Week Forty-Five: Potent or Unusual Flavors
When I decided on the theme for this week, I knew I had to include blue cheese somehow. What more potent flavor could you add to bread? I’ll admit, I merely like blue cheese; I don’t have that unbounded adoration that its many devotees do.
I do, however, love the singular and pungent aroma it exudes, and I don’t think there’s a better-smelling bread that I’ve made this year. The aroma that fills the kitchen is not only one of baking bread, excellent as that alone is, but also of the unmistakable punch of blue cheese, gloriously and unashamedly stinky. It’s heavenly.
To help the cheese spread more evenly and melt into the dough, and add a bit of wholly unnecessary richness, I’ve mixed the cheese with a bit of butter. Surrounding this indulgent mixture is a relatively lean dough, one that would produce a reasonably airy and crisp-crusted loaf if baked alone. But with butter and blue cheese rolled up inside, the baking bread soaks up the melting fat, and transforms into something truly luxurious. The sides of the bread, near the decorative slashes, grow darker and shiny with the runoff, in a most attractive way.
Though this bread is certainly good enough eaten sliced and plain, I had to try a piece toasted with my dinner, a simple fried egg over brown rice. In a fried egg, I like my yolks runny, as I take great pleasure in dipping hard-toasted bits of bread in the center, letting the remainder run over the plate like a Hollandaise. And over the course of this year, I have enjoyed many a crunchy crust covered with the golden stuff.
But this, this toasted bit of flour and water and butter, this unmistakable potency of blue cheese, dripping with the shining liquid yolk, it was provocative and rich. The bite of the crust, flaking off crumbs, and the softness of the cheese, with the saucey and lush yolk, was nearly relevatory. The smell had won me from the start, but this one taste was enough to make me a devotee.
Blue Cheese Bread
Makes 1 loaf
For bread dough:
17 ounces (about 3 3/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cup water, at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
For cheese filling:
5 to 6 ounces blue cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1. To make the dough, whisk the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the water and oil.
2. Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms. Turn off the mixer, and without removing hook or bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
3. After resting, increase the speed to medium-low, and knead for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the dough is supple and elastic. Add additional flour or water as needed, if the dough looks very wet or crumbly. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl.
4. Transfer the dough to a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for about 1 to 1½ hours, or until doubled in size.
5. While the dough rises, make the filling by blending (either by hand or in a mixer or food processor) the softened cheese and butter together in a bowl until combined, but not necessarily smooth. Set aside.
6. Lightly dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and press into a rough rectangle as bit as the dough will allow, using flour as needed to prevent sticking. Evenly dot the surface of the dough with the cheese mixture, leaving a 1/2 inch border.
7. Starting with one long side, carefully roll the rectangle up jelly-roll style, brushing off any excess flour from the underside of the dough. Pinch the seam gently to seal, transfer to the prepared baking sheet, seam-side down, and tuck the loose ends underneath for a more finished look. Cover loosely with lightly-oiled plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400º F.
8. When fully risen, and using a sharp serrated knife or razor blade, make several quick, diagonal slashes in each loaf, letting only the weight of the knife press into the dough. Spray or sprinkle the dough with water. Bake at 400º F, spraying with water every 60 seconds for the first five minutes. After five minutes, continue baking for another 25 to 30 minutes, or until well-browned. Let cool thoroughly on a wire rack before cutting.
1. You can use whatever sort of blue cheese you like, but the flavor will be predominant, so it helps to use a fairly good one.
2. It’s important to let the bread cool completely before cutting, to give the melting cheese and the structure of the bread to set. Cut too early, and the escaping moisture (steam) will turn your bread gummy.