I don't know if I can say I woke up very early or that I didn't sleep, just napped during the first hours of the night. When you go to bed at 1am and wake up at 3am and realize that you completely lost your sleep, go downstairs, of course sit in front of your computer and go about your night like it's the morning, what definition applies? Probably the one that let's you all see how crazy my mind is these days, how I'm not kidding when I say I have a parallel life during the night hours. Although that applied to actual sleeping nights, last night goes to show my point.
Anyway, let's say the day started early, very early. By 9am I was ready to have lunch and by 6pm ready to go to bed again. Neither happened. But, I got a lot of baking done. In the wee hours of the morning, with no phones ringing, no deadlines, just silence on a rainy day, a lot can be accomplished in the kitchen.
For this month's 12 Loaves group the ingredient to use was cheese. Bread and cheese. What's easier and yummier, not to mention bad bad to eat as a regular whole meal kind of thing?
Sometimes when things are such a no brainer and obvious, like throwing some gruyere in your favorite challah, or making the best pull-apart bread like Lora did, or a prosciutto stromboli (are you crazy about stromboli yet? For starters I'm crazy about how the word sounds) like Lisa, or a bacon focaccia like Jamie, or even a clever waffle sandwich (you heard that right) made by Barb, all including cheese of course, it is on these occasions when I feel the need to bake something different, for diversity.
I first leafed through books and magazines looking for a sweet bread and found some impressive ones using soft cheese, let me tell you. But that didn't happen. At least not for this edition of 12 Loaves. I decided to use ricotta and chives in a savory bread.
Now, many don't like the look and feel of ricotta and maybe they have a point. But it is a good, noble ingredient, especially if you make your own. Which I have many times in the past, but didn't this time. I will get to posting that eventually; now we have a bread to bake.
The cheese gives the bread incredible moisture and a nice crumb. Similar to this other related bread which has some sour cream in the dough. The chives make your kitchen smell like a pungent heaven where nothing but nice things can happen.
The final loaf is very soft, especially right after coming out of the oven, so don't mistake that for being undercooked. Trust your knuckles. I didn't and kind of opened it a bit in the middle to peek insisde while it was still hot. That's the crack you see in the pictures.
That aside, the bread itself makes an astonishingly good toasted ham and cheese sandwich. So good I had it for lunch and banished every thought of giving the rest of the bread away, like I do with many of the thing I bake. It will stay in my freezer and make an appearance, but only sporadically since spring and bikini season are here.
This bread is good with soups, as part of a buffet when you need delicious little rolls, or just to snack on something savory during the day.
The recipe comes from one of the bread masters, Peter Reinhart. He has many well known books, but I found this recipe in one of his early works, a little paperback that I bought many years ago.
RICOTTA CHIVE BREAD
a bit adapted from Brother Juniper's Bread Book, by Peter Reinhart
Note: this can easily be doubled
4 cups bread flour
¼ cup wheat bran
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ Tbs chopped fresh parsley
¾ cups chopped fresh chives
1 Tbs instant dry yeast or 1 ¼ Tbs active dry yeast
1 Tbs salt
½ cup fresh ricotta cheese, strained before measuring if watery
¾ to 1 cup water
In the bowl of an standing mixer put flour, bran, sugar, pepper, parsley, chives and yeast. Add salt without touching the yeast.
Add ricotta and ¾ cup water and mix on low speed using the dough hook. Once everything is combined, turn the speed to medium and knead for a few minutes. Check to see if the dough needs more water, and add it a Tbs at a time. Keep kneading for 5 minutes. The dough will remain somewhat moist, with a bit adhering to the bottom.
Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. Transfer to a floured surface and, with the aid of a dough scraper, form into a loose ball. Flatten it with your hands and carefull roll into a loaf.
Place in a greased large loaf pan, cover loosely and let rise until doubled again.
Preheat oven to 350ºF about 15 minutes before baking.
Bake bread for about 45 to 50 mintues, until golden and bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckles.
Unmold on a wire rack and let cool before cutting.
Makes 1 loaf.