Friday, September 2, 2011

The Joys of Baking Bread

Rustic Italian Bread, with a pesto swirl in the middle

Ever since I received my first bread machine as a birthday gift, way back in the early '90's, I have loved making bread. I ALWAYS loved eating homemade bread, but never had the patience for all the kneading and rising and more kneading and waiting. The bread machine takes the dull part out and leaves you free to enjoy the satisfying part. You get to pick the type of ingredients you want to use, flour, herbs, amount and types of oil and salt and the machine does most of the work, or even all of it, if you so choose. And the aroma of baking bread is probably the most appetizing and welcoming of cooking aromas to come home to.

When my kids were little, I knew that no matter what I was serving for dinner, if I made bread, they would eat dinner! You know the trick, eat a bite of everything on your plate and you can have another piece of bread...

I am now on my second bread machine -- I wore the first one out! -- and I still love making homemade breads, pizza dough and rolls. The way I do it these days is to make the dough in the machine and finish the loaf in the oven. That way, I get to choose a more natural attractive shape and get the option of some last minute additions to my dough. Lately, since I have so much basil in my garden, I've been adding pesto to my dough and rolling it up into an Italian style loaf, so that each slice has a swirl of pesto in the middle. Really yummy and looks pretty also! Here's one way I make bread. This is great served with any full bodied pasta with red sauce, or a grilled meat dish.

Rustic Italian Bread with Pesto

1 cup water
3 T. olive oil

3 cups bread flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. sugar

2 tsp. dry yeast

Simple Pesto (recipe below)

Put your ingredients into your bread machine in the order your manufacturer recommends. Mine calls for wet ingredients first, with dry on top. So, water, olive oil, flour, salt, sugar and yeast (the pesto comes later!). if not using a bread machine, soften the yeast in warmed water, then mix in your flour, salt and sugar.

Choose the dough setting on the bread machine, or get to kneading if you aren't going to use one! After the final rise, when the machine goes beep, beep, beep, turn the dough out on a floured, dry surface and shape into a rough rectangle. Spread on the pesto sauce, about 1 -2 tablespoons, leaving about 1.5 inches at the top and an inch at each end with no sauce. Begin to roll up the bread dough, jelly roll style, at the end with the pesto. Roll it into a long cylinder and let it rise about 45 more minutes, covered, in a warm dry place (I use my oven with the light turned on and the door closed.)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and bake the loaf for 25 - 30 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing. (Don't forget to take the bread OUT of the oven before turning it on to preheat!!)

Simple Pesto

1/4 c. packed clean basil leaves

1 clove garlic

1 T. Parmesan

1 tsp. toasted pine nuts or walnuts

2 T. olive oil

Blend this together in a mini food processor or food chopper until nice and smooth. Use to fill the bread or serve over pasta, on pizza, or grilled fish or chicken.
I've posted a slightly more complicated recipe for pasta earlier but this one is quick and easy.

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