Today's Winter Storm Warning:
"ANOTHER ROUND OF WINTER WEATHER IS EXPECTED TO IMPACT THE MIDWEST BEGINNING LATE THURSDAY AND CONTINUING INTO FRIDAY MORNING. THIS STORM SYSTEM WILL BRING AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF SNOW... FREEZING RAIN AND SLEET..."
How to prepare? I stock up on flour and yeast! I'm "on vacation" until January 6 (I'm self-employed so I asked myself if I could take a Christmas break and the answer was "yes"). What do I do when I'm snowbound? I bake! There's no better time to bake bread than during a winter blast - I'm ready!
My favorite bread flour is King Arthur brand. Its high (12.8%) protein level assures a strong rise every time, which is essential as I most often combine it with rye or whole grains. This dependable flour, which is milled from hard red spring wheat grown in the Dakotas, is the best I've ever used. The King Arthur folks offer this tip when using their bread flour: "High-protein flour absorbs more liquid then medium-protein flour. When baking with bread flour, add about 2 teaspoons extra liquid for each cup of flour (or more, in order to produce dough that's the consistency the recipe calls for)."
My favorite yeast? SAF Instant Red - and for high sugar doughs, I use SAF Gold. Both are reliable, reliable, reliable. You don't need to proof these yeasts - just add them along with the dry ingredients. Stored in the freezer, SAF yeast will stay vigorous for up to a year.
King Arthur Bread Flour is widely available here in the Chicago area, along with King Arthur whole wheat, white whole wheat, and all-purpose flours. I buy SAF Red at GFS retail outlets (Gordon Food Service) and have also spotted it at Costco. SAF Red and Gold can also be ordered from the Baker's Catalogue at King Arthur Flour. Both products will produce excellent results even in the hands of beginning bakers. Now get out there and bake! Here's a recipe to get you started:
ROSEMARY ASIAGO BREAD
2 packages active dry yeast or 2 teaspoons SAF Instant Yeast
1 cup warm water (105º to 115º)
6 cups bread flour (King Arthur preferred)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crumbled or other single or mixed dried or fresh herbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups (16 oz. container) low-fat small-curd cottage cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature, plus 1 extra egg for brushing the loaves if desired
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or butter, plus extra for greasing the rising bowl
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 cup grated/shredded Asiago, plus additional Asiago for the top of the loaves
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and diced (jarred in water is fine - drain well) (optional)
In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is foamy. Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar and 1 cup of the bread flour, stir, and set the sponge aside for ten minutes (it should rise substantially). In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 4 cups of the bread flour, rosemary, remaining sugar, and salt. Add the cottage cheese along with the yeast sponge, egg, olive oil, additional cheeses, and bell pepper. Mix on low speed, using the paddle attachment, until the dough comes together, adding the additional 1 cup flour if needed. Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead for about five minutes at medium speed. Drop the dough (it will look shaggy) onto a lightly floured surface and knead for an additional 2-3 minutes by hand, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer to a large oiled/buttered bowl and turn it over to coat with the oil. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm place free of drafts until doubled in volume (about 1 to 1-1/2 hours).
Punch the dough down, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes (this gives the gluten a chance to relax). Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 free form rounds, pinching together the seams at the bottom. Place on a greased sheet (or use Reynolds Release foil or parchment paper). Lightly coat the tops with olive oil or very soft butter*, cover, and let rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400º F for at least 20 minutes (you may use a baker's/pizza stone).
Score the loaves with two deep slashes or a crosshatch pattern using a very sharp knife or baker's lame, and lightly press about 1/4 cup grated or shredded Asiago onto the top of each of the loaves. *Alternatively, for a crisp crust, brush each loaf with an egg wash made with one beaten egg and 2 teaspoons water. Sprinkle each loaf with about 1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary. Place in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 350º. Bake 40 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom or a thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf reads 190º to 200º F. Remove loaves immediately and cool completely on a rack before cutting or storing.
Feel free to experiment with different cheeses (the cottage cheese is a fixed ingredient, however). Sharp Cheddar is very good. I also like this bread with dill weed replacing the rosemary.
Note: Shaping the loaves takes a little practice. Fashion the dough into a ball and flatten slightly. Turn the ball clockwise while simultaneously stretching and smoothing the dough under with your other hand. Turn the dough over, pinch the bottom seam, and press it with your fingers. Eventually you will get the hang of it. The seam is on the bottom, so it’s not important if it’s not perfect. The bread can also be shaped into conventional loaves or dinner rolls.