I’ve been indulging in some serious bread-baking in the past few weeks. I have a sourdough starter again, and I’m nurturing it very carefully. A little experiment with proofing bread in a banneton went very well. And now, with the holidays approaching, there is plenty of inspiration for an enthusiastic cook.
This tasty treat is what I like to call a “throw-together”, a combination of several recipes, all of which contributed to produce an exceptional bread. It’s inspired by the cheese bread my Grandmother used to make. Hers was a simple white bread, studded with bits of cheese, which made for pockets of melting deliciousness. My version blends whole wheat and bread flour, adds onion and red pepper, and features cubes of sharp cheddar throughout the dough. The shaping of the loaf makes for a fun and unique presentation: you can set it out on the table and slice it, or simply tear chunks of the warm bread to accompany your meal. It’s really good with soup or chili, and it doesn’t mind being reheated on the second day. Take care to grease your cake pan very well; there will be some bits of cheese melting out of the dough as the bread bakes. Handle the cheese-filled dough gently and you will be rewarded with an excellent, hearty, and savory bread, perfect for cool weather menus.
Spicy Cheese Bread
- 1 cup bread flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon dehydrated minced onion
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter , (plus more for greasing the pan)
- 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , cut into 1/3-inch dice, at room temperature
- 1 egg , lightly beaten, to glaze the loaf
- Additional red pepper flakes , sesame seeds, and/or poppy seeds, to garnish the loaf
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, yeast, salt, sugar, baking soda, dried onion, and red pepper flakes. In a 2-cup glass measure, mix the buttermilk, water, and butter. Heat for about a minute, on High power in the microwave, to melt the butter and warm the buttermilk. When the mixture is lukewarm, add it to the dry ingredients in the bowl. Mix together to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. If the dough seems too wet, sprinkle in a little more bread flour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise until doubled in size, about an hour at warm room temperature. Generously butter an 8x2-inch cake pan or baking dish. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter the parchment. Set aside.
Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate it. With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an approximately 16 by 10-inch rectangle. Take your time, and let the dough rest briefly if it resists, or seems springy. Scatter the diced cheese evenly over the surface of the dough rectangle and press it gently into the surface. Roll the dough up from a long edge, and seal the seam and ends by pressing the dough firmly together. Now comes the fun part: gently roll the dough log back and forth with your hands, and stretch it out until it measures about 26 to 28 inches in length. If the dough tears slightly, just press it back together to seal. Form the dough into a coil by winding it up from one end. Tuck the end of the coil securely under the loaf and gently transfer the dough to the prepared pan. It may not fill the pan right to the edges, but it will expand with the second rise. Cover the dough and allow to rise again for another hour or so, until it's puffy and level with the top of the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350F.
Gently brush the risen loaf with some beaten egg, and sprinkle with additional red pepper flakes, and seeds, according to your taste. Place the bread in the oven and bake for about 35 minutes, or until risen and handsomely golden brown. The internal temperature of the loaf should be 190F.
Let the loaf cool briefly in the pan, then loosen it carefully (there may be some bits of cheese on the outer crust), and turn it onto a rack to cool to a barely warm temperature. Slice, or tear off chunks of bread and enjoy, with or without butter. Wrap any leftovers and store at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. Refresh the bread with a quick reheat in a 350°F oven.