Today was the first really wintery day of 2012. Though the promised snow never materialized, it was cold and rainy. I kept a fire going in the woodstove all day… A perfect day to make some bread.
The first bread cookbook I bought was Beard on Bread. It’s a great beginner’s book because he explains everything so clearly; once you master the first recipe, Basic White Bread, everything else in the book builds from there. I still use that book for classic recipes like Pullman Loaf. This bread owes a lot to that Basic White Bread.
ONION & HERB BREAD
Dice two or three thin slices of onion and saute them in 1 tablespoon olive oil, just until translucent. When they have lost their raw taste and smell, turn the heat off and let them cool while making the dough.
Proof 2 tablespoons (two packets) yeast in 1 cup warm-but-not-hot water with 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Yeast, when waking up, should look like this – bubbling as it eats the sugar.
Pour the yeasty water into a large bowl containing 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup unbleached white flour, and 2 teaspoons salt, and mix by hand. If the dough looks too wet:
add more flour, a handful at a time, and mix each addition in thoroughly. Keep adding flour until the dough forms a more stable ball, like this:
Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. A breadboard is ideal; I use the countertop. Begin kneading the dough by smearing it out with the heel of your hand, then folding it back on itself.
Add bits of flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking, but do not add large amounts all at once: the bread will be hard with flour pockets.
How much kneading is enough? The dough will be springy; when pressed with a finger, the dimple with spring back; sometimes blisters appear and break on the dough surface. The dough will feel alive. It is virtually impossible to overknead by hand; you’ll be tired long before the dough is overworked.
Add the sauteed onions and herbs of choice. Here I used 1 teaspoon fines herbs and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, but rosemary, thyme, oregano, or any other herb/combination would work. Knead them together. They will resist each other at first, but keep working the dough. The dough may become sticky again; add bits of flour as necessary and incorporate flour thoroughly.
Wash the bowl dough was mixed in and dry it. Pour in 2 tablespoons olive oil and rub it around the interior. Place bread dough in bowl and turn it over so it is coated with oil.
Cover bowl with kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free environment, such as in a barely-warm oven. Let dough rise until doubled. This could take up to 2 hours.
When dough has risen, remove bowl from oven. Make a fist and punch dough so it deflates. Knead dough again, adding small amounts of flour as necessary to keep it from sticking. When dough is springy and non-sticky again, set it aside to rest.
Prepare a standard loaf pan by oiling it. Here, I used two small disposable aluminum pans, which I oiled and then floured.
Again cover with kitchen towel and let rise. When dough is nearly doubled, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle on seeds. I used cumin, sesame, and charnushka.
When oven is thoroughly preheated, place pans on rack in lower third of oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Tap on loaf; it should sound hollow. If it doesn’t, bake another 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove bread from oven and turn out of pans. If the bottom seems soft and isn’t crisp, place bread directly on oven racks for a few minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes before slicing.
James Beard suggested a thin slice of raw onion on a slice of homemade bread, and it’s very good indeed with a little olive oil.