I am not that great at baking.
I mean it. While I can say that I am a better-than-middling cook, baking is not my strong side, and never has been. That’s not to say that I cannot bake to save my life (I can, and even when I don’t need to save my life, too), but more that I doubt I will achieve any stellar heights with the conditory arts. On the other hand, someone I used to know once said that while cooking is an art, baking is a science. And, all things considered, that is true – there are some things in a recipe which are structural and should not be meddled with, to avoid disastrous results – but, conversely, the upside is that if you follow a recipe closely enough, it’s not difficult to produce quite edible results without too much effort.
(Even if you think baking bread is scary and sort of complicated.)
This recipe is inspired by a leaflet I grabbed out of the supermarket “seasonal recipes” stand. I never pass those by without a good look, not just because they contain good ideas and are made for materials one can buy at said supermarket (convenience bonus, even if the supermarkets don’t do it out of the goodness of their heart), but because why would anyone liking cooking and being in the right mind pass up what amounts to glossy-printed, well-illustrated pages out of an unpublished cookbook? I certainly don’t. So I do – grab them, that is.
The most recent handful involved three summery salads (which are yet to be tried out), and this – and when I asked T whether he wanted my sundried tomato bread or the untried-recipe herb and garlic one, he chose the latter. So the blame (and praise) for the existence of this goes to him – with lots of love, as always.
So yes, despite being generally comfortable in the kitchen, I am not a virtuoso baker, but the recipe contained easy instructions on how to make the squigglies come out well (anyone knowing me will understand why that is of paramount importance!), and required, in the way bread often does, a very short list of ingredients. And so, bravely, it was attempted – though I must say, I was lazy, and knowing a bit more about baking bread than nothing, I knew that the time given for bread to rise for the first time is really a minimum rather than any sort of precise thing, and so the bread sat for about 3.5 hours instead of 1.5 suggested – which caused it no harm whatsoever. So I suppose baking’s not all hard science with lab stopwatches measured in nanoseconds.
So, if you should feel up to a day of lazy baking with a result that is a little more interesting than a prosaic loaf (nothing wrong with said prosaic loaf if you want one, of course), here’s my modification of the original recipe. The modifications mostly are to do with more seasoning and less restrictive instructions, but there you go. Original recipe (in Swedish) can be found here.
What you need:
- 1 deep mixing bowl and a plate
- 1 round 24-ish cm springform pan, or one of those loose-bottom ones.
- Baking parchment
- A rolling pin
- 7+ dl white or bread flour
- 3dl finger-warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (I use extra-virgin variety)
- 1.5 to 2 teaspoons fine salt (if you like your bread very un-salty, you can try with 1, but I recommend more)
- 1 tablespoon (about 15g) fresh compressed yeast or 1 tablespoon dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
For the herbed oil:
- 1/2dl olive oil (same as above)
- 3 tablespoons fresh or frozen chopped herbs of your choice. I used frozen Herbes de Provence mix but I may try this with fresh herbs next time instead, as the commercially frozen Herbes de Provence mix lacks lavender, having which may not be so authentic, but I love the mixes with lavender added
- Zest (peel) of 1 lemon (grated)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder (I may try fresh chopped garlic or lightly fried garlic in the oil next time)
You can also use some flaked sea salt of some variety, which tastes wonderful and I do recommend it.
How to do it:
(First of all, you have to realise that, as with any other yeast bread, this will take time. How much time? At least 3 hours in total, realistically.)
- Put your flour into a large bowl. I never bother sifting but I do swish it around with a wooden spoon to avoid chunking. If you are using dry yeast, put it into the flour and mix it in.
- Measure out your water and add sugar. Swirl to mix and add your fresh yeast, crumbling the cake up with your fingers as you go. Mix and let stand ~5 minutes. If you are using dry yeast, mix the ingredients and proceed to next step, there’s no need to wait.
- Swirl the yeast solution about, add the oil and then salt. There may be a foaming reaction, that is normal. Swirl a bit more to mix.
- Make a well in the middle of the flour and slowly add the liquid, mixing with a wooden spoon or low-setting dough hook attachment of your mixer.
- Continue working the wet dough with hands or mixer hooks, adding more flour as needed, until dough is elastic and starts coming away from edges of bowl. Knead it a few times and lay on a plate while you wash, dry and oil the bowl lightly.
- Place dough into bowl, turn once or twice to coat thinly in oil, cover with cling film (pierce that a couple of times with a fork or sharp knife), lay a tea towel over top and leave in a warm non-drafty place to rise. Original recipe specified 1.5 hours and that’d probably be enough. I let it sit for more like 3.5 hours and that did not hurt it any – so adjust it to your schedule, don’t force yourself into a dough dictatorship!
- At some random point while the dough is away planning world domination, make the herb oil by loading all the ingredients (except flaked salt) into a mini-chopper and blitzing till mixed. Or putting in a bowl and whisking if you are that sort of exercise-prone person. Set aside to steep.
- Cut a large rectangle of baking parchment and mash it into your pan (moistening the pan very lightly tends to help with this), fluting a little so that it doesn’t bulge up. Running a nail around the circumference of pan’s bottom tends to make it more amenable to folding and staying that way. Leave it be.
- At the end of those however-many-is-convenient hours, preheat oven to 225°C.
- Punch the dough down in the bowl, drag it onto a very well floured surface, and knead (adding flour generously as needed) till it stops pretending to be an alien amoeba eating your hands. (It does after a while, trust me – see, I can still type!)
- Let the dough rest for ~5 min, then roll it out (flouring generously still to avoid sticking to surface and tearing) into a ~40x30cm wobbly shape (rectangle, riiight!)
- Smear herb oil over the wobbly dough shape leaving 1-1.5cm margin, and roll it up on the longer axis. Careful, oil likes to leak, and this will get messy so be prepared.
- Cut the resulting leaky sausage into 8-10 pieces and stand them on cut ends inside the form. Note that they will expand as they rise and then bake, so don’t fret if they aren’t filling it completely. Or if you have to mash them in a little (if you cut too many) diagonally. Whatever, in they go.
- Sprinkle any remaining oil and then flaked salt over the top of the bread and let it stand (I covered it with the previously-used forked cling film) for about 30 minutes until it puffs up some.
- Bake in preheated oven for ~25 minutes or until it browns nicely. I used top+bottom, no fan setting and I would recommend it, but you know your oven better, etc. Be sensible, it’s bread, if you nuke it with the grill too much, the top will burn.
- Take the form out and cool on rack for a while, then remove the form and cool parchment-wrapped bread on rack further until ready to serve.
This goes amazingly well with a hearty vegetable soup (I had butternut squash with ginger, bacon and garlic yesterday), or a lighter but full-flavoured summer one (such as gazpacho or Jerusalem artichoke soup), and some salted butter. Or flavoured herb and/or garlic butter. Nom!
This, agian, won’t win any low calorie or weight-loss awards, but it certainly tastes better than what you’d normally get in a supermarket labelled as herb bread, and the effort is pretty minimal – not to mention spaced out over N number of hours that you determine. Lazy cooking at its best!