“There is no smell in the world of food to equal the perfume of baking bread and few greater pleasures in eating than sitting down with a slice of freshly baked bread, good butter, and a cup of tea or coffee.” — James Beard, Beard on Bread
Photo by Susan Belsinger
• Rustic Wheat Bread with Savory Herbs and Onions
• Foccacia with Rosemary
• Skillet Corn Bread with Cheddar, Corn and Chiles
• Homemade Biscuits with Chives and Parmesan
• Maple Scones with Lemon Verbena and Candied Ginger
• Marion’s Steamed Bread
During the fall and winter months, we turn inward, seeking comfort and contentment in the warmth of our homes. We want heartier seasonal foods, and life revolves around the warmth of the kitchen. So turn on your ovens and treat your family to some good old-fashioned aromatherapy—the smell of fresh-baked bread. Capture the essence of savory and sweet herbs in your bread, fill the house with mouthwatering scents and savor the flavor of these easy-to-make breads. Even the staff of life can be enhanced with the flavor of culinary herbs.
Bread doughs and batters are ideal for capturing the aroma and flavor of herbs. When herbs are combined with the other ingredients and baked, the resulting breads are infused with herbal essence. Fresh herbs will provide the best aroma and taste — they have a bouquet that dried herbs tend to lose. However, dried herbs do work well in baked goods. It is good to reconstitute them a bit by adding them to the liquid in the recipe and letting them infuse while you are getting the rest of the ingredients ready. The recipes below call for fresh herbs; if you are substituting dried herbs, use about one-third to one-half of the amount called for. For example, if the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped basil leaves, you would use about 1 to 11⁄2 tablespoons of dried basil leaves, and crumble them into the liquid.
Yeast breads take a little more time to make, since they have to rise once or twice, but this easily can be done in between indoor or outdoor chores, fixing meals — somewhere during your daily routine. I often mix up a batch of dough the night before and let it rise slowly overnight in the refrigerator. Then, the next day, I remove it from the fridge, punch it down, let it rise again as it comes to room temperature and it’s ready to bake. Most of the quick breads can bake while lunch or dinner is being prepared. Scones and biscuits are so quick and easy to make, my girls or I often will whip up a batch for breakfast, or if friends drop by for tea.
Think about using your favorite herbs the next time you make biscuits or muffins, or get ready to use your bread machine. The combinations and variations are infinite and using herbs to flavor your breads, whether they are leavened with yeast, sourdough, baking powder or baking soda, will be a never-ending taste experience. According to the old saying, “Man cannot live by bread alone.” To which I say, “Add some herbs!”
While handmade bread is great, for those who prefer to use a bread machine, converting recipes is fairly simple. In general, most handmade bread recipes are designed to make two loaves of bread, while most bread machines are designed to produce one loaf, so you can simply halve all the ingredients to use your bread machine. However, you do not want to halve the amount of yeast used. Usually, you can stick to the amount of yeast your normal bread machine recipes call for.
In some cases, when the recipe you are using does not make roughly two times the amount you plan to make in your bread machine, you must do a sort of estimation and multiplication game. For example, take the total amount of flour (make sure to include all flour amounts together, if more than one type of flour is called for) required by your usual bread machine recipe. Then figure out by what number you must multiply the flour requirement in your handmade bread recipe in order to equal the amount you would normally use in your bread machine. For example, if your handmade recipe calls for 2 cups of flour, and your bread machine recipes normally call for 11⁄2 cups, you would have to multiply the 2 from the original recipe by .75 in order to get the 11⁄2 cups needed for your bread machine. You then can multiply each ingredient amount by the same number — in this case, .75 — to yield the appropriate amounts to use in your bread machine. The one tricky element here can be eggs, since you can’t very well include 11⁄3 eggs. Simply round off to the nearest number. Sometimes making the proper adjustments takes a little trial and error, but converting recipes in general should be fairly simple, so long as you are pretty familiar with your bread machine and its needs.
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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