Makes 2 loaves
This bread is fashioned after Tuscan bread that I learned to make when I lived in Italy. The addition of herbs and onions make it a savory loaf. The bread dough can be allowed to rise once, punched down, and then the herbs can be kneaded in, shaped into a loaf, allowed to rise again and then baked. You can replace 1 cup of the whole-wheat flour with 1 cup of rye flour, for a variation in flavor and texture. Depending on time, let the dough rise and be punched down twice before kneading in the herbs, which seems to make a bit bigger, yeastier loaves. Either way, it is delectable. The second loaf can be frozen once it has cooled completely.
• 1⁄2 cup lukewarm water
• 2 tablespoons yeast
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 4 cups unbleached flour
• 4 cups whole-wheat flour
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 2 cups warm water
• 4 tablespoons olive oil
• About 1 cup unbleached flour for kneading
• Generous 1⁄4 cup minced fresh Italian parsley
• Generous 2 tablespoons fresh minced sage
• Generous 2 tablespoons fresh minced rosemary
• 1⁄2 cup finely chopped onions
• About 1⁄4 cup cornmeal, for sprinkling on baking sheet and tops of loaves
1. Combine the 1⁄2 cup lukewarm water, yeast and honey in a small bowl. Let the mixture stand until yeast becomes foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, combine and toss the unbleached flour, whole-wheat flour and salt; make a well in the center of the flour. Add the yeast mixture to the well and stir just to combine a little of the flour. Add half of the water and start to blend in some flour with a wooden spoon. Add the oil and the rest of the water and continue mixing. Once most of the flour is mixed in and it becomes hard to stir, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
3. Gather the dough together and knead for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with flour if it is sticky, as needed. The dough should be a bit heavy. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the kneaded dough in it to rise, covered with a damp towel. If you are letting the dough rise overnight, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Check to see if it needs punching down. If it has doubled in bulk, punch it down with your fist, give it a few kneads, turn it over, and either cover it to rise again, or prepare to shape the loaves.
4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees when ready to shape the loaves. Combine the herbs and chopped onion together. Divide the dough in half and knead each portion, one at a time, gently flattening the dough. Spread one-quarter of the herb mixture on the flattened dough and fold it in half to cover and knead. Flatten the dough again and spread another quarter of the herb mixture on the dough, fold over and knead. Continue kneading and working the herbs and onions into the dough, gathering any pieces that fall out. Once the dough is homogenous, shape it into a loaf. Repeat the process with the remaining dough and herb mixture.
5. Lightly sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal. Place the loaves, not touching, on the sheet and sprinkle the tops with cornmeal. With a sharp knife, make two or three diagonal slashes, about 1⁄2 inch deep, across the tops of the loaves. Place a towel over the loaves and allow them to rise in a warm place until almost doubled in bulk.
6. Bake them in a hot oven for about 45 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Remove to a baking rack to cool.
Susan Belsinger is a culinary herbalist who loves playing with food. She delights in kitchen alchemy — the blending of harmonious seasonal foods, herbs and spices. For more information on recipe conversions, visit www.baking911/bread_machines.htm.
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