Herb and Cheese Pretzel Bread- A beautifully textured bread

For the February edition of We Knead to Bake, we were asked to bread any bread of our choice. I went through loads of blogs, unsure of what I wanted to bake. I have been dying to bake some Grissini, but I thought it goes best with soup and in this hot and humid weather I wasn’t sure I wanted to make any soup at all.
I wanted to bake monkey bread, but I have left my bundt pan back in Bangalore and didn’t feel like baking them in the muffin pan. Moreover, I wanted something savory and the recipes I saw were mostly sweet. I check out a few dinner rolls as well but didn’t feel like baking them either.

To tell you the truth, without a good camera, I don’t feel like baking these days. I know! I know I am baking to eat and not to photograph, but you know, if you are part of a group with fabulous photographers whose pictures look like works of art, you really don’t feel like putting up your crappy pictures on the same page as theirs.

Anyway, I finally zeroed in on the Herb and Cheese Pretzel Bread that Aparna has on her blog. I didn’t add onions to the bread like she did, coz my in-laws are here and they don’t eat onions.

This time, unlike last time, I kept a close eye on the bread while proving. I wanted a really good texture unlike the dense texture I got last time with the Focaccia Caprese.

This was a fairly easy bread to make. Just mix all the ingredients, knead, leave to prove, shape the bread and then bake. Suited the lazy me coz I didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen baking elaborate stuff.

So without further ado, presenting the Herb and Cheese Pretzel Bread for this months “We Knead to Bake” bread. A beautiful bread to accompany a soup, a pasta or even to toast and have it plain. Ofcourse, my bread “uncrazy” family needed me to make a sandwich out of it for breakfast.

Recipe adapted from: Aparna’s blog 

This month’s bread on Aparna’s blog: Ciabatta Rolls

Herb and Cheese Pretzel Bread

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Ingredients:
  • 2 tsp instant dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 – 1 cup warm water
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp dried Italian herbs, crushed
  • 1 1/2 tsp crushed black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Some white sesame seeds (optional)
Method:
 In a mixing bowl (or processor bowl), put in cheese, flours, Italian herbs, pepper and salt. Mix (or pulse) a couple of times and add warm water. 
Knead very well, adding more water if necessary, till a moderately stiff dough which is smooth and elastic is obtained.
Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl, coating the ball with oil by turning it round in the bowl. Cover and allow the dough to double in volume (about an hour or so).
Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, letting it rest for 10 minutes. Roll the dough out into a 24″ long smooth rope. Place it on a greased baking sheet and shape into a large pretzel shape. Moisten the ends of the pretzel and tuck them underneath to seal.
Shaped and ready to prove again

Shaped and ready to prove again

Cover and allow to rise till almost double (about half an hour). Brush the top of the bread with cold milk and sprinkle  white sesame seeds if preferred. Preheat the oven at 190C for 10 mins.
Bake at 190C for about 40 minutes till golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. If the bread is browning too much, cover it loosely with aluminium foil during the last 20 minutes in the oven. Cool completely on a rack.
 
The herb and Cheese Pretzel Bread after baking

The herb and Cheese Pretzel Bread after baking

I loved the texture of the bread. Below is the picture of the pretzel bread and store bought whole wheat bread. Just tried comparing it for my satisfaction that’s all.
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It is important to use a sharp cheddar cheese to make this bread for the flavour of the cheese to really come through in this bread.
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Return to Blogging with Focaccia Caprese

I can’t believe that its been more than a year that I posted on the blog. Too many changes, just too many changes happened last year. We moved countries, not too far though, just to Colombo. Had to give up on my nascent baking business as well. A tad disappointed about that, but such is life. You need to give some to gain some.

Life has been a roller coaster ride and hasn’t left me much time to bake. Colombo is a very hot place and even though I cook really early in the morning, it leaves me pretty exhausted. Exhausted enough to not really want to venture into the kitchen again to try out new recipes and use my oven.

However, once a baker, always a baker. The itch to bake soon took hold of me and I started off with some easy- peasy brownies. Then Christmas came upon us and I took to baking with a vengeance. Found my mojo again and baked many many fruit cakes and some date bars as well.

I needed something to keep me going- to bake at least once or twice a month. (Let me tell you that’s getting really difficult given the rising temperatures in this city).

So I decided to join the WE KNEAD TO BAKE group started last year by Aparna of mydiversekitchen fame. I have expressed my admiration for her blog, baking and photography before as well.

