Back in 2011, I posted a recipe for plait bread that I had been testing for a little while. Many of you liked that recipe so you can still find it at the end of this post. Back then it was my first time trying to bake this particular bread since my mom never baked it at home; we always bought it from local Guyanese bakeries so there was a lot I had to learn on my own. Although the previous recipe I had posted wasn’t terrible, I still felt it needed some improvements so over the past two years I've continued to test my original recipe with minor changes here and there. Here are my discoveries:
It might be more helpful to scroll through the recipe to get a visual, then come back to this part to understand the reasons for my tips.
About the appearance of the bread
- Guyanese plait bread has no eggs in it, but may be used for flavor and to aid in rising
- It is a three strand braid with one long log on top to help hold the seams together
- Top of bread is completely smooth, no streaks
- It is a simple white bread recipe; the making of it consists more of technique
- Guyanese bread always has a belly in the middle and overall oval shape; the center is usually higher than the ends
About the ingredients/mix
- Salt works against yeast; too much won't allow the yeast to help the bread rise properly
- Unbleached flour is best for baking yeast breads
- Powdered milk is a good substitute instead of liquid milk to add moisture to the bread
- Vegetable or olive oil, vegetable shortening, lard, or unsalted softened/melted butter can be used as the fats in this bread. I've found that using oil or shortening yields a better texture for my taste.
About the proofing/baking/structure
- For the first proof, covering the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, not a towel, helps to seal in the humidity for the yeast to develop. It also keeps the dough from forming a crust, which can end up as lumps in the bread later on.
- Greasing/oiling the bowl that the dough will be put in is important because the oil helps the dough move upwards in the bowl as it rises.
- Weighing the entire dough ball on a kitchen scale then dividing it by three tends to give a more even plait and even bread. If one dough ball is larger than the other then you'll notice parts of the bread will be heavier or bigger than other parts. If this doesn't bother you, then it doesn't bother me. If you don't have a scale, don't worry, just eyeball the sizes of the dough balls.
- By the end of the second proof, if the braid starts to pull away from seams then the bread has over proofed. It will probably get a little flat while baking.
- For the second proofing, I've found doing a cool rise instead of a warm one with steam works best, as too much heat kills the yeast and makes the bread fall flat when baking. Although I've seen some of you have success with adding steaming water.
- Rubbing butter or egg wash on bread loaf before baking will give the bread a hard crust and make it overly browned when baking. If that's how you enjoy it, then go for it.
- When the bread comes out of the oven, immediately rub butter and cover with plastic wrap and a towel for a few minutes, leaving it longer will make the crust soggy.
The size of the pan and material matters. In the past I have used a baking/cookie sheet, but came to realize that a baking sheet forces the loaf to rise as a "free-form" loaf meaning it doesn't need support from the pan to rise. Because plait bread is soft, this type pan doesn't work, the bread tends to flatten out a bit. Therefore, this bread needs to be baked in a pan that is smaller that can give it support on the sides. However, if using a baking sheet, a few loaves have to be placed on the sheet to create dough tension and help each other "lift up." For these reasons and because they conduct heat evenly, my suggestions are to use any of the below:
- Standard size foil pan
- Pyrex glass dish 9x13
- Light colored aluminum pan 9x13
Start with 1 level tablespoon of active dry yeast. Many recipes for plait bread call for "one packet" of yeast, but in the first two photos you can see that one packet is not equal to one tablespoon of yeast.
Proof the yeast in warm water, if you don't have a thermometer, just make sure the water is luke warm. Add 1 tsp sugar, give it a stir and let it bloom for 6-8 minutes.
This is how it will look after blooming.
In a mixing bowl, add sugar, flour, salt, and powdered milk. Mix all ingredients by hand or with a whisk to get everything loosened up. If you are using butter or shortening, rub it into the flour mixture now until fine crumbs form then add yeast and water. I used oil, so add the oil and yeast at the same time then add 1 cup of warm water a little at a time to knead by hand. If you are using a stand mixer, add all the liquid ingredients at once and use the dough hook to knead.
After kneading, place the dough ball in a well greased bowl, allow to rise until double in size, about 1 hour, this is known as the first proof. When it is done proofing, it will look like this.
Gently poke it down to deflate.
Knead by hand for a couple of minutes or return to stand mixer to knead.
Cut a small piece of dough to be added on top of bread. Then cut remainder of dough into 3 equal parts.
Roll each dough ball in between your hands, leaving the middle a little "fat." You can also hold the two ends and let the dough fall to the center to create this shape. In my original post, I indicated the logs should be about 14in in length, but it actually works better when it is shorter, because the middle of the bread will need a belly giving the appearance of traditional plait bread.
Begin to braid.
Place bread in desired baking dish lined with parchment paper.
Allow to rise in a cool oven or microwave until double in size, about 45 min - 1 hr. This is known as the second proof.
Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes. After removing from oven, rub some melted butter on top.
And cover with plastic wrap...
And a towel and leave it for a few minutes.
Then you can slice it up...
And toast it!
- 1 tbsp yeast (make sure to measure, b/c 1 tbsp is not equal to 1 packet)
- 1/4 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- Place yeast into 1/4 cup warm water to bloom. The warm water should be temped somewhere between 100 - 110 degrees, add 1 tsp of sugar. Let it bloom for about 6-8 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift 3 cups all-purpose flour. Add 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 cup butter. Mix until you get coarse crumbs.
- Add liquid ingredients. Add water yeast and egg to flour mixture and begin to combine. Knead it until it forms a tight dough ball.
- Set your oven temperature to warm for about 15 minutes and then turn it off to create an environment for the bread to proof or "rise".
- Lightly spray another clean mixing bowl with oil or butter and transfer dough ball. Cover mixing bowl with a towel and place into warm oven for 1 hour or until your dough ball doubles in size.
- After one hour of proofing the dough, transfer dough ball onto a floured surface and begin kneading.
- After dough ball has become smooth and elastic, weigh entire dough ball on a food scale and divide your number by three. You will be breaking your dough ball into three pieces and they must all equal the same or very similar weight. Be sure to tare your scale when you put the dough ball on it.
- Roll or stretch dough ball to form 14in logs. Braid logs and brush with butter. Allow to double in size then bake at 325 for 25 minutes.