I had rather lost my way regarding my blog and even my food over the last couple of months. If you get notifications for my posts, perhaps you’ve realised there’s been a vacuum… at least, I hope you’ve noticed. Maybe you haven’t! I’ve even been toying whether to delete this blog and pack up writing completely of late. I have stopped short of doing anything too hasty as I realised it might well be just a case of the January blues.
I do get severely affected by the dark days, do you? I know almost everyone does to some extent (humans need some sunlight) but I seem to get quite an extreme version. There have also been a few trials and tribulations recently, so baking and the blog had to a back seat naturally, and then, frankly, I just couldn’t find the impetus to jump straight back in. I actually took up a few things that I like doing that I’d dropped which were more mindful, such as crochet and calligraphy, in place of baking and writing for the blog. The idea was to achieve some head space. I didn’t stop baking and cooking, just the things I produced were more functional: items we needed to eat like a standard family loaf, a pie or fresh pasta for dinner and a box of shortbread.
Anyway, I think this is positive that I’m here! Perhaps I just needed a break and a freshly picked bunch of perspective. And, I rekindled a couple of old skills in crocheting and calligraphy-ing. I also took time to make a few backdrops and sort out all my sewing and crafting kit ready to do some more things. That has all actually made me think about adding a few more craft-based posts in here, so maybe it’s been a positive break after all.
I started writing this recipe up last autumn and, with a few remakes of the loaf over the last week, I thought this comforting, fun-to-make bake might be a good way back for me as the first recipe for 2018.
I had the idea for this bread after making fantans (little layered bread rolls, made in a similar way to this loaf [just plain: no fillings] and baked in bun tins). I thought if I can make tiny ones, then why not a whole loaf, so people can share and rip off a slice? I suspect there are many of these loaves in recipe form out there on the interweb (it’s practically impossible to come up with anything new – pretty much everything has already been done), but I purposely avoided looking online for any as a) I didn’t want to be influenced by how someone else had shaped and styled their bread and b) I wanted to start from scratch with the recipe, again not being influenced by anyone else so I could get exactly the end results I was looking for. I started with a typical 400g white loaf mix, tweaked the ratios a little and added olive oil to get a bouncier middle, and slightly more crispy Italian-style edges to the bread. I then played with the amounts of fillings until it reached just the right butteriness and garlic amount (I warn you I like garlic so you may want to tone it down a little if you don’t like it as much as me).
I’ve called it ‘bookshelf’ bread as to me it looks like a higgledy-piggledy row of mismatched books all lined up on a shelf.
Oh my, I do now love making this loaf. It’s a little tricky to stack the dough. A couple of very collapsed-but-still-edible loaves were made to start with, until found that tipping the loaf tin and filling the gap up with baking parchment when needed (see the actual recipe) was the key. Overall its fun to make and results in a great centerpiece that everyone can just attack, ripping off sheets of pillowy, garlicky goodness to mop up their ragu or to accompany a spread of antipasti, meats and more. We’ve also used it to rip apart and dunk strips into fondue or eaten with soups. Basically any meal you’d include a ‘normal’ garlic bread as an accompaniment you can exchange for this.
This recipe does make a small loaf, which doesn’t sound much but it still provides quite a lot of garlic bread. If you’re serving it for four or fewer people, then you may want to keep half for another day. It will last a day or two (just warm in a low oven for 10-15 minutes as it’s not the same cold!) or you can tear the cooked loaf in half and put one half in the freezer. Defrost it overnight and again refresh in a warm oven (as mentioned above).
I bake this bread at a cooler temperature and for longer than I would for a typical loaf, as I want low and slow and not crusty, this also stops the butter and cheese from burning.
You are going to get covered in garlic butter if you’re anything as messy as me…
- Large bowl and a small heatproof (microwaveable) bowl
- Loaf tin – 1lb / about 8cm x 26cm (and about 8cm deep)
- Linen tea towel
- Baking parchment or greaseproof paper
Ingredients for the bread
- Extra strong white bread flour – 320 g*
- Durum wheat flour (semola rimacinata) – 80 g*
* You can just use 400 g of extra strong white bread flour if you can’t get hold of the semola/durum wheat
- Water – 280 ml (only just tepid)
- Olive oil – 1 tablespoon
- Salt, fine (bought fine or freshly milled) – 1 teaspoon (5 g)
- Fast action dried yeast – 1 teaspoon (5 g)
Ingredients for the garlic butter
- Butter, salted – 140 g
- Garlic – about 5 cloves, peeled and crushed (you may want a few cloves less if you’re not a keen or the cloves are extra large?)
