What is more French than bread and cheese? Excepting, of course, bread, wine and cheese.
Bread and cheese is a Frenchman’s way of life; a crusty baguette or two paired with a nutty, earthy aged Comté or a creamy, sharp Camembert with a bottle of red makes the perfect impromptu picnic meal, sitting along the Seine in the sun, head resting on a lover’s lap; a “plateau de fromage” served at the end of a dinner party, sandwiched in between the main course and the dessert, or wheeled over to your table in a fine restaurant, often replacing dessert completely, the white-cloth draped chariot offering a selection of cheese from almost every region of the country, eaten formally with knife and fork, a basket of tangy, almost sour, deep brown pain Poilâne or a slices of dense, creamy pain de compagne passed around the table; gooey smooth Brie smeared on a fougasse aux olives accompanied by a hearty Bordeaux or lively chèvre, either fresh and tart, perfect with a chunk of sweet brioche or delectable, spicy pain d’épices or the more subtle, nuttier crottin placed lovingly on a slice of pain de mie and broiled until all melty inside and served with a cool Sancerre. Bread, cheese and wine is breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack, pairing the bread and cheese and choosing the perfect glass of wine an art learned at an early age, a ritual never to be taken lightly, a part of every meal, every day.
Now married to a Frenchman, and my Frenchman no different in this one respect from the all the others, I stand in line dutifully at the local cheese shop, breathing in the heady odor of earthy, nutty, sharp and tangy all rolled into one, or at the cheese counter at the market Sunday morning before elbowing my way through the hungry crowd to the boulanger, choosing among the stacks of loaves piled high on the counter, the long baguettes, flûtes, bâtards and ficelles lined up like soldiers in cases along the back wall.
Growing up, cheese for me and my siblings was a slice of plastic-wrapped processed cheese oozing out from between the slices of butter-slathered grilled bread or creamy, tangy, white and smooth smeared (or schmeared) on a fresh warm bagel on Sunday mornings, topped with a gorgeous orangey-pink slice of nova, or a perfectly rectangular block of deep yellow or egg-shell white cheddar, the sharper the better, cheese that had wended its way from upstate New York to find itself on the shelf of our local Publix, turned painstakingly into lunch, layered between slices of white or rye, piled high with lettuce and tomato. Cheese was rarely eaten, but when it was it was absolutely the main attraction, giving the flavor to a simple brown-bag lunch or a Sunday morning treat.
Over the years, JP and I have discovered new worlds of both cheeses and breads, sharing and exploring, from the French Maroilles to English Stilton to Italian Scamorza Affumicata; French gâche and miche to Italian focaccia and ciabatta to English scones and crumpets. But no matter the cheese, no matter the bread, they always find their way, hand in hand, to the table, to the plate, whatever the meal.
And here I am, the baker, scouring cookbooks looking for new and interesting recipes to try my hand at, loving the sensual feel of bread dough between my fingers, the scent of fresh-baked bread filling my home. We are surrounded by boulangeries on all sides selling fresh bread, bread with olives or cheese, multi-grain or sourdough, plain or sweet, yet I can’t keep away from the flour and yeast. Once bitten, never shy, or so it should be told! Once I learned the secret, once I mastered the technique, every time I pull something puffed and golden from the oven, every time I bite into a warm, soft, dense yet light loaf that I fashioned myself, I yearn for more and more.
So with the desire to make my own bread, knead, roll, bake and enjoy, and having a fridge full of cheese, I have settled on a wonderful cheese bread, based on a recipe I found in my King Arthur’s Baker’s Companion, just fiddled with and elaborated on enough to make it a bit tastier and maybe a bit prettier to look at before savoring. I do think that my husband is going to love having his bread…. and cheese… and eating it, too, all at the same time.
I have also chosen this bread as my entry for this week’s YEASTSPOTTING event, a wonderful weekly showcase of yeast baking and baked goods hosted by Baker Extraordinaire Susan of Wild Yeast. She really has got me baking! Love it and thanks, Susan!
Adapted from the recipe in my wonderful The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion
2 ¼ tsps fast-acting or instant yeast
¼ cup (60 – 65 ml warm water)
1 cup (250 ml) warm milk
1 ¼ tsps salt
1 Tbs sugar
3 ½ cups (440 g) flour
2 Tbs (30 g) softened butter or 2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 cup (4 oz, 120 g) finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup (2 oz, 60 g) finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 Tbs sun-dried tomato paste/purée/pesto
1 egg, beaten + finely grated Parmesan for topping
Place the yeast and the sugar in a small bowl with the warm water and allow the yeast to activate and froth up, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Rub in the butter until completely incorporated. If the butter is softened, this will take barely a minute for expert hands.
Stir the two cheeses and the dried rosemary into the flour mixture; I rubbed it together with my fingers in order to break up the clumps of cheddar cheese.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the yeast mixture and the milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and it starts to pull together into a loose dough. Add a little more water if the dough is too dry.
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until you have a soft, smooth dough, soft but not sticky. Knead in more flour as needed. Knead for about 5 minutes, let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead for an additional 3 minutes.
Place the dough in a large, lightly greased (I used olive oil) bowl; cover the bowl with plastic wrap then with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise for 1 hour until puffy, though not necessarily doubled in bulk.
Lightly grease either an 8 ½ x 4 1/2 –inch or a 9 x 5 –inch loaf pan (I used vegetable oil).
Transfer the dough to the lightly floured work surface and pat down then roll out into a rectangle, the width no larger than the length of your loaf pan.
Using a flat spatula, spread a tablespoon or so of the sun-dried tomato paste/caviar/pesto evenly over the surface of the dough. Roll up the dough tightly, starting at a short end.
Place the loaf, seam side down, into the prepared loaf pan. Cover once again with the plastic wrap and the kitchen towel and allow to rise for 45 minutes until doubled in bulk. The top should just rise above the level of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
When the dough has risen a second time, remove the plastic wrap and the towel. Brush the surface with beaten egg then dust generously with more grated Parmesan.
Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until puffed and golden brown. Tent the bread with aluminum foil for the last 5 or 10 minutes if you think it is browning too quickly. Remove the pan to an cooling rack.
When the pan is just cool enough to handle, loosen the bread around the sides with a spatula and carefully tip it out of the loaf pan and allow it to cool on the cooling rack.
The bread came out light and delicate, yet moist and flavorful like an egg bread. The cheese flavor was rich and fabulous, yet the delicate flavor of the rosemary came through as I chewed. The tomatoes added a rich, deep tomato flavor; each of the different flavors came through clearly and individually, but combined so beautifully together to make one perfect, cheese bread. This fabulous cheese bread was such a success and so very simple to put together, that I know it will be a regular for me!
Take a bigger bite ...