Week Thirteen: Filled Breads
Okay, quick show of hands: who doesn’t like prosciutto? No one? That’s what I thought. Prosciutto is one of the main reasons I pity vegetarians on occasion. I don’t eat much meat generally speaking, but if you set a plate of prosciutto in front of me, you’d better not expect to have any leftovers. Prosciutto can, like Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, transform nearly any food into a more elegant and glamorous version of itself. Think melon, scallops, asparagus, dates, and on and on; just wrapping a slice around anything makes it worlds better.
Prosciutto and bread are like frick and frack. You can’t find a simpler and better appetizer to set in front of guests than a platter of sliced baguette and prosciutto. Add some creamy brie to the mix, and you might not even have to bother cooking dinner. So it’s only natural to add it into the bread, rather than just wrapping it around a breadstick, or layering on top of a slice.
This bread has a fairly wet dough, much like a ciabatta. This gives it a pleasantly chewy texture, and makes the finished loaf rather flat, since it tends to spread a bit during the final proofing. I also think the two are an entirely apt pairing; you know, that whole “if it grows together, it goes together” bit? It’s something like that. These two quintessentially Italian foods, while extremely delicious in and of themselves, are just amazing together. The prosciutto gets layered onto the rolled-out dough, then gently folded in, resulting in flavorful meaty streaks throughout the loaf. And when you add a light dusting of black pepper into the dough, well, they just all go to eleven.
The bread cooks up soft and springy on the inside, with a beautiful brown crust that seems rather tough and hard on pulling out of the oven, but that softens up considerably after sitting a while. You can, of course, substitute any type of charcuterie you like instead of prosciutto; but just make sure it’s sliced very thinly. I think the more flavorful the meat is, though, the better in this application. I just love those little bursts of savory umami within each bite.
One obvious use for this bread is to lightly toast slices under a broiler, and serve accompanying a cheese plate for a very elegant hors d’oeuvre. Or, if you can’t bear to share it (I understand completely), could you possibly find a better bread to make grilled cheese with? Spread some pesto, or unsalted almond butter (or a mixture!) on one side, and fill with your choice of lovely melting cheeses (perhaps the leftovers from your cheese plate?), and grill in olive oil. Maybe add a tomato in there too, or a thin smattering of blueberry jam. Hey, why am I suddenly hungry?
Makes 1 loaf
1/2 cup warm water (105º-115º F)
1/2 cup warm milk (105º-115º F)
1 3/4 teaspoons active-dry yeast
8 ounces bread flour (about 2 cups), divided
4 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon salt
2 ounces prosciutto (at least), thinly sliced and torn into bits
Freshly ground black pepper
Cornmeal, for dusting
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir the yeast into a little of the warm milk. Let sit until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes. Reserving a handful of the bread flour (about 1 ounce), combine the remaining amounts of the two flours.
2. Add the remaining milk and water, the mixture of the two flours, and the salt. Using the dough hook, mix at the lowest speed until the dough comes together, scraping down the bowl if necessary. Add the reserved bread flour by tablespoons if needed; you’re looking for a fairly loose consistency, but the dough should mostly clear the sides of the bowl. Knead 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to the second-lowest speed, and knead an additional 1 minute.
3. Transfer the dough to a large, lightly-oiled bowl, cover with lightly-oiled plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Dust a baking sheet (lined with parchment, if you prefer) with cornmeal. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Gently press and stretch (or roll out with a rolling pin, if you like) the dough into a rough 10 by 14 inch rectangle. Lay the prosciutto evenly over the dough, and grind black pepper over the top to taste.
5. Starting with the short sides, fold the dough in thirds, as you would fold a letter. Press gently to flatten the dough a little. Starting again with the short side, roll the dough up into a short, fat package. Carefully transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet, stretching a little to lengthen into a loaf shape. (You can use gravity to help you stretch the dough.) On the baking sheet, press the dough a little to flatten further. Dust liberally with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise again until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. 30 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 400º F.
6. When dough is fully proofed, uncover, and make 3 or 4 quick diagonal slashes in the top using a sharp serrated knife. Spray with water, and put into the hot oven. Bake 5 minutes, then spray again. Bake another five minutes, quickly spray the loaf again, and continue baking for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until well-browned on top and sounding hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove to a wire rack and let cool before slicing.
1. If you have any sourdough starter from making this bread (you all are following along at home, right?), or from any other source, you should absolutely add it. But then again, I’m a little sourdough crazy from last week still; so take that with a grain of salt.
2. Speaking of salt, and depending on your tolerance for it, you may choose to decrease the amount of salt in this bread, to 1/2 teaspoon. If you do, though, your bread will rise faster (since salt retards yeast activity), so either decrease the amount of yeast as well (to maybe 1 1/4 or 1 1/2 teaspoons), or just keep an eye on it. I have not tried that out, so I can’t verify or guarantee those measurements; but that’s my educated guess.
3. I absolutely heart prosciutto, so I think 2 ounces is a minimum here. I would increase that amount next time, probably to 3 ounces, and also decrease the amount of salt (see note 2) – a good prosciutto is so salty, the under-salted bread is a good foil for it. Otherwise, it can all be a little much on the palate after a few bites. I think 4 ounces would be overkill, despite my love for all ingredients involved; besides, it would impede the rising of the dough. I suppose, though, it all depends if you want Prosciutto with Bread, or Bread with Prosciutto. Do whatever floats your boat.