It’s been a crazy week. My business tends to be feast or famine; this week has defnitely been a feast, work-wise, but a famine, cooking-wise. I’ve had no time, in between 12-hour days at the computer, to cook a thing and I realized today how much I missed it. Cooking, and most especially baking bread, can be enormously relaxing. There’s a science to measuring and combining the ingredients that is soothing in it’s detail and familiar rhythms; kneading the dough is stress-relieving and loosens up those tight, squinting-at-Excel, shoulders. And at the end of the day, what is better than fresh bread rolled around spicy sausage and homemade cheese? Not much. Maybe sausage, herb & mozzarella bread with a nice glass of wine. Perfection.
So put on one of your favorite CDs (I’ve been partial to Eddie Vedder’s Into the Wild soundtrack of late), pour yourself a glass of wine, a cup of tea, some hot chocolate – whatever tickles your fancy. Put on the comfy pants and your favorite fleece and enjoy making this bread. Your enjoyment will come through in the taste – wait and see.
Adapted from Italian-Style Herb Bread in Bread by Beth Hensberger. This recipe makes one huge loaf – great for a party, a ski weekend, or feeding a group of hungry alpinists. If you have fewer mouths to feed, try cutting the recipe in half, or simply make two smaller loaves and freeze one to save for later. Better yet, give one away to a good (very good!) friend.
Sausage, Herb & Mozzarella Bread
- 1/3 cup fruity olive oil
- 2 tsp each dried basil, oregano, thyme and tarragon (or other combination of dried herbs)
- 1 and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 and 1/2 tbsp (1 and 1/2 packages) active dry yeast
- dollop honey
- 1 cup warm filtered or spring water, 105 to 115 degrees F
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 2-3 cups (9-14 oz) whole wheat bread flour
- 2-3 cups (9-14 oz) all-purpose white flour
- 1 lb hot Italian sausage, casing removed and crumbled
- 4 medium shallots, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 oz dried tomatoes, reconstituted in 1/4 cup boiling water (about 1/4 cup tomatoes, reserve liquid)
- 8 oz whole milk mozzarella, diced to 1/2″ cubes
- olive oil and herbs for brushing
- Combine 1/3 cup olive oil, dried herbs and pepper in a small bowl. Let sit for at least 1 hour.
- Warm water in a microwave for 45 seconds, or in a small saucepan over high heat, until it reaches approximately 110 degrees F, or feels like hottub temperature. (Do not use hot water from the tap, as this can release heavy metals from your pipes and produce an off taste.)
- Dissolve a dollop of honey in the warm water. Sprinkle yeast over the top and whisk with a fork until dissolved. Allow to rest for approximately 10 minutes, or until foamy. (If the yeast does not start to bubble and foam, the yeast is dead. Try again with a fresh package.)
- Combine wine, yeast mixture, 1/2 tbsp honey, salt, and herb-oil mixture and beat with a whisk until foamy.
- Add 2 cups of whole wheat bread flour. Mix well with a wooden spoon, until all flour is hydrated.
- Add 2 cups of all purpose flour. Mix thoroughly until a soft, shaggy dough forms, and no flour remains at the sides of the bowl.
- Add more flour as needed, alternating 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour with 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, until the dough is holding together enough to be kneaded.
- Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour your hands and knead, pushing with the heel of your hand, not down into the board, but away from you, turning the dough a quarter turn after each push. You are trying to develop long strands of gluten, so pushing away, in a consistent rhythm, is a great technique. Add flour as necessary, 1 tbsp at a time, but beware; the two biggest mistakes in bread baking are adding too much flour and not kneading enough. Use a dough scraper to remove tacky dough from the board or from your hands. Wet hands slightly, rather than adding more flour, if the dough seems to be getting floury & dry. Knead for approximately 10 minutes, or until the dough is springy and elastic, with a slightly tacky surface. You can feel the dough change under your hands; it will go from soft and somewhat shapeless, to stiffer and finally to flexible, springy and uniform. If the dough starts to resist you – feels tough and stiff, and is hard to knead, let it relax under a kitchen towel for 5 minutes, and then resume kneading.
- Let the kneaded dough rest for 5 minutes, under a clean kitchen towel, while you prepare a bowl for rising. If possible, choose a large, high-sided bowl; I like ceramic the best, as it clings to the dough and facilitates a good rise, while metal or plastic allows the dough to slide back down. Wide, shallow bowls tend to form a shapeless puddle of dough that does not aerate properly. Dollop a bit of olive oil in the bowl and spread over the sides and bottom with your fingers.
