How to bake and watch tennis!

At last the sun is out and the tennis at Wimbledon is more exciting than it's been for several years. But the guilt of spending the afternoons in the house with the television on can be outweighed if you have a project on hand. So, in order to dissipate the tension of Andy Murray's slow start on Wednesday I thought I'd try to make a wheat sheaf.

A bread wheat sheaf is a traditional harvest decoration and it can be made with a very weak dough which is high in salt. This gives a mouldable dough without much rise - the result is however inedible. The alternative is to make the sheaf with a normal bread dough. The resulting loaf would be edible but, as the sheaf takes time to make and is rising all the time, you run the risk of too much rise or 'over-proving'. This results in a loss of definition as the individual elements grow into each other and the whole sheaf can deflate when it is put in the oven. Either way the result is a less edible wheat sheaf. Of course making something like this at the height of the summer is probably not the best idea I have ever had. The increased warmth means that the bread rises even faster. So, as a first attempt, I decided to go for the high salt, mouldable dough.

The whole sheaf took two and half hours to make. First the basic shape is rolled out and cut. Then 35 'stalks' made and applied to the base of the sheaf. The wheat ears are just a series of little sausages, snipped with scissors to show the kernels and arranged on the top of the sheaf. The whole is tied with an ornamental knot which disguises the tops of the stalks and, as a finishing touch, I added a harvest mouse. The whole thing is held together with egg wash and then more egg wash applied to the surface to give a nice shiny finish. The whole thing is a bit lopsided - I blame Andy Murray as I had to keep pausing to either watch the TV or to hide my eyes. Tennis players aren't the only ones to lose momentum!

The sheaf just fitted on my largest baking tray - note to self - assemble the next one on the tray, don't try to move the completed shape !!!! (That is why the base is a little out of kilter………

Given the very small amount of yeast in the dough there was very little rise or 'oven spring' in the completed sheaf. I cooked it for about 30 minutes at 240 c and was delighted when I took it out of the oven. It was still a little soft however and, as it isn't edible, I thought I'd dry it out in the bottom oven of the AGA for a couple of hours; classic mistake. The sheaf wasn't remembered until the next day. Amazingly it hadn't turned into a complete cinder but it is certainly darker than I would like. Still this is just a first attempt with lots of room for improvement.

Next time, I will use a standard bread dough with more yeast and less salt (and try not to forget it). It would be nice to have an edible result so more use will have to be made of the fridge during the construction to hold back the rise. I'll let you know how I get on! Shame the tennis won't still be on.