Getting sticky with Paul Hollywood

Yes, that Paul Hollywood. The Silver Fox himself.
I am aware that many people aren’t enamoured of him, but I’ve been watching him on TV for a lot of years, and he won me at ‘Cyprus’. He may be a rotter, or he may not, I have no idea, and am not bothered about his private life because it’s, you know, PRIVATE, but he talks with such affection about his time in Cyprus (6 years living there) and about baking that I just like him. It also helps that I find him very easy on the eye. (Bike! Bike!)
Plus he’s friends with my lovely Tonia Buxton, and that counts for a lot.
I’ve recently been reading some of his books. It started with my watching his series about baking and bread again, and realising that I now have a Kindle. This makes things a lot easier when cooking in a kitchen with very little work surface.
How to Bake and Bread were soon purchased. So was a lot of flour.
I often say that I don’t eat a lot of bread, but when I do, I want that bread to be tasty, and as good as it possibly can be. Baking good bread myself has eluded me over the years, except for my Turkish acma, which is gorgeous every time, but not the bread I wanted to bake.

Tex loves bread with a crisp crust, and I could never seem to get it right.

Until Mr Hollywood’s books came along.

‘Bread’ was the first book I read, and I decided to try the bloomer, because Tex likes those. I know a lot of people say to use the methods where you don’t knead as much, but I wanted to do it the hard way, from the start, to prove [ha ha ha] that I could. Also, I am not an accomplished baker, so it makes sense to get used to the feel of dough, and to stop being scared of it.

I have found Paul’s recipes to be very well written, nicely clear, and confidence building. They make me feel that every recipe is within my grasp. I don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, so it’s all got to be done by hand anyway. Using a food processor with a dough hook was a NO, and we won’t talk of it again. Well, maybe a bit.

I followed the directions to the letter. I know I am usually one for tweaks, but when it comes to the mystery that is bread I’m not going to mess with it. Not yet, anyway, but…well…I didn’t have enough strong bread flour, so I had to make up the shortfall with plain. I panicked a little, but then got on with it.

I’m going to put the whole recipe here, with my adjustments, because it just worked, and his way of writing is, to me, perfect.


If you’re new to bread-making this is a good recipe to start with, as it shows you the key techniques you need to master. It’s vital to knead the dough vigorously to develop the gluten and give the dough stretchiness, and to knock back and shape the loaf well. All this strengthens the structure so the dough can rise upwards without a tin. The loaf gets its name from the way it rises and ‘blooms’ like a flower in the oven. The term also describes the lustre you get with a well baked loaf that has a crisp crust.


500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting (I had to use 300g strong, 200g plain)
10g salt (It seems a lot. It’s not. It works.)
7g fast-action dried yeast
40ml olive oil, plus extra for oiling
320ml cool water – (Yes, COOL water. A revelation.)

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Pour in the oil and 240ml of the water and use the fingers of one hand to mix the ingredients together. Use a clawing action to stir the water into the dry ingredients, so you gather in all the flour.

Once you’ve got going, add the remaining water a little at a time until you have a soft, sticky (but not soggy) dough and you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all of the water; it will depend on the absorbency of the flour you’re using. (Bear in mind that the dough will become less sticky as you knead.) 

Pour a little oil onto a work surface. I use oil rather than flour to stop the dough sticking to the surface as it keeps the dough soft and does not alter the balance of flour to water. A wetter dough is harder to handle at first, but produces better bread.

Knead the dough for 5– 10 minutes (or longer if you’re a beginner). It will become less sticky and eventually turn into a smooth ball with an elastic texture.

(I re-oiled my hands when it got a bit too sticky, and boom! It worked! I could feel the dough change texture under my fingers and become much more elastic. )

The time this takes depends on how vigorous you are with the dough. It is ready when it is really stretchy: if you pull a piece of the dough between your fingers you should be able to stretch it to at least 20cm. (I never quite got it to that stage.)

Put the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with cling film or a tea towel and leave to rise until tripled in size – at least 1 ½ hours, but it can take up to 3 hours depending on the temperature. A slow rise develops a better flavour, so don’t put it in a warm spot. (Yes, I know, goes against the grain doesn’t it?)

The ambient temperature in most kitchens is between 18 ° C and 24 ° C, which is perfectly adequate.
Place the risen dough on a lightly floured surface. You now need to ‘knock back’ the dough by folding it in on itself several times and pushing out the air with your knuckles and the heels of your hands. Do this until all the air is knocked out and the dough is smooth.

To shape the dough into a bloomer, first flatten it into a rectangle, with a long side facing you. Fold the long side furthest from you into the middle of the rectangle. Then fold the long side closest to you into the middle, on top of the other fold. Turn the loaf over, so you have a smooth top with a seam along the base. Tuck the ends of the loaf under to make a rough oval shape. Rock the loaf gently so you form the loaf into its bloomer shape. The bread is now ready to prove.

This second rise of the shaped loaf is one of the secrets of great bread, enabling the dough to develop even more flavour as the yeast ferments and giving it a lighter texture.

Put the loaf on a baking tray (lined with baking parchment or silicone paper if it isn’t non-stick). Put the whole tray inside a large, clean plastic bag, making sure there is plenty of space above the surface of the dough so it won’t touch the plastic when it rises. Leave the loaf to prove, or rise again, until doubled in size; this will take about 1 hour.

