Rustic Cheese and Onion Loaf

This is probably the most popular loaf I make, at least with me. The onion releases moisture into the bread, so you can cook the loaf longer without it drying out. This results in a strong chewy crust, and the pieces of onion on the surface of the bread become very dark and crisp as they dry out. The flavour is exquisite. The cheese releases fat which keeps the bread soft for a couple of days – but we never have one of these loaves around for long enough to be bothered anyway.

Great with a bowl of soup, but just as nice buttered on its own. Robust enough for any cider, it also makes a great tear and share loaf to enjoy with friends – just break the dough into 7 or so balls instead of a single big ball, put one in the middle and the rest around the outside, and cook for slightly less time.

Ingredients

  • 500 grams strong white flour
  • 300 grams water – 200 grams from the tap, rest from a freshly boiled kettle
  • A chunk of strong mature cheese – this is not a delicate flavoured loaf that you are aiming for! Grate it (not too finely – you are looking to taste it, not smell it)
  • A good string onion, chopped to your liking – I like longer pieces that crisp better than small pieces which do not poke out far enough to dry out.
  • 10 grams salt
  • 10 grams fast action yeast
  • A little vegetable oil

Preparation

  1. Dissolve the salt in the water.
  2. Mix the flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add most of the salt water to the flour and yeast.
  4. Stir the flour and water together until a rough dough starts to come together.
  5. Add the rest of the water, continuing to stir, until the dough has picked up all the flour.
  6. Rub the dough around the bowl until the bowl is clean
  7. Pour a tablespoonful of oil on a work surface, and spread it thinly
  8. Work the dough by holding the closest edge and pushing the rest away with the heel of your other hand.
  9. Fold the further edge back to the closest edge and rotate 90 degrees
  10. Repeat from step 8 until the dough becomes smooth and non-sticky
  11. Flatten the dough and spread the cheese and onion thinly over it
  12. Roll it up tight like a Swiss roll
  13. knead it a little longer – onion will poke out and the dough will tend to split
  14. Pour a teaspoon of oil in the mixing bowl
  15. Fold the dough into a ball, and place in the mixing bowl, turning the dough to cover with the oil
  16. Cover bowl with a lid or tea-towel and leave for an hour or until doubled in size
  17. Press the dough down with your fist and then shape into a ball, making sure that any edges that you bring together are sealed
  18. Place the dough, sealed edges down, on a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray
  19. At this point it is good to brush it with a little melted butter, or milk, and scatter some grated cheese over the top; salt and pepper adds a little more flavour as well.
  20. Place the baking tray in a cold oven, with a small bowl of boiling water to keep the oven moist and warm. This stops the surface of the dough drying out, and allows it to expand.
  21. Once the dough has again risen, which will not take as long this time, take it out of the oven and keep in a draught-free place whilst you heat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade (unless you have a separate oven, in which case you can put the loaf straight into the oven.
  22. When you have a hot oven, cut a cross in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife and put the loaf in to bake for forty or fifty minutes.
  23. After forty minutes, test the loaf by tapping it on the bottom, and it should sound hollow. Not as hollow as a plain loaf, but you will not achieve that with the damp ingredients you are using.
  24. Allow to cool for at least an hour on a wire rack, before cutting, buttering and devouring!