Sunday, February 13, 2011

Give Us This Day...Rosemary Loaves

I kill houseplants.  People who know me have all kinds of stories about my murdering ways.  My relationships with indoor foliage have been peppered with incidents of neglect, over watering, exposure and infestations.  One of my favorite stories that gives evidence of this behavior was when my mother came to my college apartment and questioned the health of a window plant she had purchased for me on her last visit.  She told me it looked a little pale and asked me, "When was the last time you fed it sweetheart?"  Um.  Never.  I didn't know you had to feed know, with that whole clorophyll thing.  I thought the sun did it all.  Every single way that a house plant can die, I have tried.  It's not because I want just happens...or at least that's what I used to think.

I spend a lot of time with my three small children in the car.  Out here in The Middle, our landscape is crisscrossed with ribbons of asphalt that deliver you from small town desolation to big city retail therapy.  I spend a lot of time with my three small children in the car.  Years ago when we were in the market for a minivan, I specifically asked the guy at the Nissan place if I could pay extra to have a limo-style privacy screen installed behind the drivers seat.  No joy. I spend a lot of time with my three small children in the car.  Sometimes they are loud.  Sometimes they are whiney.  Sometimes they beat on each other.  Sometimes I have the patience to distract them, or play a word game, or turn on their favorite song, or do some other fabulous parenting trick.  Sometimes that works.  Sometimes I scream back at them.  Sometimes that works.  Sometimes I am driving 75 miles per hour and there is nothing I can do about it...or at least that's what I used to think.

And then there's bread.  Fancy, shmancy artisan bread that comes from a bakery, costs tons of money, has a million complicated ingredients and simply cannot be baked by a commoner like myself...or at least that's what I used to think.

Rosemary Bread

This recipe was originally adapted from a Junior League cookbook.  With very simple ingredients it is a great partner to a bowl of soup, or toasted and smeared with apple butter.   Be warned, this one is a time commitment.  Allow yourself at least three hours and be rewarded for your efforts with two hearty loaves of crusty bread.

3 3/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk (any % will work)
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cups all purpose flour, divded
1/4 cup minced fresh rosemary
4 teaspoons fine salt
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or any other coarse salt)

1.  In a large bowl sprinkle the yeast into the warm water.  Let it stand until foamy.  Stir in the milk and oil.  In a medium bowl combine 4 1/2 cups of flour with rosemary and fine salt.  Add the flour mixture to the yeast mixture and mix by hand.  Gradually add additional flour while you continue to mix until it no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and continue to knead by hand for another 10 minutes adding additional flour as you go to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands or the counter.  The dough will be nice and moist, but it should not be sticky.  If it's difficult to work with just keep adding flour until it behaves.  Don't be afraid to add more than that extra 1/2 cup if you need it.  Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray turning it once to coat all sides with spray.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place for at least 1 1/2 hours.  It will double in size and you'll know its ready when a dent remains in the dough after you poke it.

2.  Gently punch the dough down on a lightly floured surface.  DO NOT KNEAD IT.  Cut the dough in half and shape it into two rounds by tucking the sides under.  Put the loaves on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, or use a silicone mat, and lightly spray the tops with cooking spray.  These loaves grow when they bake so don't put them too close together.  If you have two smaller baking sheets that's even better.  You'll want to place them side by side on the same rack in your oven.  When you stack them they don't bake as evenly.  Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for another 45 minutes until they double in size.

3.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

4.  Just before you place the loaves in the oven, make shallow crisscross slashes in the top of each loaf.  These slashes serve no culinary purpose but make the bread look gorgeous, so if you are nervous about cutting to deep, just skip this part.  Sprinkle the top of each loaf with the coarse salt.

5.  Bake for 10 minutes.  During this first 10 minutes use a spray bottle to mist the inside of the oven with warm water.  Open up the door and really go crazy spraying all over the inside of the oven 8 or 10 squirts each time you do this.  I set my timer for three minutes intervals so I won't forget to spray.  This helps the bread get a really chewy crust.  Don't skip this part, you'll be sorry.

6.  After 10 minutes, reduce the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes.  Watch them carefully near the end so they don't get too brown.  Cool on wire racks before serving.

I chose this picture just in case you are under the mistaken impression that I have all these child free hours to spend blissfully making bread in my gourmet kitchen.  I want you to know that life, even in my house, does go on all around me while I'm constructing a loaf or two.

And the mysterious tool that links thriving houseplants, road weary travelers and rosemary bread?  The spray bottle.  I mist my ferns.  They love it.  I shoot my screaming children, they shut their mouths and the evidence dries before we get to our destination.  They hate it.  Really spraying that oven in step #5 makes a huge difference.  You'll love it.

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