Roo walked into the kitchen. “How long have you been in here?”
I looked up from the cutting board. “I don’t know,” I replied, “I’m kneading.”
“Why aren’t you using the stand mixer?”
I picked up the ball of dough and pressed it down against the cutting board. “Because I needed to clear my head.”
“This is how you clear your head?”
“Some people have moments of clarity in the shower-”
“My best ideas come from there.”
Roo pulled out a chair from the kitchen table and sat. “Does this have anything to do with dinner at your parents’?”
I reopened the bag of flour sitting on the island and coated my hands.
“It’s 10 at night. And you just decided after an hour’s drive from your parents’ house to start making bread?”
“Nipples,” I muttered.
“There were so many nipples.”
“I don’t follow.”
“My mother,” I said, taking a breath, “she asked me edit a Powerpoint presentation for her breastfeeding class. And there were all these photos-”
“Endless images of nipples. How to properly breastfeed – which is fine – but then there was a part about what could go wrong.”
“With your nipples?”
“Horrifying,” I said, leaning my weight onto the dough again.
“I think I’m done obsessing about having children….those images set me back a good year or two.”
Roo pushed his chair out from the table and walked out of the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” I called.
“To see your mother,” Roo replied, “I need to give her a high-five.”
This bread is comfort. It has just a hint of herbs, from the pesto and just a little bit of richness, from a dash of olive oil. I love ripping off a chunk with my hands; hearing the crackly crust break between my fingers. Have it as part of a panini sandwich or scoop some spaghetti and marina sauce on top. You can of course knead it in a stand mixer to save time, or do it by hand to take a moment to get out of your head.
Adapted from Rosemary and Thyme Bread
Makes 1 Large Loaf
A stand mixer with a dough hook (you can use your hands, it’ll just take longer)
A large mixing bowl (used twice)
A flat surface to knead dough on (a cutting board will suffice)
A dutch oven or a heavy large pot (must be oven safe at 450F)
A sharp knife
One and a quarter cups of warm water (about 110F)
Two and a quarter teaspoons of active dry yeast
A pinch of sugar
4 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons of coarse sea salt (if you have a very salty pesto, use only 1 teaspoon of coarse sea salt)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Quarter cup of your favorite pesto (I use a chunky/thick one)
An additional 1 teaspoon of olive oil (to coat the large mixing bowl)
Extra bread flour (to knead with – in case your pesto is super loose compared to the one I use)
An additional 1 tablespoon of olive oil, divided (to coat dutch oven/pot and loaf)
A big pinch of coarse sea salt (optional)
Pour the warm water into the stand mixer bowl. Add the yeast an a pinch of sugar. Swish the ingredients around gently. Set the mixture aside for about 5 minutes. The mixture should foam and froth after 5 minutes. If not, chuck it into the bin and start over with new yeast.
In a large mixing bowl, add the flour and salt. Whisk the ingredients together till combined.
Add the flour to the yeast mixture. Pour the olive oil and pesto on top.
Knead the ingredients together, using your standing mixer with the dough hook, on low speed for about 10 to 12 minutes. (Be sure to ‘lock’ your mixer down.) If you’re kneading the dough with your hands, expect to do so for double the time.
The dough ball should be smooth, supple and not sticky when ready. As you knead (whether by hand or by stand mixer), if the bread dough seems too ‘wet’ add a bit of flour to help it along. Your pesto may be looser than mine, so add a handful of flour to bring it all together.
During the mixing, the dough ball will actually clean off the sides of the bowl. If the dough ball is still wet and there’s plenty of flour left on the sides of the bowl, it’s not ready.
Add the teaspoon of olive oil to a large mixing bowl (the one you used before to mix the flour will be fine). Smear it around with your hand to coat the whole bowl, then place the dough ball inside . Cover it the bowl plastic wrap and allow it to rest in a warm, non-drafty spot for about an hour. It should double in size during this time.
For me, it takes about 30 minutes for my oven to preheat to 450F. Thirty minutes after the dough has been set aside to rise, I place the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450F. Preheat your oven to 450F accordingly.
When the dough has doubled in size, remove the dough ball from the bowl and place on a flat surface to knead. I find my wood cutting board works just fine with no need for flour. However, throw some flour down if you’d like.
Knead the dough by hand for about 2 minutes.
Add half a tablespoon of olive oil to the bottom of the dutch oven. Place the dough ball into that oil puddle.
With a sharp knife, slash a deep cross into the dough. Drizzle the second half a tablespoon on top of the dough ball. Sprinkle the dough with coarse sea salt (if using).
Place the lid on the dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the lid carefully (be cautious of any steam), reduce the heat to 400F and bake the bread uncovered for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove the dutch oven and allow the bread to cool inside. Serve at room temperature. Or hot, but be careful when trying to remove it from the pan the dutch oven will be quite hot to touch.