Turning on the oven in the summer is not the hindrance that I once thought. For the most part, most modern ovens are really good at heat containment, and in my home we happen to have central air. Not to mention we're not spending our time inside the house anyway; we're out enjoying the yard.
Inspired by cuttings from my potted oregano, I went seeking an herb bread with an emphasis on herbs. The one I chose, Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads, served well with some modifications, the most significant of which was doubling the herb quotient. I wanted it really chock full of flavor.
Be sure to wash the fresh herbs really well. I soaked and swirled them in a large bowl, then rinsed for a good while. Lay the clean oregano on a towel and pat to remove moisture. I left it overnight like this, but in no way were these herbs dried in the traditional, long term sense. Using dried herbs would certainly require far less (perhaps half?) the amount needed.
Remove leaves and coarsely chop them; discard stems. Whatever you don't use for the bread can be further left to dry, of course, for your pantry.
When adding ingredients I added the oregano at the dry flour and dry yeast stage, before adding the hot water and olive oil. I also added dehydrated onion for extra kick. Next time I might try adding fresh, caramelized onions. I think they'd add moisture to the finished bread.
Another great thing about summer baking is resting the covered dough outside to rise, letting the warm weather work its magic on the yeast. You do need to be careful not to kill the yeast, by overheating. I read this quote recently from the collected essays of James Beard in his book, Simple Foods:
"... [temperatures] over 95 degrees can kill fresh, active yeast cells in live yeast ... granular yeast, on the other hand, requires water of [ and can withstand] higher temperature, from 110 to 115."
The same is true of the rising environment. Not too hot otherwise your yeast can accelerate rapidly, and the bread won't taste right without corrective measures. I'm not going to get into all of that today. Suffice it to say: be aware of temperatures and don't place dough directly in the sun.
Oregano Onion Bread *
- 1 packet dry yeast
- 3 1/2 cups bread or unbleached white flour
- 1 Tbl. sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 hot water (120-130 degrees, f.)
- 3 Tbl. olive oil
- 3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh oregano
- 1/4 cup dehydrated onion
- yellow cornmeal to coat
In a stand mixer combine all dry ingredients, including herbs and onions. Whisk well. Change to bread hook attachment. Add olive oil to hot water and with mixer running slowly, add water gradually in a steady stream. Allow bread hook to knead approx. 8-10 minutes 'til dough pulls away from the bowl and the sides are clean.
Form dough in a loose ball and place in a well oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap (or a moist towel if you prefer) to rise in a warm, shady spot for about 2 hours.
Remove risen dough to a board dusted in cornmeal, press and fold gently to remove large air pockets, form into a loaf and place in bread pan for the second rise of about an hour. Score with serated knife or razor blade.
Bake in pre-heated oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temp. to 350 for remaining 20 minutes. Bread is done when crust is golden and knocking on the top yields a hollow sound.
* modified from Bernard Clayton's six herbs bread
In the half an hour before dinner, as its scent drifted out from the kitchen the kids asked if we were having pizza. It had all the flavor of a rustic, fresh pizza with added crunch and crumble.
Apparently I'm a summer baking convert. Clearly happy gardeners make happy bakers. Let me know if you try my kid's latest favorite summer "pizza bread."