I know I didn’t post last week, but I swear I meant to. It’s not because I didn’t make anything (I made two things, thanks) but it’s because somehow there was nothing to say. First off I made this no-knead bread, which I’ve seen around the place in a few iterations. I was inspired/self-pressured to attempt it after Maitland’s brother in law shared his efforts with it in the family group chat. My first response was anxiety and mild jealousy – doesn’t everyone know that I am keeping a bread blog and therefore have a monopoly on all yeast-based baking? Even more troubling was the discovery that his bread had turned out extremely well and therefore, in my mind, had stripped me of my bakerly credentials in a single blow. Family bread making is, as you all know, a zero sum game.
Once I got past my delusions of grandeur I attempted the no-knead bread myself. I was actually excited to write it up because I would get to say things like ‘kneadless’ constantly and that felt like a fertile ground for comedy. Instead, it turned out ok, but I did feel like I’d taken no-knead to the extreme and had under-mixed it, resulting in a few floury lumps in the final product. It was remarkably easy though, so I figured I’d knock up a second loaf and then write that up. Unfortunately I was too blase once again and in my sophomore attempt the dough wasn’t well covered enough during it’s lengthy unkneaded prove and got extremely hard and crackly on the outside. I cut my losses, threw it out, and opted not to confess my sins in the blog straight away.
That wasn’t the only bread I didn’t write up last week though. I actually attempted pizza as well…instead of doing the smitten kitchen recipe from the calzone, I decided to attempt some fanciness and go for Jamie Oliver’s recipe from his Jamie’s Italy cookbook. It resulted in some very delicious flatbreads that we thoroughly enjoyed but would in no way pass off as pizzas.
Which brings me to this week. I would like to say I had free reign, but that’s not quite true. My aunt is in town and she is on record as feeling extremely hard done by with the bread blog. Apparently whenever she is around I bake things that are less fabulous than the things I bake when she is not around. I personally disagree with this assessment, but what do I know. She was very clear about what she expected: nothing sweet and no matzah.
Naturally the best candidate for those parameters is Balkan Cheese Bread. What is Balkan Cheese Bread? Honey (OF COURSE that is where I procured this recipe, how crazy of you to even consider another source) described it as possibly a very doughy pie or maybe a very rich bread. It’s an eggy dough topped with leeks and cheese, which was more than enough to intrigue me.
If leeks, cheese and bread sound like a combination you are keen on then let me highly recommend this. The dough is light and fluffy, the leeks and cheese are leeky and cheesy (wow, where’d you get those great adjectives? Have you thought about being a food writer?) and the nigella seeds, paprika and chilli give it a little more oomph.It’s extremely comforting and nice to eat by itself, although apparently good yoghurt and some chopped vegetables are a preferred accompaniment. I honestly doubt it will last long enough around here for us to test that, but it’s good to know…
Balkan Cheese Bread
Care of Honey & Co: The Baking Book
20g fresh yeast or 1x 7g packet dried yeast
150ml lukewarm water
2 tsp caster sugar
300g plain flour
½ tsp table salt
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp vegetable oil + 1 tbsp for the top
25g unsalted butter
1 leek, washed and sliced (200-250g approx.)
a pinch of table salt
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp nigella seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes
100g feta cheese, crumbled
70g kashkaval or pecorino cheese, roughly grated
1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt
30g kashkaval or pecorino, finely grated
a pinch of sweet paprika
In a small bowl or jug combine the yeast, sugar and water. Stir to dissolve.
Place the rest of the dough ingredients (flour, salt, egg yolk and 2 tbsp oil) in a large bowl or the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add the yeasty liquid to these other ingredients and combine to form a smooth, supple dough. If using a spoon, your hands and elbow grease, this will take about 8 minutes. If you’re using the dough hook, more like 2-3 minutes. Bring the dough together in a ball and cover with the reserved tablespoon of oil. Set aside in a covered bowl (clingfilm or a damp tea towel) and leave to prove until doubled in size. This will probably take 1-2 hours.
Prepare a 23cm cake tin by greasing the sides with butter and lining the base with baking paper.
While the dough is still proving prepare your filling. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and then add the leek. Saute for 2-3 minutes and then season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes until the leek is very soft. I love how the house smells while this is happening.
Once softened combine with nigella seeds and chilli flakes in a bowl. When the leek has cooled a little stir through the feta and pecorino.
When the dough has fully proved transfer it carefully to the prepared cake tin. Top with the leek/cheese mixture and use your fingertips to push the filling into the dough. I wasn’t that successful at fully embedding the mixture – quite a lot was still exposed – however do your best.
Cover the tin with a damp cloth or clingfilm and allow to prove again. This time it will take 30-40 minutes and ideally the dough will rise up over the filling, concealing most of it. Again, mine was partially concealed and partially not so much, but the end result was just fine.
Halfway through the prove preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan.
When the dough is risen brush it with egg wash and sprinkle with the grated pecorino and the pinch of paprika. Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the tin, reduce the heat to 200°C/180°C fan and bake for another 15 minutes.
Allow to cool in the tin for 10-15 minutes before lifting the loaf out and getting stuck in. I have no idea what the best way to cut and serve this is but felt like cake slices made as much sense as anything.