- Dried oregano – 1 to 1¼ teaspoons
- Grated hard cheese (your choice of cheese, but something like Cheddar, red Leicester or Gouda are good) – about 40 g
- Possibly some extra salt, to taste
- Mix all the ingredients for the bread (flour, salt, yeast, water, and oil) together in a large bowl – I prefer to use a table knife for this process, though you may like to use fingers, a flexible dough scraper or a dough hook on your machine. It will form a very rough-looking sticky mess. This is fine
- Leave for five – ten minutes
- Tip out on to a clean surface and use your scraper to get all of the residue out. Have your flour and scraper handy
- Knead the dough until the surface becomes silky and smooth – this will be about 10 – 12 minutes
- If – and only if – the dough is far to sticky to work with, dust a little flour on to the table. Otherwise you should persevere with kneading the dough without adding any more flour (this actually will change the ratio of flour to liquid and other ingredients so it’s best not to dust if you can). It should eventually start to come together without the flour and you can use your scraper from time to time to ensure all the dough is getting kneaded by scraping along the surface
- When the dough starts to come together, lightly oil the bowl (it’s easiest to oil your fingers and swiipe round the bowl) with flour to prevent it sticking. If you have not managed to take the dough out without leaving a lot behind, you may want to use a clean bowl
- Roll the dough up into a dome and place in the oiled bowl
- Cover the bowl either with the tea towel/cloth or cling film (or if you have one a cheapo shower cap is ace for this)
- Leave to rise somewhere that isn’t cold until the dough looks like it’s about twice the height it was before. This could be anywhere from 50 minutes to three hours depending on how cold a space you have)
- Soften the butter in the small dish (in a microwave is easiest for a few seconds) but don’t go so far that it melts (you’ll have to start again if you do)
- Mix in the crushed or minced garlic and the oregano
- I know it’s raw garlic, but taste a little of the butter – add additional salt, oregano or more crushed garlic as you see fit. I should be pretty punchy as it’s going to be spread throughout the whole loaf. Set aside somewhere not too cool
- Prepare the tin by using a large strip of baking parchment/paper that will lay across and into your tin, with plenty extra overspill on each side. Don’t worry about putting extra paper on the two ends of the loaf tin – there’s plenty of garlic butter to stop the loaf sticking: this is just to help you get it out of the tin and to help keep the garlic butter in the loaf
- Using a large teaspoon or so of the garlic butter, grease the lined tin (you may find it easier to dot a little of the butter on the tin to adhere the paper) so it will coat the outside of the loaf. Set aside
- Tip out the risen dough gently into your counter top or table. Knock back the air from the dough
- Roll out the dough into a large rectangle. The size and shape of the rectangle doesn’t matter that much – but having fairly good corners will help. Aim for the dough to be about 1 cm thick (as consistently as possible)
- Slather the garlic butter all over the rolled-out dough
- Using your loaf tin as a guide, you’re aiming to cut out as many squares as possible from the dough that match the width of the small end of the tin – mine is around 8cm. I get 10 or 12 squares out of my dough (depending on how effective I’ve been in rolling it out!)
- Don’t match the height of the tin as this is a smaller measurement. You want to have the layers of dough protruding out the top of the tin, not level with it, so match the smaller end width for your squares
- Holding the loaf tin at a slight angle (rest a short end on the table and lift up the other short end) start placing the squares of dough into the tin one by one, like books on a bookshelf. (If you don’t angle the tin you’ll just have a crumpled heap of dough)
- If you get to the end of the dough squares and still have some empty space in the tin, cut a square of baking paper and lay it against the last ‘slice’ of dough, then crumple up a bit of extra baking paper lightly and wedge this into the gap – this will hold it in place yet still have enough ‘give’ to allow the dough to expand horizontally. If it all fits perfectly in the tin, then that’s great
- Leave for a second proof – about 30 – 40 minutes
- Once the dough has risen, turn on your oven to 180° C fan / 200° C conventional
- Place the loaf in the oven and set a timer for 40 minutes
- Check the look of the loaf (without opening the oven door) after 30 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly turn the oven down by 20 degrees or cover with some greased foil
- After 40 minutes, sprinkle the top of the loaf with the grated cheese and return to the oven for another 5 minutes
- Leave to cool until it can be handled, then lift out with the baking paper
- The bread can be re-warmed in a low oven (about 120° C fan / 140° C conventional) for 10 minutes or so if you’re not eating it straightaway, and as mentioned about it can be frozen