Fresh Herb Bread
May 15, 2011
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With the cool and rainy weather we’ve been getting here in St. Louis, we have an abundance of fresh herbs. We try to cut them back before they get too bushy and because they get bitter when they flower, so we like to find creative ways to use them up.
Today’s high of 55° F. makes it the perfect day to stay inside and bake some fresh herb bread. I’ve adapted this recipe from Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson. The process takes a while (about 4 hours total), but you’ll end up with two of the loveliest, heartiest loaves of fresh bread you’ve ever had. (And your house will smell so good!)
Ingredients (for 2 loaves):
- 2 1/4 t. (1 packet) of active dry yeast
- 2 1/4 c. warm water
- 1 T. honey (or maple syrup, agave, or sugar)
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 T. salt
- 4 1/2 c. unbleached flour
- 2 c. whole wheat flour
- Herbs of your choice: I used 1 T. each of fresh chopped basil, oregano, parsley, and garlic chives. This yields a mild herb flavor, feel free to add more if you’d like a bolder bread. Thyme and rosemary are great additions, too.
- In a large bowl, combine the yeast with 1/4 cup of the water and the honey. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes. It should look frothy and bubbly after resting, otherwise you’ll need to start over with new yeast.
- Add the rest of the water, olive oil, and salt to the yeast mixture.
- In a separate bowl, combine the two flours, then add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture in two or three batches to allow you to mix it in. I use a spoon to mix until the last of the flour has been added, then I use my hands.
- Once it all sticks together, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes.
- After about 5 minutes, the dough should form into a ball easily, be slightly elastic, and may have bumps throughout. At this point let it sit for a few minutes and then knead again- it makes the kneading easier and quicker.
- Once your dough has rested for a few minutes, sprinkle your fresh herbs on the kneading surface and knead again for about 5 minutes. The herbs should eventually be incorporated throughout and the dough will start to look smoother. Poke it- it’s ready when the surface springs back.
- Lightly coat a bowl in olive oil and transfer your dough into it. Turn the dough so all of it is covered in the oil. Place plastic wrap and a towel on top and let rise until the dough has doubled, about 1 or 2 hours (mine took an hour and a half this time). I put the dough in the oven with the oven light on, which keeps it warm and draft-free.
- When your dough looks to be doubled in size, punch it down in the bowl and turn it out onto your (very) lightly floured surface. Form the dough into a ball and split in half. Then shape your two loaves- I flatten them out slightly, roll them over so there’s a smooth top and a bottom seam, and put them either in lightly oiled loaf pans or free-form on an oiled baking sheet (I did one of each this time).
- Cover the loaves with lightly-oiled plastic wrap and let rise for about half the time it took for the first rise- typically about 30-50 minutes, until the dough has doubled in size again. I don’t put the loaves in the oven for this rise because I’ll need to pre-heat the oven for baking.
- Toward the end of the second rise, pre-heat your oven to 475º F. Take a knife and slash the top of the loaves. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350° F. and bake until golden, about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through to ensure even cooking. Remove the bread from the baking sheets or loaf pans and tap the bottom- if they sound hollow, they’re done. Let cool on a wire rack, then slice and enjoy!