When I was a little girl, there was a bakery in our town which made a cheese and onion bread. It was never quite right – the cheese was too mild, there wasn’t enough onion, and it needed very salty butter. All the same, I used to really look forward to eating it, preferably sliced with plenty of cheese and tomatoes layered on top, then baked in the Aga by my Dad.
This week, I decided to try to make my own cheesy, oniony bread, this time with my Dad’s tomatoes baked into it. I used lots of parmesan, a nice big onion and some flavourful sun-dried tomatoes (along with a little of their oil). The results were great – no extra cheese, tomatoes or toasting required. To make one loaf, you’ll need:
210 ml tepid water
1 level teaspoon caster sugar
1 packet easy-blend yeast
350g strong white flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
100g finely grated parmesan
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 minced clove garlic
1 large onion, sliced finely
5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped small
1 ½ tablespoons of the tomato oil
½ tablespoon fleur de sel or other coarse salt to sprinkle
Extra parmesan to sprinkle
Mix all the ingredients (except the tepid water and the salt and parmesan to sprinkle on at the end) in a large, warm bowl. Pour in the tepid water and mix well with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. Transfer to a floured board and knead hard for ten minutes, until the dough is stretchy, glossy and no longer sticky. The onion pieces will snap as you knead, but don’t worry about them.
When the dough is kneaded, put it back in the bowl and cover with some oiled cling film. Leave in a warm (not hot) place for about 40 minutes, until it has doubled in size. (The dough will take a couple of hours to rise at room temperature if you don’t have a warm place to keep it.)
Take the dough from the bowl and knock it back down to its original size, kneading again for five minutes. If you want a traditional loaf shape, put it in a loaf tin. I decided to make a low, flattish bread in order to make the most of the lovely crust with its sweet caramelised onions poking through, so I shaped the dough on a non-stick baking sheet.
Sprinkle the bread with the salt and extra cheese, and leave to rise again, covered, for 40 minutes in a warm place. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 230° C (450° F).
When the dough has risen, place a large baking tray full of water at the bottom of the oven, and the tray with the bread on a rack in the middle of the oven. Bake the loaf for between 30 and 40 minutes. It will be ready when it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Serve with plenty of butter.