A few years ago on Christmas Eve I had just tucked my kiddos into bed when my doorbell rang. When I opened the door my good friend Cathy was standing there with a warm loaf of french bread and a little packet of what turned out to be the most unbelievably delicious garlic herb spread. She said she thought my husband and I might need a little snack as we were finishing up our last minute Christmas wrapping. And did we ever! We sat upstairs ripping hunks off the bread and slathering it with the butter spread as we we finished all the last minute Christmas Eve tasks (do you not have any of these? You must be more organized than I am.) This was, by far, the best neighbor Christmas gift ever!
Months later I finally got the recipe from her and I've been making it repeatedly ever since. I don't know if I'll ever be organized enough to bake bread for my friends on Christmas Eve, but I love to give away one of these loaves every time I make it. Each batch makes 4 loaves and it's super easy to double to make 8 loaves. One batch of the sinfully delicious garlic herb spread splits perfectly into 8 of these cute portion cups you can buy at the grocery store:
Which means with a little bit of work one afternoon, you can bake up 8 gorgeous loaves of bread and deliver them with garlic spread while they're nice and warm to anyone you want to cheer up. Or anyone you'd really like a favor from :)
Enough rhapsodizing? On to the recipe? Alright, here you go. (I've written out the recipes first, then followed with some pictures and more detailed instructions.)
1 1/2 T instant yeast
1/2 C very warm water
1 1/2 T sugar
2 C water
1 1/2 T oil
2 1/4 t salt
6 C flour
Combine the yeast, 1/2 C warm water, and sugar, and let proof for ten minutes. (I should admit I've skipped this step and thrown everything into the mixer at once, and it's worked fine.) Then add remaining 2 C water, oil, salt, and 3 C of flour. Mix until flour is incorporated, then add remaining 3 C flour gradually. Knead about five minutes, then turn out onto generously floured surface. Every ten minutes for the next hour knead two or three times. Form into 4 loaves. Brush with beaten egg white. Slash 3 diagonal lines into tops. Raise until double or 30 minutes. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then at 375 for 20 minutes.
Boursen Cheese Spread (aka Garlic Herb Spread)
1/2 C butter
8 oz package cream cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t oregano
1/2 t basil
1/8 t each dill, marjoram, thyme, and pepper OR 1/2 t poultry seasoning
Let butter and cream cheese come to room temperature, then stir all to combine.
And here are my additional comments:
It can be hard to know just how much flour to add when you're making bread. I use the scoop and level method to measure my flour, and 6 C always ends up being just right for me. Some bread recipes tell you to keep adding flour until the sides of your bowl come clean - don't do that for this recipe! This bread is incredibly tender, which means the dough is going to be softer and stickier. You'll see in the picture below that much of the dough is hanging onto my dough hook, but some is still stuck to the sides and bottom of the bowl.
You can tell you've added enough flour and you've kneaded the dough long enough when you can pinch off a small bit and easily roll it into a little ball in the palm of your hand. It will still be a little sticky to the touch, but not so sticky you can't roll it into a ball.
Because it's a soft dough, I find a rounded plastic scraper handy in pulling it out of the bowl...
...and onto a well floured surface. It doesn't look finished kneading yet...
...but once you give it a quick roll in the flour you'll be able to shape it into a nice ball.
Now comes the part that gives the crust a nice, characteristically french bread chewiness. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then come back and knead it two or three times. Just punch it down and fold it over a few times, then gather it back into a ball. Come back every ten minutes for an hour (so if you pulled the dough out of your mixer at 3:30, your last quick knead will be at 4:20 and the dough will be ready to shape at 4:30). It sounds like a lot of work, but if you're going to be home anyway it only takes about 30 seconds to walk into the kitchen, knead three times, and walk back out. AND it's not crucial that the kneading takes place at exact ten minute intervals, and it's not crucial that you do it for exactly an hour. Just make sure you come back at least four times in the next hour to punch and fold it a few times.
When you've hit an hour, divide the dough into four even pieces. Push each piece into a rough rectangle shape, then roll it up and pinch it so it stays together. Place it pinched side down on a greased or lined cookie sheet. Then beat one egg white with a dash of water and brush the egg mixture over the loaf (or just use your hands to spread it over the loaf like I do if you don't have a pastry brush). Get it all covered - anything not covered with the egg mixture will end up pale and sickly looking.
You'll let it rise for about half an hour, (preheat the oven during this rise), then bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees, then turn the oven down to 375 and bake for 20 more minutes. The picture above shows what the loaves look like when shaped, then after the 30 minute rise, then after baking time.
Your house is going to smell like heaven at this point.
Hopefully, while the bread was rising you also mixed up your garlic herb spread...
...so the devouring can begin immediately.
Note: If you decide to double the recipe, you can bake two sheets of loaves at once, but you may need to increase your bake time, and you'll definitely want to switch which loaf is on the top rack at least once during baking time. Enjoy!
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