- Resume kneading of your dough for 1 minute in order to strengthen the gluten. Form into a ball: flatten into a disk or rectangle, and fold corners into the middle. Turn the dough over in your hands and push the corners into the center of the ball, with your fingers underneath the dough, and your thumbs helping to form the ball. Place the ball down on your lightly floured work surface and rotate, clockwise, between your palms. As you rotate, push down toward the board with your palms and under with your fingers, creating a tight ball with surface tension. Surface tension is the key to a great rise, and a great rise is the key to a bread with a wonderful, airy-chewy texture.
- Transfer the ball of dough to the oiled bowl, upside down; roll to coat well in the oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot (75 – 80 degrees F) until doubled in bulk about 1.5 – 2 hours. If it is winter in the Northeast, and your house is like mine, it’ll be closer to 65 than 75 degrees. If so, put the oven on 200 degrees F for about 3 minutes, then turn off, and put the bread in the oven, with the door cracked, to rise. You can also let it rise over a pilot light, or in the oven with the light on.
- While dough is rising, brown the crumbled sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, add olive oil if necessary, and add the shallots and garlic, and cook until the shallots soften, about 5-8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in the tomatoes and 2 tsp of the tomato soaking liquid. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (make sure to remove the bread dough if it is rising in the oven!).
- To test if dough is risen, poke two fingers about 1 inch deep into the dough. If the holes start filling in quickly,
the dough is not ready; re-cover and allow to rise for another 15-30 minutes before testing again. If the holes stay, the dough is ready. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface, taking care not to deflate the dough too much, or tear it in removing it from the bowl. Pat gently into a 10-by-12-inch rectangle (lift by one side, like with pizza dough, and turn, to stretch without pulling). Spread sausage mixture evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Spread
diced mozzarella evenly over the sausage. Fold like a business letter, in thirds, and pinch seam closed. Pull the short ends up and over and pinch seams to close.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat sprinkled with cornmeal or flour. Alternatively, if you have a baking stone, you may cook the bread directly on the stone; however, the cheese does tend to ooze out of the bread while baking, so prepare a piece of parchment on top of a pizza peel.
- Transfer the loaf, seam-side down, onto the prepared parchment or silicone mat. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Wet a sharp, serrated knife and use it to make 3 or 4 diagonal slashes in the top of the loaf.
- Bake for 40 – 50 minutes or until the loaf is nicely brown and you can see cheese bubbling out of the top. (If you like, after about 20 minutes of baking, sprinkle about 1 tsp basil and 1 tsp oregano into 2 tbsp of olive oil and brush over the crust of the baking bread. Bake another 20-30 minutes until done). Cool completely before slicing (if you can!).
Yields one very large loaf (16″ x 7″) or two regular loaves.
- This bread is pretty versatile; sometimes I make one with pepperoni & sharp cheddar for a more traditional stromboli, sometimes I add sauteed mushrooms and three different cheeses. The filling is easy to modify to your fancy as long as it is not too wet; vegetables will release water during baking that will make the bread soggy.
- I very rarely bake with white all-purpose flour, but there is still some in the pantry for the odd recipe. This is one that works best with a 50:50 white flour to wheat flour ratio. It certainly could be made with 100% wheat flour (with an overnight autolyse) but the nutty flavor of a 100% whole wheat bread, along with the rich flavors of herbs, sausage, cheese and tomatoes, seem to compete with each other, rather than compliment; also the softness of this dough works well to hold in the crumbly sausage, tomato & shallot filling. Over the years, I’ve determined that I like this dough best. But of course, feel free to experiment – that’s what good cooking is all about.
Because of it’s high fat content, this bread will keep at room temperature for a couple of days (wrapped in a kitchen towel – avoid plastic wrap at room temp as it will cause the bread to get soggy) and for up to a week in the refrigerator (wrapped in plastic). After that, the bread will start getting quite stiff and dry, although a little warming in the microwave makes it still enjoyable. I imagine it would freeze fairly well, for up to 3 months or so, like most breads, although generally it disappears too quickly to test that out.
These ingredients are available year-round, but with the dried herbs & tomatoes it is great to make in winter when fresh herbs & veggies are scarce. I almost never make it in summer, as it is so heavy & filling, but it is perfect in the winter for a hiking or ice climbing lunch, a ski-trip weekend or a snowy Sunday brunch, or in the spring or fall for a picnic lunch under a shady oak tree.