I fought hard for this one, people. Real hard. I know you’ve all been there… you come across a recipe that sounds so incredible and you know you’ve just got to make it and you have every confidence in the recipe because it’s from a well-known, reliably great chef and then as you dive into the recipe, you realize that there are problems from every possible angle. But you soldier on, adjusting this, tweaking that and halfway through the recipe you begin to lose hope. No way this is ever going to work. But I wrestled this bread into submission and am I ever glad I did; it was worth every bit of angst and bother. This bread is just so tasty and fragrant with parmesan and chunks of Gruyere cheese. I might even add more of the Gruyere cheese next time.
Ms. Lambert first experienced this cheese bread in Umbria when a family she was dining with made it to accompany a local wine they were serving. And one taste will tell you that this is for sure the purpose and ultimate destiny of this cheese bread… to be savored with a glass of wine or possibly even a nice cold beer.
The bread begins with a sponge starter, which is basically just a yeast/water/flour mixture that sits on your counter for a couple of hours bubbling away until it gets to join the rest of the ingredients.
My first hint of things to come was that the dough required quite a bit more flour than the recipe indicates. I must have added an extra ½ cup in order to attain dough-ness. And this is still quite a sticky dough which makes the kneading process ultra fun. But do-able.
Once I got the dough settled into the exact size pan called for, every culinary brain cell in my possession was telling me that this pan was going to be too small. But I quieted the noise and decided to go with the recipe as written. As the dough began to rise, I came to the rather unsettling conclusion that I really should have listened to myself because I could see where this was going… but sadly it was too late. More on that later. The dough rose beautifully
and I placed the pan in the oven exactly according to the recipe (400 degrees) and thank goodness I listened to myself this time and checked the bread after 25 minutes because it was in the process of turning quite dark. I quickly covered the top with foil, but had I followed the recipe and not opened the oven for the first hour, my beautiful bread would most assuredly have been burnt.
As it was, the bread was saved, and it came out beautifully burnished and quite lovely. I considered just leaving it in the pan and never taking it out because I’m sure you can guess the result of baking this bread in a too-small pan…
Yes. We made a giant mushroom loaf of bread. Sigh.
But it smelled amazing and after it cooled and I cut into it, the quirky shape became irrelevant. This was some dang good cheese bread. My only regret was that it was just a bit early in the day for the required glass of wine to complete the moment.
In spite of the lingering question of whether anyone actually tested the recipe as it was written, I couldn’t stay annoyed for long. A glass of wine and another slice of cheese bread and all was forgiven. Here’s the recipe…
Umbrian Cheese Bread
From Paula Lambert's Cheese Lover's Cookbook
1 pkg active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
5 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 oz (about1 1/2 cups) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or more if needed
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
For those of you who have ventured to make this tasty cheese bread (or are contemplating making it in the future), just a couple more thoughts... This bread keeps well in the fridge for at least a week, either wrapped in plastic or in a ziploc bag. I've been cutting the bread into toast-like slices and pan-grilling it in a little olive oil (or olive oil spray). The outside gets toasty and crispy and the inside stays soft and cheesy. So good! This recipe makes a lot of bread, so this is a great way to use when it's several days old. Enjoy!