I’ve decided to retire this upcoming summer, and my self-appointed Life Coach (my retired younger brother) insisted that in preparation I create my personal “Retirement Playlist,” listing all the things I look forward to doing in retirement. It took me no time at all to craft a 3-page list, with separate sections devoted to Cleaning, Travel, Lawn & Garden, Volunteerism, Entertaining, Cooking, and Learning New Things. For many years my retirement dream was to be able to stay up to watch the second half of the Monday Night Football game, but the reality is I’ll likely be spending my Monday nights dozing on the couch late into the evenings while the games blare in the background.
As we just completed a major kitchen renovation at the turn of the year (a prerequisite to retirement), I’ve jumped the gun a bit on cooking. My Playlist is specific about perfecting macarons (Macarons are the elegant cookies you find in the finest patisseries.), learning to work with chocolate, and internalizing the culinary secrets to exquisite pastry (pate a choux, croissants, and the like). But I also specified that I want to bake 20 new yeast breads I’ve never made before, and this is where I got my head start.
So far this year I’ve made Red Pepper Semolina bread, Tomato-Saffron Bread, Bread with Three Chocolates, and Cottage Cheese Dill Bread. Those who live next door run the on-going risk of being the beneficiary of my learning loaves. Here, at their gracious request, is the recipe for the Cottage Cheese Dill Bread.
Cottage Cheese Dill Bread
Taken from “Beth’s Basic Bread Book,” by Beth Hensperger, published by Chronicle Books in 1996.
1 ¼ cups warm water
1 Tablespoon yeast
3 Tablespoons honey
5 to 5 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
2 shallots, minced
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh dill (alternatively, 3 Tablespoons dried dillweed)
1 Tablespoon salt
1 cup small-curd cottage cheese
Place the yeast in a large bowl. Pour over the warm water and mix the honey in until the yeast dissolves. Allow to sit 20 minutes or so to proof the yeast.
While the yeast is proofing, use a small skillet to saute the shallots in the olive oil until translucent. Do this at a low temperature so as not to bring out any bitterness in the oil. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
To the yeast mixture add 2 cups of the flour, the cooled shallots and the oil in which they were cooked, the dill, salt, eggs, and cottage cheese. Stir vigorously with a bread hook or a wooden spoon until it is creamy (the more you beat it at this stage, the less kneading you’ll need to do later in the process).
Mix in the remaining flour half a cup at a time until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until it is soft but elastic (this generally takes 4 – 6 minutes). Continue to add more flour if the dough remains too wet or sticks to your hands, but just enough to prevent it from sticking. You want the dough to hold its shape without getting dry.
Place the dough in a buttered bowl and turn it so that the entire surface of the dough is greased. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise until it is barely doubled in bulk – somewhere around one hour. Don’t let this dough over-rise or you’ll run the risk of having it collapse in the oven.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it once or twice to take the air out of it. Cut it in half and place each half in a greased 8-inch loaf pan or 8-inch round cake pan, depending on your preference. Shape each loaf to fit the pan, placing any seam or gathering on the bottom. Brush with melted butter and cover with a kitchen towel for the second rising. For this second rising, let the breads expand to little more than half-again their initial size, as these breads will continue to rise significantly in the oven.
When the second rising is complete, place the breads on the middle rack of a 350-degree oven and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and they sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Remove them to a rack, and after 10 minutes remove the breads from their pans to continue cooling directly on the rack. This bread slices best at room temperature.
Consider sharing a loaf with your next-door neighbor. I’m now occupied with my search for graham flour …