Kneading for Naught: The Prosciutto Ring

11 Mar

Bread making and baking is a notoriously labourious process. Clementine made bagels last week that took a day to ferment and rise and a morning to bake. You have to plan ahead. After that and the exertions of our Hearth Bread, we were in search of something a bit simpler but not lacking in texture or taste. We turned to the (ok, OUR) goddess of home bread making: Rose Levy Berenbaum (RLB).

RLB’s recipes are the definition of finicky. She does nothing but bake all day. Her fridge, she confesses, is filled with starters and doughs at various stages of progress. She recommends specific brands of flour … only available to Americans. She includes weights for all ingredients … alongside volume measurements. Re: weight v. volume in recipes is actually something we like and live by now. The scale is a permanent fixture on my counter. It’s the difference between flirting with baking and baking for real. She offers methods for food processors, hand mixing and stand mixers. Each recipe is more than three pages. She is nothing if not thorough.

This recipe … and we looked to see if we were missing steps or if pages were stuck together … did not require a starter or 4+ hours of rising and multiple rounds of shaping. Perhaps she included it as her idea of a breather for home cooks brave enough to take her bread making master class.

All of the ingredients were incorporated and kneaded, by hand, for 10 minutes. The ingredients included 3/4 cup of chopped (or hand torn) prosciutto and a tsp of pepper speckled throughout the dough.

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After a rest of 20 minutes (a blink of an eye in RLB’s world), the boule was shaped into a ring and left for a 1 hour rise. Just enough time to head out for a snowshoe and/ or to get dinner started.

What type of dinner would suit this savoury loaf? HoM thought Brussels’ sprouts and French onion soup. We also think this bread would go great with a salad and an enormous bottle of Chianti.

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This bread is brushed with melted butter (or bacon fat) before baking and after. This softens the crust but doesn’t destroy the chew. The second brushing is the key to it’s rich flavour.

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The bread is baked for a mere 35 minutes on a baking stone in a pre-heated oven at 450 to start and lowered to 400 part way through. It emerges from the inferno a deep amber. We incorporated our pieces of prosciutto within the bread so there were salty little packages of cured meats in each bite. You can see parts where the meat broke through the surface of the crust and became crispy.

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This bread should not be cut/ sliced. One should tear into the bread like a monster to preserve its rustic texture. These were RLB’s orders and we dare not deviate from her perfect methods.

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Because of the simplicity of this recipe and the stellar results, we will be making this again.

RLB’s Bread Bible has proven itself an indispensable kitchen companion for us. She is serious about her bread making. Her methods are comprehensive. But, if you want to make good bread, discipline and patience are required. If you can make it through some of her more complex recipes, then a bread like this is just something you can throw together on whim.

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