fr Bear, will take all the credit for having made it.
If Alice’s is edible, she wins.
The thing is, I’m at a considerable advantage. Elise has made her’s the week before me, and foolishly, she’s also sent me the draft of this blog post before I’ve made mine too, so her frustrations become my key thrashing her in this seasonal baking challenge. So to begin, I am going to tackle the mouse…
Twenty-four hours later, and the wheat sheaf is done. I feel rather guilty. Whilst Elise sweated and swore her way through, I pottered my way around the kitchen after my ParkRun, and became a bit too engrossed by a story on Saturday Live about handwriting to notice any difficulties in rolling out wheat stalks. In fact, it was all rather plain sailing until the door bell rang in the middle of shaping ear of wheat no. 28, and I had to nip across to church to give back the floor scrubber to the man from the tool hire company. He did ask ‘shall I hold your play dough?’ in a slightly confused manner as I battled to find the right key whilst holding aforementioned ear of wheat no. 28, but I wasn’t letting him anywhere near my delicately shaped lobe.
The mouse caused the most difficulties. My school art teacher famously took me to one side after one Year 9 lesson, just at the time when we were picking our GCSE options, to say ‘Alice, if I were you, I probably wouldn’t pick art.’ Well Mr Humphreys, the intervening fifteen years haven’t yet brought out my innate talent. The creature that began as vaguely rodent shaped had developed a severe water retention issue by the time the baking was complete. I’m not convinced 25 mins was long enough, even for eating. It’s definitely not cooked though, but it’ll look alright in amongst the cartons of Ambrosia and Lidl shampoo. And, more importantly, they’ll comment that the previous vicar never made them one…
Alice is clearly the winner for her all round superior job. But we’ll let you be the judge (both of Wheat-sheaf Wars, and of who announced the verdict).
Elise says: This will not be an annual tradition.
Alice says: Next year, I’m going double the size, and double the mice. I might even make one for SPWH too…