I love baking breads, love the entire process- the bubbling of the yeast, the kneading, the rising of the dough, the aromas arising from the oven while baking, the browning of the bread… everything. However, it’s a long process and like I said, too hot… really hot in this place.

Once a month, however is doable and I love the breads Aparna and the group bring to the group. So I am gearing up to do this once a month.

After the long rambling of mine(forgive me, its been too long and I couldn’t stop myself), I guess its time to get to the point and to the recipe itself. (Pls forgive the picture quality. Taken at night and with a not-too- great phone camera. My camera has conked off and I need to buy a new one. Until then, will have to contend with these strange looking pictures. Pls check the other blogs for awesome looking pics)

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Focaccia Caprese

I love Focaccias- love the flavor, the use of olive oil and the simplicity of the recipes involved. Although i have baked focaccias before, this one appealed to me mainly because of the herb infused oil. The moment I read the recipe, I knew that the bread will be abundant in terms of flavor with the cheese and tomatoes adding to the softness and taste of the bread.

So without further ado, presenting Focaccia Caprese. This bread gave me 2 generous portions which served as dinner as breakfast for a family of 3 (one of them is a 4 year old child). So you can halve it or reduce proportions to suit your family size.

To read about the history of Focaccia and its origin, etc, you can head over to Aparn’s blog.
While we were free to add our own toppings, I stuck to the original recipe simply because I love tomatoes and cheese.

Focaccia Caprese

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Out of the oven and ready to go into the mouth

Recipe Source: My Diverse Kitchen

Original recipe adapted from: The Kitchen Whisperer

Ingredients: 

For the Dough:
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour (or u can add 1 Tbsp of Vital Wheat Gluten and mix well. I didn’t have either so I just used plain ol’ all purpose flour)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup oil (preferably olive oil)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • A little more olive oil for brushing dough
For the Topping:
  • 4-5 larg-ish tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 6-7” round piece of fresh buffalo mozzarella, cut into 1/4” slices- again I couldn’t find Mozzarella in time, so I used some stringy cheese I had in my refrigerator. I guess, mozzarella works best, though.
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips- or you could use dried basil as well.
For the Herbed Oil:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp finely minced garlic/ paste
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnishing
Method:
  • First make the herbed oil- Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. Keep aside till required.
  • Then make the dough-  The dough can be mixed and kneaded by hand or machine. I used my sturdy (;-)) hands for the same. Put the yeast, sugar flour, salt and oil in a bowl and mix well. Then add 1 cup of warm water (and as much more as you need) and knead until you have a soft elastic dough that is just short of sticky.
  • Shape into a round and place in a well oiled bowl turning the dough around so it is coated. Cover and let it rise till almost double in volume. This should take about an hour. Pls keep an eye on the dough esp if you live in a hot, humid place like me. I happily went to take a nap and the dough overflowed my bowl.
  • You can make this as 2 medium sized Focaccia like I did or 4 smaller ones. I have a small oven and so could bake only one Focaccia at a time.
  • Oil your pan/ tin well. If making 2 Focaccia, then two 11″ by 7″ pans should do. Divide the dough into two equal portions and lightly roll them or press them out into the shape of the pans.
  • You dont need an exact square or rectangle shaped bread… gourmet breads are rarely shaped perfectly are they? 😉
  • Transfer the dough to the baking tins. The dough will shrink a little. Use your fingers and push it out a bit making sure it’s evenly thick throughout. Let it rise for 20 minutes. Lightly oil your finger tips and press into the dough creating evenly spaced “dimples” in it. Generously brush the surface with oil.

  • Preheat the oven at 210C for 10 mins.
  • Bake at 210C (410F) for about 18 to 20 minutes till it is almost done and is beginning to turn golden brown. Take the Focaccia out and turn up the heat of your oven to 230C (450F).
  • Lightly drizzle some of the Herbed Oil over the Focaccia and then evenly arrange some slices of mozzarella/ other cheese over the bread, leaving very little space between them. Arrange the tomato slices over this and sprinkle the chopped basil over this. The topping should cover most of the surface of the bread.
  • Drizzle some more Herbed Oil over the topping and return the bread to the oven. Bake the Focaccia for 5 to 8 minutes or until the cheese has just melted. Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh basil leaves.
  • Cut the Focaccia into slices and serve while it is still hot.
  • Enjoy with some soup for a simple yet delicious dinner.
Melty cheese, juicy tomatoes, herby bread... mmmmm

Melty cheese, juicy tomatoes, herby bread… mmmmm