In an effort to use up the lovely small-leaved Greek basil (thank you for supplying the name Munchkin Granny!) which MG brought me last weekend I started to think about herby breads. I knew that I had a recipe for a herbed spiral bread in my Complete Baking book, but I also had a vague feeling that I'd seen another one on a website about solstice foods last year. Sure enough, a brief bit of searching turned it up, and since it was the summer solstice on Sunday (one of my favourite days of the year, and also The Scientist's sister's wedding anniversary) I made it for our dinner.
The website I found the inspiration for the bread on said that solstice foods are generally summery fruits and vegetables, and harvested leaves and greens. I think that harvesting it from my windowsill counts, don't you? It's the spirit of the thing after all, and my bread was definitely made in the spirit of revelling in the longest day of the year and all the fruitfulness it brings. I actually used the bread recipe from my book, but followed the original inspiration to scatter fresh herbs over the rolled out dough, rather than cooking them with some garlic and spring onions in butter as the book directed. I just fancied something a bit lighter this time, though I'd be interested to try the cooked version another time.
I've been reading quite a bit recently about how adding too much flour to bread dough as you knead it can make the bread quite tough. I do usually add flour to keep things less sticky, but this time I valiantly ploughed on with my shaggy mess until it started to get a bit less adhesive, at which point I just added a little bit of flour to bring it all together. Despite this, and making sure that the water was a good temperature, the pesky thing didn't rise at all (it evidently hadn't picked up on it being the longest - albeit admittedly not the sunniest - day of the year). I thought that this would affect the final loaf but it was actually still quite nice and light. The mix of white and wholemeal flour meant that it wasn't weighed down too much, but still had a nice nuttiness, and while my herb swirl wasn't quite as visible as the one in the book, it was still just discernible enough to keep me happy. It's a testimony to how nice the bread was that The Scientist tucked in too - normally he's a bit unenthusiastic about my grainy and wholesome breads! We ate it with carrot and coriander soup and made sure that we appreciated every minute of the lovely long evening.
Solstice herbed bread (based on Complete baking, with inspiration from here, too)
Makes 1 loaf
1 Tbsp active dried yeast
1/2 pint (300 ml) lukewarm water
210g strong flour [I used white]
250g wholemeal flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
Good handful of chopped fresh herbs - I used Greek basil, normal basil, and a little bit of coriander
Egg, egg white or milk for glazing
Combine the yeast and about 30ml of the water, stir and leave for 15 minutes to dissolve.
Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture and the remaining water. With a wooden spoon, stir from the centre, working outwards to obtain a rough dough.
Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Return to the bowl, cover with a plastic bag, and leave until doubled in volume [hah!] - about two hours.
Grease a loaf tin. When the dough has risen, roll it out to a rectangle about 35cm x 23 cm. Brush with the egg, egg white or milk, and scatter the chopped herbs over the dough.
Roll up the dough in a sausage, and pinch the short edges to seal. Place in the tin, seam side down. Cover, and leave in a warm place until the dough rises above the rim of the tin.
Preheat the oven to 190C, Gas 5. Brush the bread with milk [I didn't do this], and bake until the bottom sounds hollow. The recipe said about 55 minutes but mine was done after about 25 so check early and often! Cool on a rack.