A haiku for you, entitled This Bread:
Spicy, garlicky –
Yeasted breads are quite the art,
Mastery is tough.
A few years ago when we were slated host New Year’s Eve in New Jersey, my mom called her Hungarian aunt to walk her through how to make a proper kalács — a large, braided loaf of bread that must be on the table. Ica dictated the following instructions:
“You need about a cup, cup-and-a-half of flour. A whole egg and maybe a yolk. A little bit of yeast in some warm milk that’s not too hot and not too cold. Throw some sugar in there, let rise until risen. Bake in a hot oven until done.”
So, that’s the recipe we have to work with. Each holiday season, we inevitably make two or three loaves of kalács with varying degrees of the required ingredients in an attempt to perfect the recipe. And though it’s not exactly the same as Ica’s, we still make some damn good bread. I imagine if I spent the 70-something years of my existence on this earth making a loaf of bread a day so the process was fully engrained in my muscle memory, I wouldn’t see the need for precise measurements, either.
Yeasted breads are difficult to command and I did not quite inherit my my mom and Ica’s skill set when it comes to kalács or any other recipe involving yeast. To develop this yeast-handling practice in the name of cooking, Molly and I decided to try our hand at this garlicky herb bread from our BFF Joy. I ended up making two different versions of this bread: one with Italian flour and a dough hook, the other with all-purpose flour and by hand. As soon as I put the ingredients together in the mixer with the dough hook, I knew the bread was going to be too tough, so I tried to handle the latter loaf a bit less. In the end, both loaves were beautifully studded with red and green specks and deliciously aromatic — you could hardly taste the difference between the two. This bread is best eaten the day it’s made with a big pot of veggie chili and a Super Bowl game.
Spicy Herbed Garlic Bread (adapted from Joy the Baker)
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
4 cups flour (bread flour would be best, but I used all-purpose flour here)
1 teaspoon cracked ground pepper
2 teaspoons salt
olive oil, coarse salt, and chili flakes for top
Grease a medium-sized mixing bowl and set aside.
Measure one cup of warm water in a bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water, add a pinch of sugar and stir. Let stand for five minutes – yeast should rise and become foamy. If this doesn’t happen, pitch the yeast and start fresh. Set yeast aside.
Melt butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add herbs, chili and garlic. Set aside.
Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour yeast mixture and butter mixture into the center. Using your hands, work the flour into the liquids until a shaggy dough is formed. Once dough comes together, knead a few times until it becomes a smooth sphere. Place the dough in the medium mixing bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Place bowl in a warm place and allow dough to rise for approximately one hour.
Once dough has risen, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Take dough out of the bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface for about two minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the bottom of a large dutch oven. Place dough in the pot and use a large knife to make two deep slashes. Pour another 3 tablespoons of oil on top and sprinkle with coarse sea salt and some extra chili flakes.
Cover pot with lid and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 degrees F, remove lid, and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Allow bread to cool down a bit before slicing of chunks and dousing them with fresh olive oil.