Italian Herb and Cheese Loaf

Today is a bread-baking rainy Saturday here in Cincinnati.  Whenever I bake bread, I can always count on my Lolly to lean on me more than a little bit to make a flavored loaf rather than “plain” artisan bread.  I tend to prefer making the “plain” loaves — by which I mean they contain only flour, water, salt and yeast — because I like the challenge of seeing how much flavor I can coax out of those basic ingredients.   But Lolly can be very persuasive with her batting of eyelashes and irresistible smile, so today I am caving in and catering to her whim (the secret to a happy marriage, guys) by making a loaf flavored with Italian herbs, olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Before I launch into the recipe, I want to mention that most of the method is the same as in my post of January 9, 2016, so I’m just going to be summarizing some of the steps here, and would refer you back to the earlier post for more of the details:  Bread Baking — My Drug of Choice

Here are your basic dough ingredients for one loaf of just over a pound in finished weight.  You will want to weigh these out carefully with a digital scale for best results (except for the yeast, which is measured with a spoon because the weight is less than a gram).  One other point to keep in mind is that this recipe uses a long, slow ferment time, as in overnight slow.  If you want to make this bread as a same-day recipe, just increase the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon (about 2g), reduce the water to 350g, and cut the ferment time to about 4 hours.  You won’t get the same depth of flavor development as the overnight method, but it will still produce a delicious loaf that will wow your friends.

  • 500g all purpose flour
  • 375g lukewarm water
  • 11g fine sea salt
  • Scant 1/8 tsp. active dry yeast

Begin by mixing only the flour and water for your autolyze step and allow to sit for about 20 minutes.  Add the salt and yeast, then mix thoroughly until they are fully and evenly incorporated.  Next, we will add the herbs and olive oil.  I chose to use dried herbs as a matter of convenience, but if you prefer fresh herbs just use two to three teaspoons each and chop them finely.

  • 1 tsp. dried basil leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley leaves
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

After the herbs and oil are thoroughly incorporated, let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for about 10 minutes, then do your stretch-and-fold technique two to three times at intervals of 10-15 minutes.  After that, cover the mixing bowl tightly and ferment the dough for 12-14 hours.

When the ferment time is done, gently turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape it into a ball by stretching the opposite ends up underneath and tucking together on the bottom to form a loose seam.  This creates surface tension on the dough and promotes shape retention during proofing.  Place the dough ball seam side down into a well-floured proofing basket, and allow to proof for about an hour to an hour and a quarter.

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While the dough is proofing, heat your Dutch oven with the lid on in a 450° oven for at least 30-45 minutes.  When the proofing time is finished, gently turn the dough out of the basket onto a floured surface, then carefully lift it with floured hands and lower it into the hot Dutch oven — please please please don’t burn yourself.  At this point, for additional flavor you can sprinkle on a little garlic powder if you like.  Put the lid on the Dutch oven and bake 30 minutes.

Next, take the Dutch oven out and remove the lid.  Sprinkle the top of the loaf with a few teaspoons of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Return the loaf to the oven without the lid, and continue to bake another 10-15 minutes to the desired color.  Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack and wait at least 30 minutes before cutting.

There you have it — Lolly’s favorite loaf.  We sampled the finished product and it was slap-your-mama delicious.  I hope you’ll give it a try very soon and enjoy it as much as we did (but don’t actually slap your mama — I hereby disclaim any liability if you do).  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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