While the majority of my baking tends to be desserts, baking doesn’t always mean sweet. My original plan for this week was decorated sugar cookies, but I just couldn’t get myself in the mood to painstakingly decorate a whole batch of cookies. With doctor’s appointments, windowsill gardening, and various other chores to attend to, this weekend was definitely more of a bread weekend. Bread requires shorter bursts of activity between long stretches of waiting, so it was perfect for a weekend when I needed to get some things done at the same time.
In my continuing quest to use up the herbs from my window garden, I decided to put my basil plant to work. I was thinking originally of making a tomato basil bread because the two go so well together, but when I came across this recipe for mozzarella basil bread, I saw immediate potential. I made some changes based on the reviews and my personal preferences, and the result was a chewy bread that makes your kitchen smell like a pizzeria (a plus in my book). I used two cloves of crushed garlic, but was told by my husband that it completely obscured the other flavors in the bread. Other taste testers loved it the way it is, as did I, so the amount of garlic you use really comes down to your garlic tolerance (I’m Puerto Rican and Italian, so mine is a bit higher than average).
You will need the following ingredients:
For the bread:
- 3 cups bread flour, plus more for kneading
- 1 packet (1/2 Tbsp.) active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm (not boiling) water
- 1/2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves, finely minced
- 2 Tbsp. milk
- 1-2 cloves garlic, depending on your tastes (optional)
- cornmeal, for dusting (optional)
For baking ambiance:
- Dean Martin would be appropriate to set the mood for this Italian-scented bread. However, I will admit that I was too lazy to procure the proper music, and instead went through my cd collection alphabetically until I found something I felt like listening to. Aerosmith’s Aerosmith and Rocks worked well, but I would still recommend the Dean Martin instead.
Let’s get baking!
First, pour your warm water in a large mixing bowl and whisk in the sugar until it is completely dissolved. Pour the yeast on top and let it sit for approximately 5 minutes until it looks creamy.
Stir the yeast into the water, then stir in 1/2 cup of the flour and the salt and beat until the ingredients are well-combined.
Stir in another 1/2 cup of flour, the cheeses, the milk, the basil, and the garlic.
Stir in the remaining 2 cups of flour in 1/4 cup additions. The dough should no longer be sticky once all the flour has been added.
Knead your dough on a well-floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, approximately 5-8 minutes. Make sure you are using enough flour so that the dough doesn’t stick. A silicone pastry mat is really helpful here (a stand mixer is even more helpful, but sometimes it’s nice to just knead bread).
Shape the dough into a ball and put it in a greased bowl. Flip it over once to coat both sides. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough rise until it doubles in size, approximately 60-90 minutes.
Prepare your baking sheet (or pizza pan in my case) by sprinkling it with cornmeal or lightly greasing it.
Now here comes the fun part: punch the dough down to release the air. Knead the dough for approximately 1 minute (I did this in the bowl to save on cleanup). Form the dough into the shape of your choice. I made it a circle, but an oval loaf would be fine too. Place the dough ball (or spheroid) on your prepared baking pan and cut an X in the top with a sharp knife. If you choose to make an oval loaf, cut 2-3 diagonal lines instead.
Cover the dough with a towel and let it rise until doubled in size, approximately 25 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 425°F. When your dough is ready, bake for 25 minutes, or until browned.
Allow the bread to cool to your liking, slice, and enjoy!