Fennel has always been one of my favourite herbs. Having spotted some fresh fennel bulbs in the Supermarket some days ago, I bought a bulb intending to incorporate this into bread. I’ve done a bread with fried fennel to caramelise it, but this time I wanted to try using the raw form.
The ingredients are simple enough, and the method is nothing new. I made a Starter the night before and used this the following afternoon giving the starter about 18 hours of fermentation time. Mix the flour, water and dry yeast in a small plastic bowl, and leave this covered on the kitchen table overnight till the afternoon next day. This process takes less than five minutes of your time.
Starter made the night before.
1/2 cup flour ( I used Italian 00 grade Flour)
1/2 cup distilled water
1/8 tsp dry yeast.
The Dough made next day.
All of the starter
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup distilled water
1 1/2 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup chopped fresh fennel bulb
1 cup grated matured cheddar cheese.
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds pounded coarsely.
Mix the starter, the flour, yeast and salt into a mixing bowl and mix these for 6 to 10 minutes on a table-top mixer, at slow speed till the dough is smooth and elastic.
Add more flour or distilled water to adjust the consistency of the dough as you progress. Add either flour or water, using a table spoon each time. When you reach an acceptable texture and consistency, add in the pounded fennel seeds, the chopped fennel bulb and the grated cheese. Mix for a few more minutes till even.
Transfer the dough from the mixing bowl to a floured mat and fold several times to stretch the dough further and then shape it into a ball. Place this shaped dough into an oiled bowl, and cover with a damp cloth. Proof for 1 1/2 hours. After the first hour, start the oven and set the temperature to 245˚C. Do not omit to place a shallow metal tray inside the oven for steaming.
Before placing the proofed dough into the hot baking stone, create some steam by pouring boiling water onto the small metal tray in the oven. Score the surface of the dough and then transfer this onto the hot stone. In the first 10 minutes, spritz water into the oven twice. After 15 minutes reduce the oven temperature to 220˚C. When the loaf appears cooked and the crust is a nice golden brown, open the oven door a few inches for five minutes, to let out the hot steam out and to dry and harden the crust. Remove the loaf and transfer this to a metal rack to cool before slicing.
I was pleasantly surprised that the crumb was soft and spongy, the crust was crispy. The aroma was very satisfactory but the cheese flavour was insufficiently strong for me. Next time I would use more of the cheese, perhaps a cup and a half instead of just one cup. Or use a pecorino or other hard cheese.
” We tend to worry about past events and we worry about the future. Few live in the present. Life is about living in the present.”
– John Lim –