We have a fantastic little Irish cookbook in our library. Got it off a remainder table I don't remember when. The recipes are ok but the descriptions of the family kitchens are what really got to me. The author described the kitchen in her grandmothers old cottage. Her family had lived there for nearly two hundred years and for most of her life she cooked and baked in an open fireplace. When she finally hit her nineties she finally had to move in with one of her children. This lady absolutely refused to leave the house until a piece of the hearth fire had been taken to her new home and kindled. Family history claimed that the fire on that hearth had not gone out during those two hundred years.
This is image I had in my mind when I chose the title for this journal. There is nothing more basic than gathering in the kitchen surrounded by the smell of fresh bread or a good meal. I've probably baked more bread since the first of the year than I've done i the last five years. I got this recipe for a cheese and onion bread from a great little book called The Village Baker. If you don't go for cheese and onion bread, you can just stop with the challah, which is one of the traditional Sabbath breads.
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Makes 2 braided 1 ½ pound loaves
2 packages active dry yeast. One tablespoon plus one teaspoon of yeast.
2 cups warm water
2 whole eggs or 4 beaten egg yolks
3 tablespoons corn or soy oil (I use olive oil)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups unbleached white or all purpose flour
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk for the glaze
Poppy seeds or sesame seeds for topping
Proof the yeast in a little of the warm water and, when it is creamy add it to the rest of the water, the eggs, oil, and sugar. Mix the salt in the flour and then start adding the dry mixture to the liquid mixture by handfuls while mixing with a spoon. Continue adding the flour until you have only a few handfuls left and the dough has come together. This can take up to ten minutes. I tend to use more flour than the recipe calls for.
Empty the dough out onto a work surface and knead the rest of the flour into the rest of the dough over about 5 to 8 minutes. I have good luck leaving the dough in our nice stoneware bowl and turning the bowl while using a spatula to work in the flour. Not nearly as messy.
When the dough is soft and satiny, round into a ball and let rise in a large bowl or other container covered with a damp towel. It should double in size in an hour to an hour and a half.
Use half a batch of dough to make the cheese and onion bread.
2 cups finely diced or shredded sharp cheddar cheese.
½ cup minced green onion
You can also add rosemary, thyme or oregano. Say a tablespoon of dried herbs for a batch.
Punch the dough down after the first rise and let it rest for fifteen or twenty minutes. Gently stretch the dough out into a square the size of say a medium pizza. Sprinkle the cheese and onions over the dough and gently push it into the dough. I have luck folding the dough over in thirds and continue working until the cheese pokes through the dough.
The original recipe calls for shaping the dough into twenty rolls. You can also divide the dough into three parts, and roll the sections out in a rope. Braid the dough. It can be left as a loaf or shaped in a wreath. Line the pan with parchment paper. If you are using a stone put the loaf on parchment paper and allow it to rise on a cookie sheet or peel. Allow the loaf to rise in a warm place until it’s about half again as large as it started. Say a half hour or so.
I know, the usual instructions are to let the loaf double, trust me.
Preheat the oven to 375. Using a spray bottle spray the loaf and place in the oven. Quickly spray the inside of the oven until it’s nice and steamy. Wait for two minutes and spray again. Repeat this twice more. Watch this dough carefully. Because of the sugar and egg it will start to brown fairly quickly. Rolls will take 12 to 15 minutes. A loaf will take closer to half an hour. If it’s browning too quickly reduce the temperature to 350 and cover the loaf with a sheet of foil. The loaf is done when it sounds hollow when you tap on the side.
Try to let the loaf to cool for about half an hour before cutting, this allows it to finish baking. However…………. ;-) I've had good luck using a tradtitional French bread pan lined with parchment paper to bake this. The parchment helps protect the oven and the pan from the melting cheese.
This is much better (I think) than the cheese rolls you can buy at the store.