A Little Bravery

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I’ve been making the majority of our bread for about a year and a half now. Not that I don’t enjoy a store bought loaf every now and again (and since I keep killing my sourdough starters and that is my favorite bread ever I do haunt our local bakery on a frequent basis). It just terrifies me that so many breads are able to cheat death; their countertop longevity is like something out of a horror movie. I noticed a few years back when I started my move toward local eating and small-business shopping that bread that comes from a real bakery is stale much more quickly than your typical grocery store sandwich bread. And further, some of the new ‘low carb’ breads from some of your favorite large-scale bread purveyors don’t go bad AT ALL. I found a slice once that had successfully lived in the back of the bread box in its original bag that looked and felt as good as the day my roommate bought it – six months earlier. I was shocked and sick, to say the least.

In buying my loaves from small local bakeries and bread purveyors, I started wondering what they had that I didn’t (other than time on their side and a fruitful sourdough starter). Except for my aversion to dealing with anything requiring yeast. Oh, that. In my younger days when I worked at a bakery up in Washington state, one of my requirements as the new baker (read: low girl on the totem pole) was breads and yeast cinnamon rolls. Let’s just say that my technique is good but the long hours I spent proofing and kneading and rising and punching down and rising and forming and all of this going on at about 3:00 in the morning turned me off from the process. I’m not a morning person and I’m especially not an ‘Oh Dark Thirty’ morning person. We’ll leave it at several batches came out as doorstops and move on.

I have a bread machine that I use as my crutch nowadays. It does the ‘heavy lifting’ portion of bread making for me: it brings everything to temp, mixes, rises, punches down and gives the second rise to the dough, and when this is complete I dump the bread out onto a cornmeal lined baking sheet, form it, let it rise again and bake it. No big deal; the machine goes about its business while I go about mine. It’s a good arrangement and fits well in my weekend morning routine. I even found a website filled with road-tested recipes that follow this very method.

This has been my MO for quite some time until last weekend. While cruising the interwebs I stumbled across a recipe for a yeasted spiced bread with zucchini and red bell pepper, cumin and coriander, that tasted heavenly in my brain as I read the recipe (yes I taste with my brain, don’t you?). I had to make this bread, just HAD to, but the recipe made two loaves, which won’t fit in my bread machine, and I am too chicken to go dividing a yeast bread recipe in half and believe it would be successful. And if you’ve never made a loaf of bread in your bread machine that was too big for the capacity and it bubbled over onto the heating element, well, you haven’t lived. This bountiful recipe meant that I had to break out my stand mixer and go about it the long way. It was daunting, I was up to the challenge, and it was worth it. Just look at this bread:

It looked like I got it at the bakery, and I’m proud to announce it tasted that way too. I brought one of the loaves to work to the amazement and accolades of my coworkers, who made short work of eating it up. This weekend I think I’ll sub other spices (maybe fennel seeds or lavender) for the dried seeds, and I can’t wait to use fresh basil from my garden in place of the parsley. This makes A LOT of dough and it might make your Kitchenaid walk across the counter while it’s kneading with the dough hook (mine sure did and it scared the heck out of me and the cat). Keep a firm hand on top of the machine and you’ll both be just fine. Also, please note that you make the starter for the bread the night before you will be baking, so keep that in mind.

Zucchini Bread with Moroccan Spices

Yields 2 loaves, about 1 3/4 pounds each

3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
Biga (recipe below), at room temperature
1 cup grated zucchini (about 4 oz.)
About 4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped unsalted roasted pistachios
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
1 1/2 teaspoons hot chili flakes
About 1/4 cup cornmeal

Biga: In a bowl, sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast over 1/4 cup warm (100° to 110°) water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup cold water. With a wood spoon, stir in 1 1/2 cups bread flour until mixture forms a soft dough. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 12 to 24 hours. Let come to room temperature before using, about 1 hour.

Shortcut: Without the biga, our recipes still produce great loaves. In the basic recipe, just increase the yeast by 1 1/4 teaspoons, the bread flour by 1 1/2 cups, and the water by 3/4 cup.

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer or another large bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1 cup warm (100° to 110°) water; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. Add 3/4 cup cold water, biga, zucchini, 3 cups bread flour, whole-wheat flour, and salt to yeast mixture. Beat with paddle attachment on low speed, or stir with a heavy spoon, until well blended. Gradually beat or stir in 1 1/2 more cups bread flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until mixture forms a soft dough.

3. Switch to a dough hook and beat on medium speed until dough is smooth and elastic and pulls cleanly from sides of bowl but is still slightly sticky, 6 to 8 minutes; or scrape dough onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand until smooth and elastic but still slightly sticky, 7 to 10 minutes.

4. Add parsley, bell pepper, pistachios, cumin, and chili flakes and beat in with dough hook or knead in by hand just until incorporated (after mixing in by hand, place dough in a bowl)

5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Punch down with your hand to expel air.

6. Re-cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Or for a slow rise, chill at least 8 and up to 12 hours; let come to room temperature, about 3 hours.

7. Scrape dough onto a well-floured board and knead briefly to expel air. Divide in half. With lightly floured hands, gather each half into a ball, then stretch and tuck edges under to shape into a smooth oval with slightly tapered ends (about 8 in. long and 4 in. wide in the center). Place loaves on a well-floured surface, dust lightly with flour, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until they’re slightly puffy and hold the imprint of a finger when lightly pressed, about 1 1/2 hours.

8. Sprinkle a 13- by 17-inch baking sheet generously with cornmeal. Transfer loaves, one at a time, to sheet, spacing 2 to 3 inches apart. With a sharp knife, make three diagonal slashes 1 inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart across loaf tops. Place sheet on rack in lower third of a 450° regular or convection oven. Or, if using a baking stone, gently slide edge of cornmeal-covered baking sheet under one loaf and lift it onto end of sheet. Slash as directed above, then gently slide loaf onto one side of stone in oven, leaving room for second loaf. Repeat to slash and transfer second loaf.

Spray 3 to 4 squirts of water on floor or sides of oven, taking care not to spray near heating element or lightbulb, then quickly close door.

9. Bake bread, spraying twice more at 5-minute intervals during the first 10 minutes of baking, until crust is well browned, 35 to 45 minutes total.

10. Transfer loaves to a rack to cool for at least 1 hour. Store in paper bags at room temperature up to 2 days. To recrisp the crust, place loaves directly on a rack in a 400° oven and bake for about 5 minutes.

2 responses »

  1. I made this bread this weekend and it turned out FANTASTIC! I didn’t do the Biga part of the recipe, and I used fresh basil, garlic, pepper, cayenne pepper and cheddar cheese (in the dough and sprinkled on top) for the spices. It turned out like a store bought loaf of bread; Zack said he would have paid $5 for it. I told NO ONE about the zucchini and all the kids ate it and said it was delicious (even the gagger!)

  2. It does turn out like a store bought loaf – so impressive and pretty! I’m glad you had good results and that the kiddos liked it! I will keep your zucchini secret safe 😉

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