Cilantro & Mint-Infused Wheat Bread

This herb-infused wheat bread is lovely; soft, flavorful, excellent with dinner, as toast with butter, or on its own.  I made two loaves yesterday, as part of the birthday dinner menu for our friend Alison. While it can be a bit of a challenge to knead (mostly because I am always too lazy to chop the pine nuts and they come popping out of the dough while kneading), it is an easy bread dough to make and a forgiving one to bake due to the milk and butter-enriched recipe.  A long, slow rise yields better texture and flavor in this 100% whole wheat bread, so if you can, give yourself several hours; proof the dough in a cooler spot in the kitchen, and allow time for a second rise. 

This is the first time I’ve made this recipe using pesto; I’ve made the Basil Bread several times, in summer, using garden-fresh basil, and it never disappoints.  I went for a different flavor profile here, with a garlicky cilantro pesto and a dash of mint for a spicy kick; the herb flavor turned out to be fairly subtle, notable more in the fragrance of the bread (which is heavenly, especially while baking) than in the taste.  The balance is nice though; wheaty whole grain goodness, with the richness of butter and garlic, and notes of spice from cilantro and mint.  The next time I make it, I may increase the pesto slightly to see how it goes – but I have a feeling it could get overwhelming.  We shall see; for a first attempt, this was quite the success.

Adapted from Whole Wheat Basil Bread in Bread by Beth Hensperger (out of print)

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Cilantro & Mint-Infused Wheat Bread

INGREDIENTS

Bread

  • 1 and 1/2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
  • 1 cup warm buttermilk (105 to 115 degrees F)
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 oz (about 2 tbsp) honey
  • 3 tbsp cilantro pesto
  • 1 tbsp mint pesto
  • about 5 cups whole wheat bread flour (hard red spring wheat)
  • 1 tbsp instant yeast (or 1 package/tbsp active dry yeast)
  • 1 scant tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, coarsely chopped

Oil wash

  • 1 tbsp olive oil (or cilantro-infused olive oil)
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper

METHODS

  1. Proof yeast. If using instant yeast, skip to next step.  If using active dry yeast, combine 1/2 cup warm water, yeast and a small dollop of honey in a small bowl.  Mix until smooth; allow to sit for 5 – 10 minutes until yeast starts to bloom. 
  2. Make dough.  Combine warm water, buttermilk, melted butter, honey and pesto in a large bowl.  Add instant yeast and whisk together to wet all of the yeast.  Add 2 cups (9 oz) of flour and 1 tbsp salt; whisk hard for 3 minutes, or until batter is smooth.  Add pine nuts and additional flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a shaggy dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Using a wooden spoon, “knead” dough in the bowl, adding flour 1 tbsp at a time, until the dough is cohesive yet sticky (like it would hold together, but be very sticky to knead).  Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and allow dough to rest for 15 – 20 minutes.
  3. Knead dough.  Turn dough out onto a floured worksurface and knead, adding flour 1 tbsp at a time, until smooth and elastic yet still slightly sticky, about 5 – 10 minutes.  Take care not to add too much flour.  This dough will be challenging to knead, due to the moist texture and the pine nuts, so it is fine if it not perfectly smooth.  Cover with a damp towel and allow to rest for another 15 – 20 minutes.  Knead once more, for 1 minute, to strengthen gluten.  
  4. Allow dough to rise. Form dough into a tight ball and transfer to an oiled bowl to rise.  Roll the dough ball in the oil to coat, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow to rise until nearly, but not quite, doubled in volume, about 1 – 2 hours.  If time permits, punch down the dough, reform a ball, and allow a second rise (which should take half the time of the first rise), about 30 – 60 minutes.
  5. Shape and final rise.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Gently punch down the dough and split into two equal sections.  Pat each section into a rectangle and, rolling from the thin end, form into a batard-shaped loaf, tucking the ends under and trying to maximize surface tension of the loaf.  Place into two greased 9″ x 5″ bread pans.  Cover lightly with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise for about 30 minutes, or until nearly doubled in volume.
  6. Bake bread.  In a small bowl, mix together melted butter, oil, crushed garlic and cayenne pepper for oil wash. Brush loaves with oil wash and bake in a preheated oven until puffed and golden brown, about 1 hour.  You can knock on the bottom of the pan and listen for a hollow sound to determine whether the bread is done (although I have limited success with this technique).  Remove from oven, cool in pans for about 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool on wire racks. For best success, allow 2 hours before slicing.

OPTIONS

  1. Any herb pesto will work here; the herb flavor was actually quite subtle in the baked bread (I thought, based upon the dough, that it might be overwhelming), so you could up the amount to 6 or 8 tbsp total, depending on the strength of flavor of your pesto.
  2. In season, substitute 1/2 cup chopped, fresh herbs.  Basil makes a wonderful bread (as the original recipe specifies, but chopped rosemary, summer savory, fresh thyme or a combination would be equally delicious.

STORE

Airtight, at room temperature, for up to 3 days.  Frozen (sliced is most convenient) for up to 1 month.

SEASON

This bread can be made year-round, with fresh herbs or frozen herb pesto.

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