To check when the bread is ready for the oven, gently press it with your finger: the dough should spring back. While the bread is proving, heat your oven to 220 ° C and put a deep roasting tray on the bottom shelf to heat up.

Lightly spray or sprinkle the bread with water. Dust with a handful of flour, smoothing it all over the top of your loaf with the palm of your hand. Be gentle – you don’t want to knock any air out of the loaf.

Using a very sharp knife, make  4 diagonal slashes across the top of the loaf, 2– 3cm deep and at a 45 ° angle. This gives your loaf the classic bloomer finish: on baking the loaf expands, so the slashes open up. If you do not slash the top, as the bread continues to expand once the crust has formed, cracks will form around the bottom of the crust. 
(My loaf was a bit misshapen, and possibly the slashes were too deep and straight but hey ho.)


Just before you put the loaf in the oven, pour about 1 litre water into the roasting tray. This will create steam when the loaf is baking and give it a crisp crust and a slight sheen. (This is a lot of water, and I wasn’t sure about it, but it definitely works!)
Place the loaf on the middle oven shelf and bake for 25 minutes at 200 ° C.

Then lower the oven setting to 200 ° C and bake for a further 10– 15 minutes, until the crust has a good colour.

Hold the loaf in a tea towel and tap the bottom. If the loaf sounds hollow, then it is ready. Put the loaf on a wire rack and leave it to cool completely.



Hollywood, Paul (2014-09-11). Paul Hollywood’s Bread (Kindle Locations 320-332). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Apart from the flour, I followed this to the letter. And I am really glad I did!

Basking in the glow of this success, I tried mini baguettes. I did have a bit of an equipment fail, with the Food Processor Incident of which we are sort of not speaking. [sigh] Yes, the dough was very wet, so it essentially snaked up the internal column of the processor, over the top and down again on the inside of the internal column. [sighs again] I managed to clean it all off, and just finished the kneading off by hand in a very sticky fashion.


BUT I persevered, with very, very sticky dough, and this happened.


And then this!


I cannot tell you how pleased I was to present Tex with a light, crackling crust bread, as the poor chap worked on the weekend.


I’d obviously gotten carried away with all this baking.

This is Paul’s recipe:


The classic French baguette is one of the most renowned breads and one of the longest. As it is too lengthy to fit in most domestic ovens, I’ve given a recipe for a mini version. You can buy a special baguette tray with a curved surface to get perfectly round loaves but it is fine to use a baking tray.

For a good baguette, a thorough knead to develop the elasticity of the dough is essential. You also need to shape the loaf well and bake it in a steamy oven to get a light crisp crust and soft interior.

250g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
5g salt
5g fast-action dried yeast
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for oiling
180ml cool water
Semolina for dusting

Put the flour in a food mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. (You can make this dough by hand but as it is wet and difficult to handle – and needs a very long knead – I would highly recommend using a mixer.)

Start mixing on a slow speed and gradually add the oil and water. After 5 minutes, turn the speed up to medium and mix for a further 5– 10 minutes, until you have a glossy, elastic dough that forms a ball on the dough hook and has a long, strong stretch when you pull it.

You should be able to stretch a piece out by 30cm without it breaking. Tip the dough into a lightly oiled bowl.

Cover with cling film or a tea towel and leave to rise for 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size.

Mix equal quantities of white flour and semolina together for dusting and scatter on a work surface.

Tip the dough onto the surface and knock back by pressing it down with the heels of your hands and then the tips of your fingers. Fold the dough in on itself several times to give it greater strength for rising.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. You are now going to shape the dough to give it form and structure.

Stretch each piece of dough into a long oblong, with a long side facing you. Fold the long edge furthest from you firmly down into the middle, then fold the bottom edge up into the middle and push it down firmly with your knuckles or fingertips.

Turn each piece over and roll into a baguette shape, keeping the dough nice and taut as you do so and applying a little extra pressure on the ends to get the classic baguette shape. The top should be smooth with a seam running along the bottom.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment or silicone paper, unless you have a good non-stick tray.

Dust the tray well with the flour and semolina mixture, then lift the shaped baguettes onto it. Place the baking tray inside a roomy plastic bag that won’t touch the dough as it rises.

Leave to prove, or rise again, for about 1 hour until the baguettes have roughly doubled in size.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200 ° C and put a roasting tray on the bottom shelf.

Just before baking, dust the baguettes with the flour and semolina mix. Now slash the tops 3 times with a sharp knife, using long diagonal strokes and cutting about 2cm deep. This helps the top of the dough to open out attractively and gives the baguette its characteristic appearance.

Pour 1 litre water into the roasting tray to create some steam, which helps to form the crust. Bake the loaves in the oven for 25 minutes, then lower the oven setting to 180 ° C and bake for a further 10 minutes, or until the baguettes are golden brown and have a slight sheen to them. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Hollywood, Paul. Paul Hollywood’s Bread (Kindle Locations 1323-1336). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

It’s true what the man says “Be warned: many people find that baking is addictive. Once you get into it, you just want to bake more and more. It’s not just about wanting to get better. There’s also something magical about the transformative nature of baking. You start off with a slop in a bowl and end up with something crisp, warm and full of flavour that goes with anything.”

I just wanted to bake. Cursed with a Waking Up Very Early few weeks, bread happened again.
This is a Cob Loaf.


I think I might try baguettes again soon. Without the food processor…

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