Hello, hello! It’s been a long time, way too long. But I only ask that you trust me when I say, I’ve had my hands pretty full these past few weeks. It doesn’t happen often but there are certain events in life that can derail even the most devoted of cooks. And while this entire “getting back to myself” process is taking much longer than I or even my doctor anticipated I am so happy to say that for the first time in a long time, the end is in sight.
One thing is for sure, health is a fickle and complicated thing. It’s something we tend to value only when it suddenly disappears. It has the ability to not only disrupt your life but like a ripple on a pond, the lives of countless others around you. And while the physical toll is great, the psychological and emotional effects pack the bigger punch.
For weeks I haven’t had the desire or ability to stand in front of my oven, open a cookbook, or even summon the hunger for dinner. Suddenly feeling alienated and indifferent to a part of yourself you have always been so endlessly passionate about can do strange things to the mind. But if you’re lucky like me, you lean hard on those around you and wait for it all to come back.
Comfort is a word that has become prominent in my vocabulary as of late so naturally I chose to end this hiatus with a great bread recipe. There is little that comforts me more than the smell of bread in the oven. This recipe comes from Peter Reinhart and is a great one for those fearful of shaping their own loaves by hand. This egg-rich bread hails from Sicily and combines three of my favorite things, bread, meat and cheese. With that combo, it seems impossible to go wrong.
Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
This bread, though a bit tricky to work with, is very bread novice-friendly. The dough tends to be a bit sticky but if you’re patient and adjust the flour or liquid gradually as suggested, the end result is well worth it. Feel free to use any dry-cured meat or even crisped bits of bacon. The same goes for the cheese though something with a stronger flavor will stand up better against the salami. I used a peppercorn crusted salami and loved the heat it added to the finished product.
For the sponge
1/2 cup unbleached bread flour
1 Tb instant yeast
1 cup buttermilk (can substitute whole milk), lukewarm
For the dough
4 oz dry-cured Italian salami or other spiced meat
3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tb sugar
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup shredded or grated provolone or other cheese
1. To make the sponge, combine the flour and yeast in a bowl and whisk in the buttermilk. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and allow to ferment at room temperature for 1 hour. The sponge will foam and bubble when ready.
2. Dice the salami into small cubes and sauté just to crisp lightly.
3. To make the dough, in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the eggs and the sponge and mix on low speed until ingredients form a coarse ball. If there is loose flour or dough, dribble in a tiny amount of water until the dough comes together. Continue to mix for 1 minute and then allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. This will allow the gluten to develop.
4. Divide the butter into 4 pieces and begin working it into the dough one piece at a time. The dough will at first become very sticky, but continue to mix on medium speed. If using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook after 4 minutes of mixing. The dough will eventually become smooth but tacky and come off the sides of the bowl cleanly. This could take between 12-14 minutes.
5. Once smooth, add the salami and knead until they are evenly distributed. Then do the same with the cheese. The dough should be soft and tacky but not sticky. If sticky, sprinkle in small amounts of flour until desired consistency is reached. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, coating it with oil and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for about 90 minutes or until the dough increases by 1 1/2 times.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl and press gently into an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. You can certainly shape the dough by hand into a boule, rolls or press into traditional loaf pans however, the cake pan method is pretty dummy proof and yields a beautiful, symmetrical loaf.
7. Once shaped, allow to rise for another 60-90 minutes or until the dough just crests the top of the pan.
8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, rotate 180 degrees and bake for an additional 30-40 minutes or until the center of the loaf registers 185 to 190 degrees. The dough should be golden brown on the top and sides and the cheese will ooze out and crisp up. If you find the top becoming too brown before the dough is finished, lower the oven to 325 degrees.
9. When the bread is done, gently remove from the pan and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.