It’s raining outside.
It started yesterday and will continue through tonight. Lots and lots of rain. It’s also pushing 60°F outside. Just a tad unseasonable for the Mid-Atlantic states in early February. The radio pundit said this would have been three feet of snow if it had been cold. I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad that it’s not.
I’ve always loved a good close-down-the-eastern-seaboard snow, but, all of a sudden this year, I’m kinda over snow. I refuse to admit that it’s old age on my part, so I’m going to blame Nonna. If we get snow and the power goes out, we’re screwed. Victor and I can handle it – we have books, we can read, we can cook, and even play on our phones – and stay warm with a fire in the fireplace. Nonna can’t do any of the above. Without her TV, space heater, and electric throw set on high, she would be miserable – and so would we.
Nah… I’d rather it be rain.
In honor of the rain, I decided to bake a loaf of bread. I know… how unusual for me to be baking bread, eh?!? But since it’s raining and I had decided soup was on the menu for dinner, bread seemed like a good idea. And since a simple soup was for dinner, I decided we needed a bread I hadn’t made before. I headed over to the King Arthur website to see what was up.
I was scrolling through the French and Italian bread recipes and a figure-8 loaf caught my eye. It was stuffed with cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil… sounded pretty good.
I have to admit that I don’t have a lot of luck with King Arthur recipes. Their measurements and what I should be achieving never seem to jive with what is happening in reality. Today was no exception.
The cooks notes at the end of the recipe stated if I was using all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, I should decrease the water from 1/3 cup to 1/4 cup. It also stated that I should have a smooth and very soft dough, slightly sticking to the bottom of the mixer. I started with the full 1/3 cup and had to add another 1/4 cup of water to make that smooth dough. I also take issue with a recipe that calls for adding oil at the beginning. Flour need to be hydrated with water before oil is added. Adding the oil directly to dry flour inhibits water absorption.
It also stated I should loosely cover the baking bread after 20 minutes to prevent over-browning. I didn’t cover it and you can see that after 40 minutes in the oven, it did not over-brown by any stretch of the imagination.
Complaints aside, I ended up with a really good loaf of bread!
I changed the filling, a bit, using my favorite Italian cheese blend, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and kalamata olives.
- 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
- 1/3 cup lukewarm water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup shredded Italian-blend cheese
- 1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 10 chopped kalamata olives
To make the dough:
Combine all of the dough ingredients in a bowl and mix and knead to make a smooth, very soft dough. The dough should stick a bit to the bottom of the bowl if you’re using a stand mixer.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 45 to 60 minutes, or until it’s doubled in size.
On a lightly-floured board, gently deflate the dough. Flatten and pat it into a 22″ x 8 1/2″ rectangle. Spread with the cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and olives.
Starting with one long edge, roll the dough into a log. Pinch the edges to seal. Place the log seam-side down on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
Using kitchen shears, start 1/2″ from one end and cut the log lengthwise down the center about 1″ deep, to within 1/2″ of the other end. Keeping the cut side up, form an “S” shape. Tuck both ends under the center of the “S” to form a “figure 8;” pinch the ends together to seal.
Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, 45 to 60 minutes. While the loaf is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Uncover the bread, and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting it with foil after 20 to 25 minutes to prevent over-browning. Remove the bread from the oven, and transfer it to a rack to cool.
The crumb is light and rich just as an egg bread should be. The filling ingredients are strong, so a little goes a long way. You could probably up the cheese a bit, but I wouldn’t add too many more olives or tomatoes. This is one of those less is more moments.
Even though I usually have issues with the King Arthur recipes, I’ll be back there again and again for ideas. I think with any recipe it’s important to read them through before beginning, and use your best judgement when making them. If a recipe states you should have a soft dough and you’re dealing with a brick, slowly add some water. If it says it should be pulling away from the bowl and yours looks like plaster of paris, slowly add flour.
Recipes just can’t take in every variable there is… age and moisture content of flour, humidity, kitchen temperature, temperature of all the ingredients, and the relative hardness or softness of your water can really play havoc with bread. Water that is too hard toughens the gluten structure and screws up fermentation. Water that is too soft does the opposite and creates soft, sticky dough.
The only real solution is to bake lots of bread and learn by touch and feel what a good dough should be!
So start baking!
The simple soup for dinner became A Chicken Vegetable soup with little noodles, rice, farro, carrots, onion, celery, shallots, peas, green beans, navy beans… throw it in the pot and make it all hot!