Tag Archives: herbs

Italian-Style Herb Bread

8 Mar

This started out as a recipe that was not at all mine.  Spotted in Beth Hensperger’s Bread Bible, the original bread featured a wholly different selection of herbs, a nice dose of white wine, and a hearty stuffing of Italian sausage.  But then, as these things so often happen, when I wanted to make the bread I found that I was not in possession of the particular herbs Ms. Hensperger called for.  I was also out of wine.  And sausage (because who just keeps a spare supply of sausage lying around the house?  Or maybe people actually do that and I just don’t know it?  I must research this further).

So I made do.  The herbs were a bit different, the wine was swapped out with warm water and a generous glug of balsamic vinegar, and the stuffing changed from sausage to a lovely layer of roasted red pepper and sautéed spinach.  The end result, though not much like the one intended by Hensperger, was wonderful.  But now, sitting down to type this, I am beginning to wonder if the two recipes can rightfully be called the same thing.

The idea came from Hensperger, of course, and the method is all hers, but the ingredients are a far stretch from those so dutifully printed in her cookbook.  Can a recipe that started as a vision for one thing and then eventually morphed into another be given the distinction of being one in the same?

I suppose not.  However, it would be incredibly wrong of me to claim this recipe as my own creation, as the heart of it lies, I believe, with Hensperger.  Well, maybe not the geographical heart, since the middle (the stuffing) is composed of something almost entirely different than what was originally intended, but, you know, the soul of the recipe lies with Hensperger.

I do not believe this recipe could ever be called my own, but I also don’t believe that Hensperger would look at it and recognize it as hers, either.  So, where does this leave us?  I am delighted to report that this, of course, leaves us in the realm of food, cooking, and the inspiration that the two can bring.  This is an amalgamation, a recipe borne from inspiration.  It’s a little bit my own, a larger bit Beth Hensperger’s, and entirely the result of the creativity and imagination that food can inspire.

Italian-Style Herb Bread

Adapted heavily from Beth Hensperger’s Bread Bible

1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried marjoram

½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, or ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups warm water

1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast

pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

5 to 5 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 large red bell pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup chopped scallions

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 cups roughly chopped spinach

salt and pepper

8 ounces of fresh, whole milk mozzarella cheese, diced

In a small bowl, combine pepper, herbs, and olive oil, and let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature.

Pour the warm water into a small bowl.  Sprinkle the yeast and pinch of sugar over the water.  Stir to dissolve, then let sit at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.  In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast mixture, salt, balsamic vinegar, and herb-oil mixture.  Beat until foamy.  Add in 5 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon (or, if you are using a stand mixer, the paddle attachment) to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until springy, smooth, and resilient, about 5 minutes.  Dust with the remaining ½ cup of flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too wet and resistant to kneading.  If kneading with a stand mixer, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and knead as instructed for only 3 or 4 minutes.

Place the dough in a greased bowl.  Grease the top of the dough, then cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, preheat your oven’s broiler and arrange an oven rack to the highest position.  Place the bell pepper on a heavv baking sheet, then place the sheet on the highest oven rack, directly under the hottest part of the broiler.  Roast pepper, turning frequently, until the skin is uniformly blackened all over.  Remove blackened pepper to a plate, then cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes to allow the skin to begin steaming loose.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the scallions and garlic and sauté, stirring frequently to keep the garlic from browning, until the scallions have started to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the chopped spinach and sauté, stirring frequently, for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, until the spinach has released its liquid.  Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

Peel the blackened skin from the roasted pepper.  Remove and discard the seeds and core of the pepper.  Roughly dice the roasted, peeled pepper, then set aside.

20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place an oven rack in the middle position, then place a heavy baking sheet or a baking stone on the rack.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet, or on an overturned baking sheet.

Gently deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Pat the dough into a 14” by 10” rectangle, with the long side facing you.  Spread the cooled spinach mixture lengthwise along the middle third of the dough, then sprinkle with the roasted pepper, then the cheese.  Fold the dough into a smaller rectangle by bringing the two long ends together, then pinch to close.  Fold each short end over by about 1 inch, then pinch each end closed.  Lay the dough, seam side down, on the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Using a sharp knife, make several diagonal slashes on top of the dough.  Allow dough to rest for 10 minutes.

