Saturday, March 22, 2009
I've been thinking with great nostalgia lately about opening Rose's Bread Bible for the first time, and making my first successful bread, which was actually my second attempt. All the nostalgia made me want to go back and make a bread I've already made instead of trying another new one, so I just opened the book at random and happened on Ricotta Loaf. I remembered loving that bread the first time I made it, so I was happy. Then I remembered that Rose's blog has a recipe for Ricotta Bliss, which she says is the ricotta loaf perfected, and I remembered that that version was awfully good too. I dithered around for a while trying to decide whether I should make the original, perhaps slightly inferior, loaf or the new, improved one. I settled on the loaf from the book, which was actually even better than I remembered.
It's one of the easier breads in the cookbooks and one of the quickest to mix up. You put everything in the food processor except the water, pulse it a few times, add the water, and then process for about a minute. I suppose a bread machine is easier, but it couldn't be much easier. The dough is lovely, smooth, and supple. It looks rich because of the egg and butter, and I guess it is (for the same reasons), but the ricotta makes me think it's actually a very healthy bread.
Even though it's made in a loaf pan, you get to slash it down the middle, which I love to do. And Jim loves to take pictures of the result, so it's a win-win situation. I suppose I could always do it with every bread that I bake, but I don't unless there are explicit instructions to do so.
Once the bread is done, you have the option of brushing it with melted butter. I didn't, because I was telling myself it was a very healthful loaf of bread and the melted butter might have required me to abandon that illusion.
What a lovely mid-afternoon treat this turned out to be! I had mine with lemon curd--because it's a fruit, you know. Jim had his with butter. I hope he doesn't go to hell, on account of being so much less virtuous than I am.
Rose's Ricotta Loaf
--adapted from The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum
3 1/2 cups (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 T. (25 grams) sugar
1/2 T. (4.8 grams) instant yeast
1 cup plus 1 1/2 T. (250 grams) whole-milk ricotta
7 T. (100 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 T. (10 grams) salt
1/2 cup (118 grams) cold water
1. Put flour, sugar, yeast, ricotta, butter, egg, and salt in bowl of food processor and pulse about 15 times. With the motor running, add the cold water. Process for about one minute.
2. Put dough in lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
3. An hour before baking, preheat oven to 375. If you have a baking stone, preheat that at the same time, and preheat a cast-iron skillet or baking pan on the lowest shelf of the oven.
4. Shape the dough into a loaf and place it in an oiled or buttered 9" by 5" loaf pan. Cover the dough loosely with oiled plastic wrap and allow it to rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes to one hour and 15 minutes.
5. With a sharp knife or razor blade, make a long 1/2-inch slash down the middle of the bread. Mist the dough with water and set the pan on the preheated baking stone. Add 1/2 cup ice cubes into the pan on the bottom shelf and close oven door.
6. Bake 40 to 50 minutes. Turn bread around about halfway through baking for more even browning. If bread is getting too brown on top, drape a piece of foil loosely on the top.
7. Unmold bread and place on wire rack. Brush with melted butter if desired. Let cool before slicing.