I've been itching to try this recipe for years but never had the right opportunity. Until my mama came for a mid-winter visit and we made the yummiest creamy broccoli soup for supper. This bread would be the perfect accompaniment, and my mama, who used to make all her own bread from scratch (and without a bread machine!) would be the perfect advisor since my bread-making experience is rather limited. My kitchen smelled divine as this bread was baking, my husband raved about its deliciousness, my kids loved dipping it into their soup, and I shared the second loaf with my mama as a gift. Very rarely does my own cooking look so similarly to the picture in the cookbooks, but this was pretty close! The recipe seems long (it's bread) and fussy (again, bread) but it's not overly complicated, and so worth it in the end. I will be making this bread again and again!
3 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup minced fresh rosemary (or 1 1/2 tablespoons crushed dried)
4 teaspoons fine salt
1-1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
white cornmeal, for baking
In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir the yeast into the warm water. Let stand until frothy, 10 minutes. Stir in the milk and oil. Combine 4 1/2 cups of the flour in another bowl with the rosemary and fine salt and stir to mix. Add the flour mixture to the yeast mixture and blend with the paddle attachment at low speed until the flour is absorbed. Using the dough hook, knead the dough on medium speed until velvety, elastic, smooth, and somewhat moist. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour until the dough stick to the bottom and sides of the bowl (this step may be omitted based on the consistency of your dough; I did not need additional flour). Finish kneading the dough in an oiled bowl, turning the dough so the surface is lightly and evenly coated in oil all over, cover with a dry dish towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Gently punch the dough down on a floured surface but do not knead it. Cut the dough in half and shape each half into a round ball. Put the loaves on a lightly floured bread board, cover loosely with a dry dish towel, and let rise until almost doubled, 45-55 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450. Put a baking stone in the cold oven and preheat in the oven 30 minutes before baking. Just before you put the loaves in the oven, make as asterisk of shallow slashes in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife, and sprinkle with the coarse salt inside the slits. Carefully sprinkle the hot stone with cornmeal, then slide the loaves onto it. Alternatively, you may place the loaves on a lightly oiled baking sheet, omitting the cornmeal and baking stone.
Bake for 10 minutes. As soon as you place the bread in the oven, use a spray bottle of water (like you use for ironing) to spray the inside of the oven three times. This will help develop a chewy crust. After the initial 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400 and bake until the bread is nicely browned and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, 15-20 minutes. The original recipe called for 30-35 minutes, so your bread may take longer, but my bread was perfect much sooner! Let bread cool on wire racks before cutting to serve.
Makes 2 loaves.
Recipe adapted from Celebrate the Rain, by the Junior League of Seattle.