Therapy. Google defines Therapy as “The treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder”. Now, I know most of us need traditional therapy, myself included but what I’m talking about today, is the type of therapy found in the kitchen. Yes, many people claim (again, myself included) that cooking is therapeutic, soothing, calming, etc and sometimes I can see people rolling their eyes when they hear that. But these people have no clue. People who haven’t spent time in the kitchen because they want to, as opposed to need to, will never understand how cooking can alter your mood.
Chopping vegetables, stirring risotto.. there’s a certain calmness that comes over me when I do these menial tasks. But the kitchen task that is the most therapeutic to me, has to be the art of baking bread. Such a simple, humble food that delivers such amazing results, you can’t help but smile. There’s something incredibly rewarding about mixing flour, yeast, water and a few other ingredients together only to find it doubled in size an hour or two later. And then we’re not even talking about the kneading. Punching a ball of dough is not only fun but it’s also a great stress reliever. I can feel the tension in my shoulders and neck melt away while I’m kneading dough and after a few minutes, you’re left with a beautiful ball of smooth dough.
When the dough has risen (which still gets me excited, even though I’ve done it for years), you place it in the oven and after thirty-or-so minutes, you are met with a golden (sometimes crusty) loaf of bread. One, which when cut, releases steam and welcomes fresh, salty butter. Butter that will ooze it’s way into the holes made by the yeast. And when you take that first bite. Is there anything more glorious?
I know I’ve waxed lyrical about bread now but really, for me there are few things that give me the intense pleasure of baking my own and this insanely flavourful loaf is no different. I’ve wanted to bake potato bread for a really long time and finally decided to do my own version this week. I have read that adding mashed potato to the bread dough results in a soft, spongy textured bread but I wanted to add oomph with a few simple flavourings. I decided to use Pecorino as, well, I use it in everything and the rosemary because I have an abundance of it in my garden at the moment. I didn’t, however, want big rosemary needles in the bread so I decided to place a few sprigs of rosemary in the pot while the potatoes were cooking (very effective, especially as you use the cooking water as well) and then chopped another sprig into really, really tiny pieces. This, along with the Pecorino gave the bread a lovely, savoury depth which makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
This bread will be great as an accompaniment to grilled meats and salads this Summer or for my Northern Hemisphere readers, along a steaming bowl of soup, but I suggest you savour it as is, hot from the oven slathered with thick, farm butter.
- I cup cooked potatoes (cook with 2 sprigs of rosemary and reserve 1 cup of cooking water), cooled to room temperature
- 2x 10g sachets yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ cup butter, melted
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary
- 2 cups finely grated Pecorino
- 6-7 cups flour
- Combine the reserved cooking water (from the potatoes) with the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar, mix and allow to stand for 5 minutes until frothy.
- In a separate bowl, combine the potatoes, butter, oil, sugar, eggs, salt, rosemary and Pecorino and mix well.
- Add the egg mixture to the yeast mixture and mix well.
- Add two cups of flour and mix until the dough is sticky then add the rest of the flour cup-by-cup until you have a soft dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 6-7 minutes until the dough is smooth.
- Place in a floured bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Place in a warm spot and allow to rise for 45 mins - 1 hour.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°c.
- After an hour, punch down the dough and divide in two round loaves. Cut a cross/square onto the top of the dough and place on a baking paper-lined baking sheet.
- Place in the oven and allow to bake for 30-35 minutes until the loaf is golden brown, crusty and sounds hollow when tapped at the bottom.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving with butter.