Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Asiago Pepper Bread

This weekend I made a double batch of Asiago Pepper bread. What I had in mind is this amazing bread at the greatest bakery I've ever been to,  Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I went to college. The stuff that Zingerman's makes is like a meal all by itself. One loaf weighs about 10 pounds and it's crusty and amazing with huge chunks of asiago cheese and peppercorns. It's spicy and savory and so satisfying.

A colleague of mine who was once really into bread baking generously gave me several bags of artisan flours to experiment with.  For this bread, I used the European Style flour from King Arthur's.  It is ground very finely and made for a really soft dough.

 The bread I made is no Zingerman's bread, but it was really good nonetheless. I would like to experiment this summer with baking bread with a crustier crust. I'm not sure my oven is fancy enough, but I know there are tricks out there that I want to try.

I took a basic French Bread recipe first:
 • 2 cups warm water
 • 1 tablespoon yeast
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 5 -5 1/2 cups bread flour

and I added:
 • 1 tablespoon of ground pepper
 • 1 cup of cubed asiago cheese.

To make 4 loaves, I doubled these measurements.

Directions:  Mix together the warm water and yeast and sugar.  Let it sit for 10 minutes to proof the yeast (it will get bubbly and happy).  Then mix in the vegetable oil, salt, and the flour 1 cup at a time.  I use my loyal Kitchen Aid Mixer to get it all mixed together and then transfer it to the counter to knead it for a few minutes until it forms into a smooth, elastic ball.

Put it in a clean bowl and let it rise until it doubles in size.

 Nice soft dough ball all set to rise.

Let me remind you that baking bread is not as hard as you might think.  If you are home for a few hours and can wait out the rising times, it's really not time-intensive at all, actually. 

An hour later:

If you have never rolled up your sleeves and punched down a freshly-risen pile of dough, you don't know what you're missing.  It makes this really cool crackly sound as the air presses out of it.  

Form the dough into 4 loaves (I used 3 loaf pans and made one round loaf).  Then let it sit for another hour until the loaves double in size.  

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Your house will smell divine.

 When it is done, it should read 160 degrees on a bread thermometer or make a hollow thumping sound when you tap the bottom.

Especially good when sliced and toasted with a cup of hot coffee.