When I first decided to become a baker, I was convinced I would love cake decorating. I had a small artistic streak and fostered a passion for arts and crafts. Cake decorating seemed like the perfect mesh of my interests and hobbies, as if it was meant to be. I was in love with the idea before I even tried it.
My first real job in the field was baking the cakes in a small bakery specializing in its namesake, with the hopes of one day becoming a decorator myself. I took local cake decorating courses in the evenings, trying to become proficient in the tricks of the trade. After many long evenings filled with lopsided roses, uneven borders, cracked fondant, and frustrated tears, I was no longer convinced I would love—or even like—cake decorating. In fact, I was sincerely positive I never wanted to lay eyes on a flower made of frosting again.
I put my simple dreams of becoming a decorator to rest, tucking them in a box to be forgotten under the bed. Though disappointed, my love for baking had not wavered. It was time to point my heart in a different direction.
When I started baking breads for another bakery, my first impression left me with a cynical view and a sour attitude. The dough was ever sticky and my shoulders ached from kneading and rolling out dozens of bagels and rolls. I had a difficult time seeing the joy in the process. As the days passed, however, my perspective slowly began to evolve. I began to understand the dough, feeling the subtle changes in its texture as I kneaded it beneath my fingertips. My hands learned to conform to the character of the dough when I rolled it into various shapes. The musky scent of yeast punctuated these intimate moments, which quickly became my most beloved of all my tasks.
The dough was alive, truly alive, filled with the life my buttercream roses could only pretend to possess. Though I never anticipated it, I was smitten, enamored with the process from beginning to end. Even as I bake in my small apartment kitchen today, I can only allow a few weeks to pass before the itch to rediscover yeast surfaces.
Last weekend was one such instance. I bought a bundle of fresh rosemary on a whim and, still dreaming of this focaccia, I knew that the rosemary was destined to get together with a little yeast. With the addition of salt, cracked pepper, and olive oil, this simple bread became a handsome marriage of flavors. For the last week, I've been enjoying this bread, savoring it slowly, finding a new love in the cracks and crevices of the grain.
At first I wasn't sure what the Rosemary Sandwich Bread would work well with, but after a little dabbling, I discovered it is divine with nearly everything, elevating simple sandwiches to an entirely new level. I served it aside chicken noodle soup, combined with chicken and bacon to form the best toasted sandwiches, and I imagine it would be glorious soaked in mashed potatoes and gravy. I've spent so much energy in the last two days willing the bread to reappear after the last slice was gone that I've vowed to make it again this weekend (and for many, many weekends to follow).
Rosemary Sandwich Bread is a Mediterranean twist on the traditional loaf of bread. The final product is herbed and salty, balanced with the rich, smooth undertones of olive oil. This everyday bread has bright flavor that will go well with anything from breakfast to dinner. I strongly suggest using fresh rosemary in the bread to bring about the most vivid flavor, but dried rosemary will work in a pinch. This bread has become an instant favorite in my household and may soon become a kitchen staple.
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Rosemary Sandwich Bread
Yields 1 loaf
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup (235 ml) warm milk
1/3 cup (80 ml) warm water
2 tablespoons freshly chopped rosemary (or 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, chopped)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
3 1/2 cups (445 grams) bread flour
In a large mixing bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer), sprinkle the yeast over the barely warm milk and water and allow to sit about 5-10 minutes until activated (looks frothy). Mix in the olive oil, rosemary, black pepper, and salt. Gradually add bread flour, mixing until the dough comes together. If the dough is too dry and will not come together, add small amounts of water until it does. Conversely, if the dough is too sticky, add flour until it becomes workable; however, do not add too much flour or the bread will become dense.
Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and knead the dough for 7-10 minutes, or until elastic. Alternatively, using the dough hook on a stand mixer, knead the dough for 7-10 minutes, or until elastic. Cover dough with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in a warm place, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down the dough before turning out onto a lightly floured surface. Shape the dough into an even log and place in a lightly greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Press dough down so it reaches the corners evenly. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for another 40-60 minutes until doubled.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
Sprinkle the top of the bread dough with salt, pepper, and rosemary, if desired. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from baking pan and allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving.