GBBO’s Paul Jagger: Top tips for baking bread

The Great British Bake Off contestant, whose lion bread wowed Paul Hollywood, shares some knead to know information

‘Paul Hollywood is a pussycat!’ So says Paul Jagger, the former Great British Bake Off contestant best known for his triumphant lion bread. It seems odds-on that Jagger would view anyone from Vinny Jones to Vladimir Putin as a pussycat. Built like a boulder off Stonehenge, the ex-forces, former Coldstream Guard is currently a prison governor – hence his nickname, The Baking Governor.

Jagger reached the quarter finals of GBBO series six in 2015, receiving two ‘Hollywood Handshakes’ from Paul Hollywood, back when they were hailed as the ultimate accolade. But the recent glut of handshakes from the show’s judge has caused many to question whether his signature signal of success has lost its value. ‘Has the Hollywood handshake lost its magic?’ asks the Mail, ‘Is Paul Hollywood giving out too many handshakes?’ wonders the Radio Times. I ask Jagger, who tells me, ‘I think in the early days it was a bit more infrequent, but maybe baking’s moved forward so much that he’s giving more out!’

Jagger’s initial interest in baking stemmed from licking the spoon when his mum was making cakes. In the army, he’d spice up the ration packs, and when his own family came along, he was happy to get involved in the kitchen. He says, ‘Everyone can cook and bake. They’re skills you should be proud of. We all eat food, it doesn’t matter who makes it.’

Despite his progressive attitude – and a side line in wedding cakes – Jagger took some convincing to apply to GBBO. He says, ‘I watched it each year, saying, “I can do better than that”, and my wife kept encouraging me to put in for it. It was a macho thing though, the idea of going onto a baking programme, that put me off. But the year before mine, there was a guy on there, Richard Burr the builder, and that changed it for me. The image of baking changed, and that gave me the confidence to go for it.’

Jagger reveals that one of the best things about baking on GBBO was that, ‘You have these fantastic ladies who come out and clean all the mess up after each bake.’ But aside from getting someone else to clean up after you, these are Jagger’s tips for making your first loaf….

Paul Jagger getting stuck in (Photo: Bake with a legend)

Get your basics right

Baking bread is simple. You’ve got four basic ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. If you get those right, you can’t go wrong. If you mix those four ingredients, then knead it, prove it, and put it in the oven, you will end up with a loaf of bread. I use Homepride flour because they sent me masses of it, but I’ve used all brands of flour. There are some with grains in – they’re very nice, but other than that, there’s no real difference between them. When it comes to flour, they’re all as good as each other.

Fresh is best

I prefer fresh yeast because it gives a better flavour. Most supermarkets sell it and if you go to the bakery department of a big superstore, they’ll probably give you a bag for free – just ask. You need to use just over double the quantity than you would for dry yeast, so if it says seven grams of dried yeast, you’ll need 15-17g of live yeast. Failing that, I’ll use fast-acting yeast to save time, and again, you can buy it in the supermarket.

Mind the salt

When you’ve got the flour and the yeast in your bowl, and you’re about to add the salt, make sure you don’t put it directly on top of the yeast. It’s fine once it’s mixed in, but whether it’s fresh yeast, packet yeast, or one you’ve got to activate, don’t put the salt directly on top of the yeast because it will kill it.

Slowly, slowly

When you’re adding the water to the mix, do it gradually. It may say 325ml, which is the amount for a 500g bloomer, but don’t pour all of it in one go because different flours have different absorption rates. You want a dough that’s a bit tacky that you can tip onto the work surface and start kneading. It’s better if it’s slightly overly tacky, because you can add flour if you need to, but if it’s too dry, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t add water once it’s on the work surface because it will get too sloppy and you’re not going to recover it.

All you knead is…

As long as you knead the dough for a good five to 10 minutes, it doesn’t matter how you do it – you’re just stretching the dough. The best way is probably to stretch it away from you with the heel of your hand, and bring it back in with your fingers. You’ll know it’s done when it’s soft and it’s not sticking to your hands anymore. When you touch it, it should spring back.

A full prove plan

Once you’ve kneaded the dough, put it back in its bowl for proving. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a damp tea towel. If you put a bit of olive oil around the rim, it’ll give the clingfilm a nice tight seal, and if you put some olive oil inside the bowl, it’ll stop the dough sticking to the sides when it increases in size. It’ll take an hour-and-a-half to two hours to prove, and you’ll know it’s done when it’s doubled in size. You don’t need to put it in the airing cupboard or in a proving drawer or on top of the oven – you can, but all that does is speed the process up. If you want to, you can prove it in the fridge over night, then take it out in the morning, ready to make freshly baked bread for breakfast.

Keep on rolling

Whether it’s pastry or bread, never roll it in one line from top to bottom. The proper way to roll out is to start from the middle, and roll it away from you, then bring it back to the middle and roll it towards you. That way you get even coverage.

Feel the heat

Every oven’s different and has different temperatures. The best thing is to buy an oven temperature thermometer, as that will give you an accurate reading. I generally use the middle shelf because then you have the consistency of an even temperature all round. Put a small tray at the bottom of the oven, with half a pint of water in it, and as the steam rises you’ll get a nice even crust over the top of the bread.

By the book

When I first went on Bake Off, my wife bought me a lovely book. It’s a flavour thesaurus and it teaches you what goes with what, when you’re cooking. It’s a nice book to reference if you want to come up with something different for bread, or any other kind of cooking.

A beginner’s loaf

If you’re making your first loaf of bread, do a bloomer. That’s 500g of strong white bread flour, 325ml of water, a teaspoon of salt, and 7g of fast acting yeast, or 15-17g of fresh yeast. Mix the ingredients together, knead it, prove it for an hour-and-a-half to two hours, then knock it back into an oblong or round shape, and put it inside a clear plastic bag to let it prove a second time for 40 minutes – it’ll bloom a bit more. Take it out, sprinkle some flour onto the top and use a sharp knife or a Lame to score it three or four times, then put it straight into an oven at 210-220 degrees, as hot as you can, for 25-30 minutes.

Bake With A Legend offers a range of baking classes hosted by former GBBO contestants

Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here


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