Over the years, I've collected almost all of Jeff Smith's cook books. He spent time on PBS back in the 70's and 80's doing cooking shows and I always liked his approach toward honoring old-time family recipes, ethnic roots, and cultural twists on ingredients. Then, he disappeared and newer trendier chefs and food writers came along ... and did some of the same things he'd been touting. Hmmm ... everything old is new again.
Anyway, one of the bread recipes from the Russian section of his cook book called The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors is called Dill and Onion Bread. It's a rich bread, full of eggs, cottage cheese, butter, tons of dried dill and dehydrated onion bits and it smells wonderful as it rises and as it bakes! Brushed with golden egg wash and baked in an oven that is made humid with a pan of boiling water, it makes two large round boule loaves. Crusty crust, moist interior that's full of green, herby chew ... it doesn't get much better than this.
If you've not made homemade bread of late, consider this a challenge. It's hard to get fresh bread that's better than the stuff you can take right out of your kitchen's hot oven ... just sayin'.
Dill and Onion Bread
a Jeff Smith recipe
1/2 c. warm water (109 degrees F)
4 1/2 tsp. active dried yeast (or two envelopes)
2 tbsp. melted butter
2 c. small curd cottage cheese, brought to room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
4 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tbsp. dried onion bits
2 tbsp. dried dill flakes ( or 4 tbsp. fresh dill fronds, minced)
a scant 2 tsp. measure of Kosher salt
4 1/2 to 5 c. flour - I split the measure between King Arthur all-purpose and bread flour
for the bake pan - cornmeal for scattering on the greased pans
1 egg, beaten with 2 tbsp. water for brushing the loaves before baking them
Making the Bread:
1. Measure the warm water into a two-cup measuring cup and add the yeast and a couple pinches of the sugar measure. Whisk together and set aside to proof for ten minutes.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a deep baking bowl, combine the melted butter, cottage cheese, eggs, sugar, baking soda, dried onion bits, dill, and salt. Add the yeast and water once it has foamed up. Beat well to combine things completely.
3. Add 2 c. of the flour measure. Beat gently to combine the flour and make a very sticky dough. Switch out the beating wand for a dough hook.
4. Continue adding the flour about a half-cup at a time, mixing until the flour is worked into the dough.
5. When there is about 1/4 c. of flour left to add, turn the dough ball out onto a cool, floured kneading surface. Flour your hands well and knead the rest of the flour into the dough a bit at a time, until the ball forms a light puffy and slightly sticky mound.
6. Turn the dough into a clean lightly greased bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise for about 90 minutes or until doubled.
7. Gently push down the dough ball, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead back into a smooth, silky ball. It should feel different from the first kneading - truly more smooth and silky to the touch.
8. Place back in the bowl, cover, and let rise another hour or so, until doubled.
9. Gently deflate the ball again. Divide the dough in half. Knead each gently to form a round boule. Place in a prepared baking bowl or on a greased and corn flour strewn cookie sheet.
10. Let rise for 45 minutes, until doubled. While the bread rises, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. place a pan of water on the very bottom rack and set the baking rack at the center of the oven.
11. When the bread loaves are doubled, brush them with the egg wash and place them in the center of the oven. Careful when you open the oven door, as there will be considerable steam!
12. IMMEDIATELY, turn the oven down to 350 degrees F. Bake the bread for about 40 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when rapped with a knuckle.
13. Cool on racks for about ten minutes, then turn the bread out of the pans to finish cooling.