Bread of the Month: Perfuming air with herbs

breadlede01I sought a simple loaf bread recipe for this month’s recipe test. But when I began perusing the King Arthur Flour website for possibilities, I was overwhelmed with so many delicious options and became impossibly hungry.

provancel thrilled from my thyme-laced popovers (see blog entry in 4/13), I came across a French Herb Bread that looked both hearty and aromatic. It was a simple white bread, but flavored with the intoxicating blend known as Herbes de Provence, which includes rosemary, thyme, oregano, fennel, lavender and tarragon. They are heady to smell straight from the package…what would they do enlivened with the heat of bread baking in the oven? And how would they taste? I could not wait to find out!

drywet01The bread is as easy as can be, first a blending of the dry ingredients, which include the herbs and an instant yeast I purchased from King Arthur Flour, along with potato starch flour — certain to add tenderness — and nonfat dry milk.. Then, warm water and olive oil are poured in. It occurred to me that the dry ingredients and instructions could be presented as a bread mix gift, hmmmm. The bread is no knead, thus making it even easier to prepare, merely blended with a dough hook and the motor of a Kitchen Aid.

doughbowl01The dough is proofed once before it is shaped. It rose beautifully, and those herbs — unbaked — were already coming to a lilting life, aromatically. I shaped the dough into a single loaf (it can also be made into four small individual loaves — more gifts!) and let the loaf rise to a height just above the rim of the pan.

I would like to take a moment to honor my new loaf pans, pale blue Fire King beauties that came from Yesterday’s Rose Antique Mall in Abilene, KS. As a testament of the durability of things made “back in the day,” I was made to check the carry-on bag holding my breadinpan01loaf pans, wrapped in paper, at O’Hare airport (I was a bit miffed, as most folks in airports are usually, as my bag was smaller and less loaded than many of the bags I saw rolling down the jet way). I had no time to remove my treasures, so I said a little prayer and wished them godspeed in the luggage hold. They survived!! And they will bring me much delight in years to come, I’m sure.

My loaf risen, it was time for the baking. I’ve declared before that the smell of baking bread (along with vanilla cake or roast chicken, or both) is at the top of the list of all smells that can emanate from one’s oven. This herb-y loaf could take this to a new heights. And it did! The smell made me think of pizza (hey, this dough would make fabulous pizza crust…all to come), But it also reminded me of fields of sunbaked grass, a deep earthiness, something summer and beyond on the horizon. Mmmmm, boy!

loaffin01The house filled with the warm perfume, I did not dally long before digging in. Warm and spread with a little melting butter, the bread was moist and light with a moderately crunchy crust. All those herbs lingered in my olfactory system long after I consumed my first slice. The effect was like having tea and bread together. It was lovely, and delicious in subsequent servings of toast and sandwiches. So much received for so little effort. It made me consider that maybe we think too many things must be difficult in order to mean anything.

Not so.

French Herb Bread
From King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com)
Makes one full-size loaf or four mini loaves

1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
¼ cup potato flour or ½ cup dried potato flakes
2 tablespoons herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons instant yeast

Combine all of the ingredients, and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — until smooth, adding additional water or flour as needed.

Cover the dough, and let it rise for 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces, shape into logs, and place in lightly greased mini loaf pans. For one large loaf, shape the entire piece of dough into a log and place in a lightly greased 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan.

Cover and let rise until the dough has crowned about ½ inch over the rims of the mini loaf pans, or 1″ over the rim of the larger pan, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the warmth of the kitchen. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the bread for 30 to 35 minutes for the mini loaves, 35 to 40 minutes for the larger loaf. An instant-read thermometer, inserted into the center of a loaf, should register at least 190 degrees. Tent the bread lightly with foil if it appears to be browning too quickly.

Remove the bread from the oven, turn it out of the pan, and cool on a rack.

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