Week of Bread: Dried Tomato
If you’re like me and you’re missing the warmth of the summer sun and all the flavors that spring up in it, I’ve got a secret weapon for you. The first bread recipe for the SFTF Week of Bread event is one that harkens back to the joy of feeling the juice from a ripe heirloom tomato dribbling down your chin and the scent of basil in the air, growing perky and tall under the sun’s kind eye. Sigh…
Woops, zoned out there for a minute. Well, I may not have the summer sun warming my back right now, but I do have my stash of preserves to recall warmer days behind and ahead of us. We’ll start with some oven-dried tomatoes that I put up in September. Oh, and let’s not forget the frozen basil puree I stashed away at the end of October. Now let’s pull together a salty, crusty dough to carry the tomatoes and basil (and me) into blissful summery daydreams. Mmmm…
Snap out of it, Jennie! There’s a lesson or two to be taught still before surrendering to the flavors of the Oven-Dried Tomato Braid.
If you’re a true beginner, this might not be the best recipe to start with since it incorporates some extra ingredients and requires some extra handling of the dough to accomplish the final braided loaf. Still, if you’re game for it, I’m happy to provide some pointers. And you can always skip the braiding part and just make two round loaves instead.
The irony in this recipe is that it contradicts several pointers I just outlined in my bread basics post. For starters, you proof the yeast first in water instead of just mixing it with the dry ingredients. And then you’ll also want to avoid letting your dough rest after you’ve punched it down after two hours of rising. Instead, immediately begin rolling it into the three long pieces for braiding since it needs to be as deflated as possible to get a good braid going. And finally, once it’s braided, don’t let it rise too much as it will split the ends of the braid apart. Rather, let it rise just long enough to make the dough springy and dry to the touch again, about twenty minutes.
Confused yet? Don’t worry. I promise that no matter what this bread looks like when it comes out of the oven, it’ll taste like perfection. If you don’t have your own stash of oven-dried tomatoes and basil puree, a quick scan of the supermarket shelves should suffice for picking up sun-dried tomatoes (usually packed in oil anyway so you can skip the re-hydrating step in the recipe) and some fresh basil to use in the tomato/basil paste. In some specialty markets, you may actually find a sun-dried tomato pesto already prepared.
Obviously, for those of you lucky enough to be living in the Southern Hemisphere, go get the stuff fresh and local! And while you’re at it, please savor summer for the rest of us!
Oven-Dried Tomato Braid
Adapted from The Practical Encyclopedia of Baking
1 t. active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. white bread flour
1 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. oven- or sun-dried tomatoes
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 T. (1 cube) frozen basil, thawed, or 2 T. fresh basil
1 t. coarse sea salt
Begin by covering dried tomatoes with warm water to partially re-hydrate. Let stand for about 10-15 minutes until soft. Gently drain (but do not press) tomatoes and add oil and toss to coat. Let stand for another 10 minutes to let flavors combine. Drain off excess oil, reserving oil to use later in the dough. Roughly chop tomatoes and separate into 2/3 cup and 1/3 cup.
Combine 1/3 cup of chopped tomatoes and basil in a food processor or blender (if you don’t have either, you can mash them together with a knife and fork). Pulse to form a paste. Add a little oil if needed. Set paste aside.
Put 2/3 c. of warm water in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top and add the sugar. Mix and let sit for 10 minutes until frothy. Meanwhile, put both flours in a mixing bowl. Add salt, pepper, remaining 2/3 cup chopped tomatoes and toss. Stir in yeast mixture, oil, parmesan, basil/tomato paste, and enough warm water to make a soft dough – about a half cup.
Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead for five minutes until smooth and elastic. Clean bowl of any left over scraps and return dough to it, covering with a dish towel. Let dough sit in a warm place to rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 3 or 4 minutes. Divide the dough into three equal parts and shape each piece into a 12 inch long snake. Dampen the end of the three long pieces. Press them together on one end before braiding loosely and connecting at the other end, firmly pressing ends together. Place on lightly greased baking sheet, cover with the towel, and let sit in a warm place for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 F.
Give the risen braid a quick spritz with non-stick spray and sprinkle with sea salt. Pinch the ends of the braid again to be sure they are secure. Bake for 10 minutes and then lower the temperature to 400 F. Bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack. Makes a tasty grilled cheese!
(makes 1 loaf)