Slide the dough, still resting on the parchment paper, onto the heated baking sheet or baking stone.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the dough is brown and it emits a hollow sound when tapped with a finger.  Transfer immediately to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before slicing.

Shallot and Herb Biscuits

16 Jan

When the weather is cold, I admit to being guilty of using the kitchen stove as an additional heat source.  No, not in the super dangerous way of leaving the oven door open while I blast 400 degrees of power into the room and slowly poison myself with carbon monoxide (even typing that made me feel nervous), but in the super delicious way of throwing together a simple biscuit or muffin recipe so that I may not only boost the heat in the kitchen, but also perfume the entire house with the alluring scent of freshly baked treats.

Biscuits are some of my most favorite throw-together baked goods.  They are super fast, I always have the basic ingredients on hand, and there are few things I can think of that are more comforting than fresh, hot biscuits taken and eaten straight from the oven.  Why someone would eat biscuits from a tube, I’ll never know.  A fresh biscuit require minimal work, and when it comes to flavor?  Don’t even get me started.  You can’t even compare the two.

These biscuits are made with what I consider to be my standard biscuit recipe, amended over the years from a Beth Hensperger recipe that I have tweaked and customized over the years into something that I now consider to be almost like a base recipe, a launching pad for whatever flavor combination you might be interested in trying out in a biscuit.

Previously, I have used this base recipe to make blueberry biscuits, a perfect snack or breakfast treat, but the last time I made biscuits, I was in the mood for something a bit more savory.  I threw in what were quite literally some leftover items sitting on a kitchen counter (half a large shallot, some stray herbs), and in just a few minutes I was pulling a pan of delicious biscuits out of the oven.  My kitchen was cozy and warm, the biscuits flaky and satisfying.  Who needs to turn up the thermostat when you’ve got fresh biscuits?

Shallot and Herb Biscuits

Adapted from The Bread Bible, by Beth Hensperger

Because I rarely have buttermilk on hand, I have taken to almost exclusively using sour milk in any recipe that calls for buttermilk.  To make sour milk, just add 1 heaping tablespoon of vinegar (cider vinegar or white vinegar) or lemon juice to a measuring cup, then top off with milk until you reach 1 cup.  If you need two cups of sour milk, use twice as much vinegar or lemon juice, if you need less sour milk, adjust the other way.  Allow the sour milk to stand for about 10 minutes before adding to a recipe.  This substitution works like a dream in baked goods, but  I would never use soured milk in a recipe that called for buttermilk as a main component (buttermilk ice cream, buttermilk dressing, etc.).

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 tablespoons finely diced shallots

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme and rosemary), or 1 ½ teaspoons dried herbs (thyme, rosemary, savory, or dill would all work well here)

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 large egg

¾ cup cold buttermilk or sour milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Add the egg to the buttermilk or sour milk, and beat just to combine.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the butter to the dry ingredients.  Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with no large chunks remaining.  If the mixture appears too soft, refrigerate for 15 minutes to allow it to re-chill.  Whisk the shallots, herbs, and pepper into the flour and butter mixture.

Add the egg and buttermilk mixture to the flour and butter mixture, stirring just to moisten the ingredients.  The dough should appear shaggy, but not sticky.

Turn the dough out on to a well-floured surface.  Knead gently about 6 times, or until the dough just holds together.  Roll or pat the dough into a rectangle about ¾-inch thick.  Do not overwork the dough or add too much additional flour at this point, or the biscuits will become quite tough.  Cut the dough into rounds using a floured 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter (or the rim of a drinking glass that is approximately the same size).  Try to push straight down when cutting, making sure not to twist the cutter, and cut the rounds as closely together as possible to minimize scraps.  Gently roll together any scraps and cut into additional rounds.

Place the biscuits ½ inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake in the center of the oven for 15-18 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown.  Serve hot or warm.

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