It is just too hot to go anywhere near the kitchen. You wake up tired and your brains get fried. I had made a lovely bread, with a bread baking group, filled with the lovely flavour of oranges and cinnamon. When it was time to post the recipe on the blog, I discovered, that I had not only deleted the photographs on the camera but could not find it anywhere on my computer. It had disappeared into the virtual trash world. I then started on an another post on potato bread, which joined its friend in the nether world. With my non functioning brain, I was in no mood to chase them down the dark alleyways, of God knows where, to retrieve it. It can be a post for another day (if I eventually find it). So in the meantime, the blog was neglected as was my taste buds. When my family finally took to complaining loudly, I realised it was time to do something about it.
I had a huge block of Asiago cheese in my refrigerator. I was hoarding it to be used for something special. While looking through my Peter Reinhart’s book, tucked away, right at the end of the book, was an interesting bread using multiple techniques. I figured it was a perfect vehicle to make a come back.
The recipe ran into two pages and my poor brain had to focus very hard to make sense of all the tiny little instructions. After I read it for the third or fourth time, I realised it was not really all that complicated. This is just a little note to those who might be put off by the verbose instructions–break it down. It is really simple in the end and I will try to make it simpler if I can. For starters (no pun intended) if you do not have a sourdough starter, you will need to make one. (My next post will be about this) If you already have one alive and kicking, this bread is a breeze.
My starter was languishing in my fridge for the last few months. Forgotten and tucked away into the corner, it was looking flat and sad. My first job was to get that going. A few days of feeding it fresh water and flour it was as vigorous as ever, bubbling and frothing. (It really is as simple as watering and feeding your plants.) Your starter must be bubbling well, with a distinct tangy aroma. If it looks like a paste, you are not going to get your bread to do anything.
This recipe was perfect for me. It actually took me 1 week from start to finish. If you have your starter, then it will take you about 3 days. I can see some of you shaking your head, “that is too long” you say. Actually the bread will spend most of its time in the cool confines of your refrigerator. I only wish I could crawl in with it. You can make your sponge one evening, slip it into the refrigerator at night, make your roasted onion the next day, make your dough that evening, into the refrigerator again and bake it all the next day. See, the bread makes sure you do not toil for too long in the heat!
I loved the idea of using the onions in many ways. Roasted on top the bread, and as chives and scallions in the dough. The flavours are built layer upon layer making this a bread you can nibble on, without doing anything more to it. For the folks who are used to soft, spongy white bread, this bread will be a revelation. You need to bite into it when it is still barely warm to experience the somewhat crunchy crust. Take a moment to savour the slightly acrid taste of the onions on the surface (now charred to almost a back) before you tongue jumps to the toasted, salty cheese. When you are done with that, admire the irregular holes in the crumbs and the slightly chewy texture. Don’t worry, your jaw will not be overworked if you get the process right. It has just the right amount of chew to remind you that this is truly an artisanal bread.
Now it time to revel in a mild creamy flavour of the onion in the crumb, Little shards of saltiness peek now and then, almost a complement to the sourdoughy tangyness of the rest of the loaf. If you use good olive oil, there is an added dimension of the flavours of the oil.
I just love this idea of building flavour within a loaf. Of course a loaf like that cannot be made in a couple of hours. But then the idea of baking bread like this is to enjoy the process and transfer a little bit of yourself into the golden boule. So every time you share your loaf of bread, you share a part of yourself. All good things take time in the making and so is this loaf of bread. As you make it, you will discover, the feel of the soft dough between your fingers, you will understand the rhythm of the yeast in the starter, the subtle difference in the flavour and aroma between scallions and chives, how something almost burnt can still taste wonderful.
So all I ask is to give this bread a chance and it will not let you down. Even if you mess up, there is still a lot you would have gained. You could land up with a delicious bread and a little insight into yourself.
ROASTED ONIONS AND ASIAGO MICHE (Adapted from Peter Reinhart)
For the Sponge
1/8 cup Starter
1/2 cup Water
1 1/4 cup Bread or All Purpose Flour.
For the Roasted Onion
1 medium onion roughly chopped
1/2 Tbs olive oil
Good pinch of salt and 1/8 tsp coarsely ground pepper
For the Dough
31/2 cups of Bread or All-Purpose flour
1 1/8 tsp Instant Yeast
1 1/8 cup Water
2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Tbs Olive oil
1 1/2 cups Grated Asiago Cheese (You could use Parmesan or any other salty dry cheese)
1/4 cup chopped Chives (I did not have chives and so just omitted it)
1/4 cup chopped scallions (Green stalks of the spring onions)
Cornmeal or semolina for dusting.
1. One Day Before you Make the Dough: Make the sponge. Mix the starter, water and flour in a bowl till the flour is completely hydrated. Cover and set aside until the sponge is bubbly and somewhat risen. Cover and place inside the refrigerator.
2. Next day when you are ready to make the dough, take out the starter and leave it out for an hour to take the chill off.
3. Now make the dough: Stir the flour and yeast together and add the water and the sponge and mix well. Form into a ball and set aside for about 5 minutes. Then add the salt, olive oil, half of the grated cheese, chives and scallions.
4. Knead till all the ingredients are evenly distributed and the dough is soft and tacky but not sticky. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and set aside to double.
5. In the mean time if you have something baking in the oven you could roast the onion in the oven. If not do it in a skillet (that is what I did) mix the oil, onions, salt and pepper and cook on low heat till the edges starts to brown. Remove, cool and store to be used the next day.
6. Once the dough is nearly double, gently tip the dough out, careful not to deflate it.
7. Form into a tight boule and place on a tray covered with parchment (if you are going to bake on a stone) or on a tray dusted with semolina.
8. Mist the surface of the boule with oil and cover loosely with a plastic bag and transfer to the refrigerator to rise overnight. (you can keep it this way for up to 3 days and take it out to bake when you wish)
9.Bring the dough out for a couple of hours for it to come to room temperature.
10. Pre-heat your oven to 260 C (Mine will go only up to 240)
11. Brush the top of the dough with olive oil and using your finger tips poke down the dough creating dimples and ridges (Go all the way down to the bottom) Scatter the roasted onions and the remaining cheese on the surface. Now let the dough rest for about 15 minutes.
12 Now place the pan in the oven or transfer on to the stone and spritz the oven with some water to create steam. Close the oven and bake for about 30 seconds, Open the oven and spritz some more water. Now turn the temperature down to 230 C and bake for about 30 minutes or until done.
13. If the top starts to brown too much cover with a foil.
14. Cool for at least an hour before slicing
The steam created with the water spritzing will give you a lovely crust. You can also place a pan in the rack below while preheating and add some cubes of ice when you are getting the bread into the oven.
I liked eating it just pain. Do let me know how you enjoy your bread.