It was two reasons that got me baking this bread in a month when I haven’t had much time to spare for baking bread. The first was that this month’s bread over at the Bread Baking Babes group is an anniversary bread. The original group started baking together 8 years ago. The other more compelling reason for me was that this bread has caramelized onions in it. Now that’s something that’s a bit difficult to resist. This month, we also have a new member, Kelly of A Messy Kitchen, joining the group.
This recipe was chosen by Tanna for us to bake and is from the bread book Ben Cuit – The Art of Bread. Ben Cuit is French for “well done” referring to the really dark colour of bread which apparently is typical of the Ben Cuit bakery breads and those in this bread book. What makes this bread really worth making is the addition of the caramelized onions to it. I’m of course, assuming that you really like the flavour of caramelized onions, otherwise this isn’t the bread for you.
As the author of the book explains about this recipe and I quote, “When I worked for Georges Perrier at Le Bec-Fin, they put raw onion in the sourdough, a practice that is quite common in France. I didn’t like the sharp, acrid taste at all, so Georges showed me how to get serious about caramelizing onions. His method takes a long time and a lot of stirring, but it’s so much better than the common shortcut of adding sugar to onions and sautéing them. I incorporated those onions into a baguette, which Georges liked a lot. Here’s the secret: The onion should be neither the centerpiece nor the last thing you taste; instead, it should be a persistent note in a chorus of flavors.”
Note that this bread takes 3 days to make so that’s how long you’ll have to wait before you can eat it. Actually, you’ll have to wait almost another day, because the advice that comes with the recipe says “Let the bread cool completely before slicing and eating, at least 4 hours but preferably 8 to 24 hours.”! The consolation is that much of the time during the 3 days of making it is hands off time, and that you have a gorgeous looking loaf of bread at the end of it all and it tastes just as good.
I recently acquired a Dutch Oven (long story – they’re not available in India though Prestige had introduced a series of cast iron enameled cookware but then discontinued it for lack of demand in the Indian market) and decided to inaugurate it with this bread. This was also an opportunity for me to try out a proofing basket I converted from a cane flower basket which I found when I last visited my aunt. That’s another thing you can’t find in India unless you’re willing to fork out a ridiculously large sum of money which is better used elsewhere.
I followed the chosen recipe mostly but substituted for the buckwheat flour which I didn’t have, with whole wheat flour. You could also use whole wheat or plain flour in place of rye flour if you choose. The recipe below makes 2 medium sized loaves but since I almost always small batch, I halved the recipe to make one loaf and it was the best onion bread we’ve ever eaten.
To caramelize the onions, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan and about 2 largish onions, finely chopped, to it. Over low to medium heat, keep cooking the onions while stirring frequently, until they’re cooked and turn a deep golden brown but do not burn. Take off the heat and let it cool.
Caramelized Onion Bread
For the Starter :
- 3/4 cup rye flour white
- 1/4 tsp yeast instant
- 1/2 cup water warm
For the Dough :
- 3 cups flour white , plus additional as needed for working with the dough
- 1/2 cup wheat flour
- 2 tsps salt
- 1/3 tsp yeast instant
- 1 1/3 cups water warm
- 2 tbsps honey
- 25 gm butter , soft at room temperature
- 1/4 cup onions caramelized
- flour More for dusting
- For the Starter (about 10 to 14 hours at room temperature) : Whisk together the flour and yeast in a bowl. Pour the warm water over it and mix well with a wooden spoon or fork until you have a somewhat wet dough. Cover loosely and let it sit on your counter top at room temperature for 10 to 14 hours. Overnight works well.
- Now mix together the dough : Whisk together the flours, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Pour a little of the warm water (about 1/3rd cup) into the edge of the bowl containing the starter. This will help release it easily.
- Use approximately a third of the water to pour around the starter edges to release it from the sides of the bowl. Put the remaining warm water, the honey and all the starter (with the liquid) and mix in with a wooden spoon. Now add the flour and combine into a dough using a scraper. Add a little more flour or water if required, and mix well to combine until you have a dough that has come together well and is sticky to touch.
- Now comes a series of multiple stretches, folds, tucks and letting the dough rest in between, for a total of 4 times. The book advises this to be done in the bowl itself by stretching and rolling the dough and then tucking in the sides. I chose to do this on my counter top.
- Lightly dust your counter top with flour and turn out the dough onto it, seam side down. Stretch and flatten it out a bit with your palm into a rectangular shape and then fold into thirds. First one third of the dough from the shorter end and then the third from the side over this, sort of like folding a letter or as one would for laminated dough.
- Then tuck the sides underneath towards the centre and form a round shape, using cupped hands to turn the ball of dough all around as you would to shape a boule. The result you're looking for is a strong smooth finish. Place back in the bowl or leave on the counter if you don't need to use it for anything else. Cover loosely (I left the dough on my counter top and covered to with a large upturned bowl. The dough will not double up at any point.
- Let it sit for about 45 minutes undisturbed. Repeat this stretching, folding and tucking process again and then let it rest, covered, for another 45 minutes.
- The third stretch, fold and tucking involves incorporating caramelized onions into the dough. So stretch the dough into a rectangle, and spread the soft butter across it and sprinkle the caramelized onions over this. Roll the dough tightly, jelly/ Swiss roll style and press to flatten a bit. Turn the seam downwards and fold into thirds envelope style. Press out to stretch and the roll, fold and stretch the dough again. Do this a few times till the caramelized onions are incorporated in the dough evenly.
- After the final fold, envelope style, turn the dough with the seam facing downwards. Tuck the sides and shape into a ball. Cover loosely and let it rest for 45 minutes.
- Then stretch, fold and shape again like before for one final time, cover loosely and let it rest only for 20 minutes this time.
- The final shaping and resting time (12 to 18 hours refrigerated) : Lightly dust the counter top and your hands with flour. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Let it rest for 5 minutes and then shape the dough into boules (or whatever shape you prefer).
- Transfer the dough to lined proofing baskets or baking sheets with the seam side up. Dust the top and sides with flour. Fold the linen over the sides to create support and over the top or cover the top with a kitchen towel and refrigerate for 12 to 18 hours (overnight works well).
- After the long rise, take the dough out and let it rest at room temperature for about an hour. It wouldn't have risen to almost double as expected for most other breads.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven with a baking stone (or baking sheet) or a Dutch oven which is what I used. Also place an iron skillet or tray at the bottom of the oven for creating steam with ice, and preheat your oven to 250C (500F) or 260C (600F) if your oven goes that high.
- There is an easy technique to transferring bread dough to a very hot Dutch oven. Place parchment paper strips (I use two wide strips placed like a + sign) over the top of your proofing basket or bowl, turn the basket/ bowl upside down gently so it sits on the middle of the parchment cross. The parchment strips can be used as a sling to transfer the dough into the hot Dutch oven or baking sheet.
- Score the top of both loaves as you want and gently transfer them to the preheated Dutch oven or baking sheet. Add about 3 cups of ice to the hot skillet in the bottom of the oven. If you're using the Dutch oven, you don't need to do this, just cover the Dutch oven.
- Turn the oven down to 240C (460F) and bake the bread for about 25 minutes or until the top of the bread is deep, rich brown, with some spots along the scores being very dark (bien cuit). The bottom of the loaves should sound hollow when tapped. If not, return to the oven for a further 5 or 10 minutes till done. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack.
- Let the bread cool completely before slicing and eating, at least 4 hours but preferably 8 to 24 hours.