First, thank you. Thank you to you lovely people and the lovely way you responded to last week’s post about my sweet rolls and my Nana. Old friends, new friends, family, it warmed me to see your comments. I so appreciate you making yourselves known and sharing your own experiences and memories – I’m motivated to delve into more old family recipes and more new experiments. That probably sounds a little cheesy, but I mean it.
So I suppose you could call this a thank you loaf. It was delicious, it was easy (well, as easy as baking bread can be, I suppose), and I made it for you.
I wanted, as I’ve noted, a basic recipe, though I can’t resist adding a tweak or two to keep things interesting. My first boule was overbrowned; my second utilized an overnight leavening procedure I didn’t think added all that much to the final product. So the third had to be just right – the charm, you might say – and I really do think it was. Goldilocks bread.
I went back to Ruhlman’s directions for cooking the loaf in a pot. This strategy for maintaining the shape and for holding in moisture by using a lid makes so much sense, and I wanted to give it another shot.
This time I decided to add some fat to the bread in the form of olive oil. This made the crumb a bit moister and I think it kept the bread tasting fresh longer. To make the yeast extra happy, I proofed it (them? Is yeast grammatically plural?) with a few tablespoons of honey. This didn’t contribute noticeable sweetness to the final product, but it did make for an extra foamy yeast party. You could probably increase the honey if you wanted a sweeter end product. Since I was still on a high from the orange marmalade triumph, I decided this bread would benefit from some orange zest and, just for fun, some fresh rosemary too. I ended up with a really beautiful loaf: puffed, thin but crisp crust, moist dense crumb. The orange and rosemary creep up on you – perfumed subtlety lingering in the background until you’re almost finished chewing. Then they suddenly become present. It’s not a punch, it’s a slow sloping into flavor.
This was perfect for sopping up sauce from baked beans (it would make stellar toast for beans on toast), complementing the sweetness and the fatty bacon flavor with its subtle herbaceousness. I could see adding some dried cranberries to the dough for a wintry take on a breakfast slice. It dances well with a slick of salted butter, plain and simple, but its shining moment this week was as an open faced sandwich spread thickly with cream cheese and fig preserves. The orange and rosemary played beautiful back-up to the cream cheese and the fig, and I bolted it before I even considered taking a photo to share the triumph. If you make this bread – and you should, oh you should – don’t miss this combination.
Orange and Rosemary loaf
12 oz. warm water
2 TB honey
2 tsp yeast
2 TB olive oil
20 oz. bread flour (or 4 cups, give or take)
2 tsp salt (I’m currently obsessed with a gray French sea salt, which I found at Cost Plus World Market)
2 TB fresh rosemary leaves, minced
zest from 2 oranges
Combine the warm water, honey, and yeast in a small bowl or a measuring cup, and stir lightly. Set aside for 5 minutes or so to let the yeast revive from its hibernation.
In a medium bowl (I use my stand mixer), combine the flour, salt, orange zest, and rosemary.
When the yeast is bubbly and smells of bread and beer and awesome, add the olive oil to the wet mixture and stir lightly.
Pour the wet yeast mixture carefully into the dry ingredients, then stir to combine until you have a wet, shaggy mixture (if you are using a stand mixer, try the paddle attachment. I know it’s one extra thing to wash, but it brings the mixture together much more quickly than a dough hook).
Once the dough is shaggy but workable, knead for 8-10 minutes or until a small knob can be stretched gently between your fingers to a point of translucency. This is called the windowpane test. If you’re getting help from a stand mixer, use your dough hook and knead on medium speed, checking after 6-7 minutes.
Your dough should be warm, elastic, and smooth. Turn it into an oiled bowl and flip it around until all sides are lightly oiled. Let it rise in a warm, draft-free environment until doubled, 60-75 minutes (My preferred method is to turn my oven on for five minutes, turn it off, wait for five minutes, and then put the dough inside. This creates an environment warm enough to help it rise, but not warm enough to start it cooking already).
After the dough has doubled in bulk, push it down gently with your fist to release the gasses trapped inside, then let it rest for 10 minutes to get its breath back.
On a floured board, shape your bread. Since we are going for a round loaf, spin the dough in a circle, pushing it away from you with one hand, and using the other hand to tuck it under so you form a smooth, round ball. (There are a lot of videos and complex step-by-step series for this procedure, involving pinching seams, smoothing and pulling, spreading and folding and turning the dough, and a host of others to prevent the loaf from spreading rather than maintaining its round shape. Letting it rise and then baking it in a round pot takes care of many of these concerns. I haven’t been particularly firm about pinching seams, and my loaves have turned out nicely rounded.)
Transfer the loaf to a dutch oven or similar lidded pot and let it rise for another 90 minutes. I lined my baking vessel with parchment paper this time so I wouldn’t have to use olive oil, which I suspect made my previous attempt too brown on the bottom. This seemed to work fairly well.
When your dough has risen again, it will be puffed and pushing against the sides of the pot. It’s now time to score it with a sharp knife, drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt, then bake it with the lid on in a preheated 450F oven for 30 minutes. Keeping the lid on traps some of the moisture inside, so you don’t have to bother with flicking or spraying the inside of the oven, or even with adding a pan of water.
After half an hour, remove the lid and continue baking for 15-30 additional minutes, or until the bread is done (it should register 180-200F on an instant-read thermometer and sound hollow when you tap the bottom). Mine only took an additional 15 minutes before it tested done.
Let the bread cool for 10-15 minutes, if you can stand it, before slicing. This gives the center time to cool a bit and helps it stay together better.
Or, you know, just tear off chunks and eat them blisteringly hot. I won’t tell anyone.