We make these every year for harvest. You can’t eat them but they look decorative and they are always in demand for harvest festivals. Fortunately, when they are dried out they last a long time so you can use the same one for several different events.
Traditionally loaves were baked for Lammas on 1st August, when the first wheat is harvested, but modern farming techniques and a change in the calendar mean that we no longer harvest on 1st August. The Lammas loaves were just plain loaves, as far as we can tell, but over the years this wheatsheaf loaf design has become established as a Harvest Festival standard.
This one took just under two hours from start to finish (apart from the five hours drying in the oven) but I sure it can be done quicker if you concentrate.
First make your dough.
This is from the Doves Farm website, though there are plenty of other versions.
500g strong white bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1tsp quick acting yeast
300ml water (which is also 300g, just to make it easier)
1 egg (to glaze)
1) Mix together flour, salt yeast and sugar in a bowl
2) Add most of the water water and mix into rough dough
3) Knead on work surface until smooth
I’ll take over again now, as I don’t need a recipe to do the next bit.
First, divide the dough into three parts.
Adding the stalks
Ears of wheat
Stretch one part out on a baking tray and then trim to a mushroom shape. Keep the offcuts.
These recipes nearly always seem to be formulated to make a loaf the size of a baking tray. This one only just gives you enough dough, as I will mention later. As you can see from the photo I stretched the dough too thin and needed to patch it. I think this was partly because the quantities are marginal for this size of project and partly because I used a mix of leftover flour, including some whole wheat, and the dough wasn’t as soft as it could have been. (That’s bakerspeak for “I didn’t knead it enough”).
Roll out approximately 30 stalks and lay them on the base. I covered mine in 28 then added another layer on most of the top (and a third layer in the middle) to give a 3D effect. I’m not sure if it is necessary, and with this recipe I might do fewer stalks next time to ensure I have enough dough.
Next start making sausage shapes. The recipe says to cut the dough ball into 3 and make 20 shapes from each of the thirds. I did it by eye and reckon I did about 80. Another recipe I read says to use 100. Make sure you lay the outer ring to protrude past the base and give a more natural effect.
Wheatsheaf ready for the oven
Glazed and baked harvest loaf
Detail of the mouse
Don’t snip the ears to make the grain detail yet. If you do you will lay a lot of it flat when you glaze.
Using the offcuts, make a mouse and something to bind the sheaf. I normally use a plait.
Glaze, using the egg, but be careful not to let it pool in the lower parts of the design as it looks unsightly. Also, try to avoid overflowing onto the tray as it will make it tricky to get the loaf off the tray.
Cut the ears in the mouse and the detail into the ears of wheat at this point (put the eyes in the mouse using the scissor points).
Bake for 25 minutes at 200°C/Fan180°C/400°F/Gas 6 for 25 minutes
Dry by baking for a further 5 hours at about 100 degrees.
Once cool, it can be varnished, though I’ve never actually done it myself.