On Guyana’s plantation at Skeldon, most families usually ate homemade breads and cakes, but sometimes the baker’s boy from the neighbouring village would deliver breads such as this simple, but delicious aniseed braid.
Surprisingly, there’s a similar loaf in the Netherlands’ southern province of Zeeland. The chief difference between the loaves is that this one usually contains some nutmeg and a hint of mace, and it is baked in a pan. Well wrapped, this loaf will keep for a few days. It also makes good toast. Serve it sliced, with butter and a piece or two of mature cheese.
2 tsp. (10 ml) whole aniseed (anise), bruised
3⅓ c. (840 ml) white bread flour
2 tsp. (10 ml) active dry yeast
3 tbsp. (45 ml) sugar
1 tsp. (5 ml) salt
1 c. (250 ml) milk, warmed
½ stick butter, melted and cooled (about ¼ c. / 60 ml)
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ tsp. (1.25 ml) freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of ground mace (optional)
To bruise the aniseed, simply put the seeds in a mortar and bang them with a pestle.
Put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, aniseed and spices (if using) in a large bowl. Add the milk, butter and egg, and mix with a spoon or spatula until the dry ingredients are moistened.
If you’re kneading by hand, turn out onto a floured surface or a silicone mat and knead until elastic. Alternatively, use a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead until elastic. The dough needs to be a little stiffer than for a panned loaf because it must hold its shape during baking. When ready, shape into a ball and place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel wrung out in hot water and leave it in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk.
Grease a baking sheet.
Punch down the risen dough and knead lightly until once more smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a rope about 20 inches (50 cm) long, making the middle of the rope a little thicker than the ends. Pinch the tips of the three ropes together at the top and braid the strands a little loosely, pinching the bottom ends to seal.
Place diagonally on the baking sheet. Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap and leave in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk. This step is very important because if the loaf has not been allowed to expand fully, it will burst in the oven.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until brown. To test, remove the loaf from the pan. Tap sharply on the top and bottom; it should sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 1 loaf.
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