I’m always wary of flavoured breads; whether store-bought or home-made, quite often the loaf ends up too dry, too dense, too bland, too intense or just too weird to be a success. I keep on trying them out though, I used to make an incredible sun-dried tomato loaf, I must dig that recipe out…
I wouldn’t be sharing this recipe if it wasn’t impressive; I have only made it once and half of it is still in the freezer, but my wife made me promise that we would never, ever be without some of this on hand. She doesn’t praise easily, so I take that as a big thumbs-up.
Perfect alongside soup, or as an accompaniment to cheese, the flavours are interesting enough to enhance whatever you serve it with, while not being so dominant that they will be overpowering. It’s got great texture too; the secret is in a long, slow prove followed by a blisteringly hot oven so you get lovely aeration throughout the loaf.
Your choice of ale will have the biggest effect on the flavour. Stout will bring with it a rich, treacly darkness, while a pale ale or lager will be softer and more subtle. I tend to use whatever I have to hand – in this case a rather good home-brewed stout – but feel free to experiment.
4 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp dry yeast
600g white bread flour
320g wholemeal flour
200g cheddar, grated
75g Parmesan, grated
50g milk powder
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp fennel seeds
egg white, to glaze (optional)
Gently warm the ale to blood temperature – any hotter and you run the risk of killing your yeast – add the sugar and the yeast, stir and set aside to activate while you prepare everything else.
Combine all the other ingredients in a very large bowl, using your hands mix it well and start to bring it together – it will be heavy and stiff at first because of the cheese. Now start to add the yeasted ale, a little at a time, bringing it together and kneading as you go. You may well need to add more than 250ml ale, so if the dough is still too dry once you have used what you measured out, just keep on adding more from the bottle until the dough is stiff and holds together.
Turn the dough out on to a lightly oiled work surface and knead for around 20 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Work it into a ball.
This dough only requires one prove, so make it worth while.
Either use a round banetton, well-dusted with flour and covered by a large plastic bag that is in no danger of touching the dough as it rises. The loaf pictured was proved in a banetton. Leave the dough alone in a warm, still place to rise for between 1 and 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size and springy to the touch.
Alternatively, place the dough on a piece of baking parchment and glaze the unproven dough with the white of an egg. Put a bag over it, ensuring that it is in no danger of touching the dough as it rises and leave the dough alone in a warm, still place to rise for between 1 and 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size and springy to the touch.
Heat the oven to 250C, or as hot as your oven will go, with a baking sheet and a baking tray in the bottom of the oven to heat up. Turn the dough in the banetton onto the hot baking sheet (very carefully! Don’t burn yourself, or deflate the dough by being too rough), slash the loaf a few times with a razor blade or very sharp knife. Throw a cup of water into the hot baking tray in the bottom of the oven to make steam, and quickly put the dough on the baking sheet into the middle of the oven. Close the oven door and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 200C and bake 30-40 minutes in the falling oven until the temperature in the middle is 90C (I use an instant-read thermometer) or a skewer inserted comes out clean.
If you have proved your dough on a piece of parchment and glazed it, then carefully slide the parchment and dough onto the hot baking sheet. Slash the dough, make steam in the oven and bake as above.