We’re currently ‘enjoying’ a typical Irish May; with summer on the horizon the winds have picked up, and although the newly planted shrubs in the garden would probably benefit from the heavy rain, I think they are too preoccupied with recovering from the previous night’s frost to be able to make the most of it. Any thoughts of food still revolve around hearty, warming dishes and salad season feels like it’s months away. And so, when planning the weekend’s menu for the family, soup was an obvious choice for one of our lunches. Not just any soup, but peppery, meaty oxtail soup which I adore.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a good oxtail soup and crusty white sourdough, but I really fancied coming up with something much more robust which could hold its own against a bowl of liquid beef. This onion and parmesan combination sounded good in my head, and it didn’t disappoint on the table either. The aroma as it bakes is just gorgeous, but this bread is not for the faint-hearted. It really does deliver on the flavour front.
The sour preferment and inclusion of some rye and wholewheat flour complement the flavour of the strong cheese and onion rather well, and the dairy fats give the bread a nice soft texture despite the crunch of the crust.
Warning: Do not attempt to eat this bread unless your significant other also partakes. Failure to take note of this warning may lead to prolonged periods of celibacy, as well as an onslaught of ‘onion breath’-themed insults.
Ingredients & Method:
20g starter (see my previous post on how to create one)
35g rye flour
55g wholewheat flour
Mix together to form a stiff dough (or ‘biga’). Allow this preferment to sit at room temperature for around 8 hours. This mixture provides much of the lovely sour flavour of the bread, as well as allowing your starter’s microbes to proliferate, ready to leaven the dough.
150g chopped onions
Semi-dry your onions by placing them on a baking sheet in a cool oven (around 80C) for around 1.5-2 hours until they become slightly dry-looking and tacky to touch. Allow to cool.
165g biga (as above)
50g wholewheat flour
370g strong white flour
30g grated parmesan
Mix together your wholewheat and white flours and water, and allow to sit for 20 minutes. This period of autolysis begins the process of gluten development and is important in this recipe because of the later addition of fat from the parmesan, which will inhibit this process.
Next, mix in your biga and salt. Knead either by hand or using a dough hook for a few minutes until the dough becomes reasonably elastic and smooth. At this point add in the onions and grated parmesan. Knead for another minute or two until these are well incorporated.
Allow dough to rest for 30 minutes, then stretch and fold on a lightly oiled surface. Repeat 3 to 4 times at thirty minute intervals until the dough is well developed.
Place your dough back in the mixing bowl and cover. Allow the dough to ferment at room temperature for around 4 hours, until some large bubbles become visible at the surface. Tip your lovely oniony mixture onto a lightly floured surface, shape as desired, and place in your fridge overnight or for up to 24 hours. I find a banneton works well for this method, but if you don’t have one you could just as easily use a 2-3 litre bowl lined with a floured tea towel.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 230-250C. Remove your dough from the fridge and turn it out onto a baking sheet. Express your artistic side as you score the dough’s surface and place in the hot oven. Going straight from fridge to oven makes the dough very easy to handle and forgiving when being scored. I have yet to encounter any problems with uneven baking, although I know others that cite it as a concern.
Bake for 15 minutes with steam, then reduce oven temperature to 200C and bake for another 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool fully on a wire rack before slicing. Enjoy!