I’ve written about this bread before elsewhere, but since then I’ve changed up the recipe quite a bit and it got rave reviews from my father last night. Plus, everything else I’ve made lately is probably best described either with the words “bog standard” or with the words “Stephanie Alexander is a goddess“, so I doubt they’d be very interesting. (Except one thing I made with red cabbage, which can best be summarised as “hideous disaster.”)
This herbed bread, adapted from an Epicurious recipe for French bread, is the bread that I always make when I’m serving soup. It has a crispy, chewy crust and a soft centre. It’s delicious with pretty much any kind, from leek and kūmara to ham and barley. It’s also good with a hearty stew or warm with butter. It’s not a great sandwich bread because of the herbs, and it’s also a fairly solid bread, but you could always change those up; there’s a comment on Epicurious from someone who makes this bread with rosemary and lavender, which I always forget I want to try but which I also imagine would be delicious with honey.
It’s a very versatile recipe. But this is how I do it.
Best Soup Bread
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon honey
~5 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white vinegar
A good handful of fresh herbs, or a tablespoon or so dried
1 1/3 cups warm water
1. In a small cup, dissolve the honey in the first quantity of water and sprinkle over then stir in the yeast. Leave it alone for five minutes until it gets fluffy. If it doesn’t go fluffy, it’s time to buy new yeast.
2. Meanwhile, select your herbs. When using dry I like to used Pam’s Mixed Herbs, which is, I believe, parsley, sage, oregano and thyme. When using fresh I use whatever’s around, so today I used a good sprig of rosemary, a little basil and a little sage, a good bit of parsley and a bit of thyme. You could amuse yourself/me parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and then call this Simon & Garfunkel bread, or maybe Folk Bread. That’s entertaining, anyway. Dice the fresh herbs, if using, finely.
3. In a large mixing bowl, toss the herbs, salt, and vinegar through three cups of the flour. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture and the second quantity of water. Mix together firmly.
4. Keep adding flour until your mixture comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl, and looks like it won’t absorb much more flour. This is a tricky step if you haven’t made bread before. You almost certainly will not need to use the full extra two cups; today I used about 1 1/2 extra cups (on top of the 3 cups already in there.) I usually find my bread looks a little raggedy at this stage, that’s OK because it’ll knead in together.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, flour your hands and then knead for about ten minutes. This is quite a wet bread, so remember the rule of flouring your hands and your surface, not your bread. Bread is kneaded when stretchy, pliable and cohesive. Also there are a lot of YouTube tutorials for this, so.
6. Wash out the mixing bowl and lightly oil it. Place the dough in turning it over once so it’s a little oily, then cover the bowl tightly with gladwrap or with a damp teatowel. Put it in a warm place and rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes. Warming cupboards are a good place to rise bread; alternatively if your place is cold (after all, this is soup bread), pre-heat your oven to a very low temperature like 50 C, turn it off, and place the bread in there.
7. Decide how you want your bread shaped. Rolls are good, so are slashed loaves and braids. If making rolls, divide the dough into evenly-sized portions and roll into balls. 8 produces slightly oversized balls, 10 a nice size (but 10 is a hard number to divide stuff into, so.) To make loaves, divide the dough into two portions, pat these portions out into rectangles and then fold into a loaf shape by folding the shorter ends under. Slash the tops before putting into oven. To make a braided loaf divide the dough into three, roll between your hands into cords, then plait like your sister’s hair. (There are many way more complicated ways to braid bread but I am not going to tell you any of them, so there.)
8. Rise for another 30 minutes on a greased, lightly floured tray (or ditto bread pan for loaves.) Brush the tops of the bread with a lightly beaten egg. Bake at 200 C (400 F) for 10 minutes for rolls, 20-30 minutes for the loaves. Flip over and bake upside-down for a further 5 minutes. Bread is done when you can tap the bottom and it sounds hollow.
9. Eat dipped in soup or slathered in butter, preferably while it’s still hot. Deeeeelicious.