It’s that time of the month when Clara from tastesherif.com calls for recipes for her #ichbacksmir bake-along, and it’s that time of the year where a chilled glass of crisp white wine and a loaf of good bread on a terrace, a balcony or somewhere near the river in front on my house are all I need after a day at work or – even better – on a weekend night. This month, Clara called for anything with citrus, from orange cakes to lemon pies and lime slices. If you read brag&butter regularly, you may have guessed that I l-o-v-e a dish that celebrates citrus (such as my blood orange churros or my zesty cedro lemon caesar which is built entirely around one of my favorite winter citrus). And although I do love lemony sweets, I wasn’t in the mood for something sweet at all for Clara’s challenge – I wanted something savory. Something to celebrate the first hints of summer with.
Just two days ago, it felt like summer for the first time: I carried my jacket and very light scarf over my arm, the sleeves of my really light but still too warm sweater rolled up, when we (my husband and I) left the train and walked home. We were visiting our friends Marc and Maria near Berlin, and we experienced the first days of summer with them, taking bike tours around the beautiful Potsdam area with its countless parks and castles. We also had our first outdoor-dinners there, together with Marc and Maria’s three children and Maria’s parents. The beauty of our dinners in the garden was how no-fuss they were. Mostly, we would just have butter and cheese, loads of perfectly ripe avocado chunks and some other nibbles on the table, and everyone would pass things around and eat whatever they liked while chatting away. Of course, everything was arranged around a loaf of good bread. One night particularly so: On one of our bike trips, we visited an old windmill near Sanssouci Palace. The legend goes that the king felt annoyed by the noise the windmill would make and tried to have it shut down. When he threatened to do so, the miller took him to court and – won, and everyone could see the king’s justice and obedience to the law. Great story, apart from that it’s a lie. Apparently, the whole legend was just a PR-campaign for the king. However, the mill stands until today, and it is opened as a museum. On some days though, grain is still ground there old school-style, and a special bread is made from the flour. It is very dense and moist and has a wonderfully rustic and crunchy crust, which is covered in crushed grain. We took it home and finished it in one evening.
As I said, I love a lot of lemony sweet baked things – like the soaked lemon juice cake my mother made for us when we were little (she barely does it now – I’ll have to investigate that), a good cheesecake with lemon, and the lemon meringue pie that one of the local cafés does. It is just perfect. You can’t make a better one. I certainly can’t. For some reason, I just do not seem to be able to produce a decent (I’m not even talking about perfect) lemon meringue pie. Something with it is always wrong. So, after several attempts and recipes, I have given in for the time being. I am glad to buy good lemon meringue pie, thank you. (Although I have a feeling that this, my cake-nemesis, will come up as one of the final numbers of the little #50ShadesOfCake project I have going on here – stay tuned).
So I went for savory, and this wonderful idea for a tear-away bread popped into my head. I had seen one in The Essential Baking Cookbook a few years ago, and now and then, the image would appear before my culinary inner eye. I immediately fiddled around with the idea, since this was so perfect for summer: Nothing is more easygoing than a tear-away bread. You don’t even need a knife, because the loaf is made up of individual dough portions which come apart easily when the bread is baked. That is thanks to a delicious flavored butter or olive oil in-between. For my version, I went for olive oil instead of butter and made a pesto of lemon peel, garlic, and fragrant lemon thyme, which is my newest addition to our balcony micro garden and a wonderful herb, because it’s both fresh and hearty at the same time. There is also a bit of lemon in the bread dough itself, and, since I felt traditional after our visit to the windmill, some classic bread spice of coriander, caraway and some fennel seeds. I know a lot of people don’t like either caraway or fennel, but once it’s ground finely and added to bread, I find it just enhances the bread-taste. I go for 2 parts coriander, 1 part fennel seeds and 1/2 part caraway for this bread, since the citrussy notes in the coriander go so well with the lemon. Go easy on any of the spices or feel free to omit them altogether. I call this a tear-away bread rather than a “pull-apart” bread, because I find that once you start eating the delicious spongy layers, you just keep tearing away…
Lemon & Thyme Tear-Away Bread
Active time: 15 minutes, baking: about 60 minutes, proving: 60 minutes
1 tsp coriander seeds
0.5 tsp fennel seeds
0.25 tsp caraway seeds
1.5 tsp salt
for the dough
500 g regular wheat flour
zest of 1/2 untreated lemon
0.25 cube fresh yeast
about 300 ml water
2 tbsp olive oil
for the pesto
a few sprigs of lemon thyme
1 clove of garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
black pepper, salt
1 Grind the spices for the bread spice with the salt in a mortar (or whatever tool you prefer). Sift the flour on a surface or in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the bread spice and the lemon zest, then make a well in the centre and add the olive oil and the yeast mixture. Add some of the water (about half of it) and begin forming a dough with your hands (you can use a kitchen machine, of course – but I always feel a yeast dough needs the warmth of hands and a wooden surface underneath) and gradually add water until a soft dough is formed.
Knead for ten minutes or so, until the dough is elastic. I like “tearing” in apart (see photo) and then rolling it back together. Cover with cling or a damp kitchen towel and leave to prove in a warm and draft-free space for about 1 hour or until it’s about double its original size.
2 Meanwhile, prepare the pesto for the filling by simply grinding the lemon peel, garlic clove, and lemon thyme in a mortar, then add the olive oil, salt and pepper (both according to your taste, start with half a tsp of salt) and set aside.
3 When the dough is proven enough, punch it down and divide into 2 equal portions, and divide those into about 10 (the exact number doesn’t matter – just make sure you have an even number in the end) portions and form those into discs. Divide the pesto (safe 1 tsp) on half of your discs, then put a plain disc on top and slightly press the edges. Grease a square baking tin (mine measures 24 x 10.5 x 7 cm) and stack the filled discs in horizontally, pressing them together. Cover again with cling or a damp kitchen towel and leave to prove for another 30 minutes.
4 Preheat the oven to 200 °C top and bottom heat. Brush the top of the bread with the rest of the pesto, then bake on middle shelf for about 30 minutes, until it is golden brown and crusty. Be sure to not open the oven for at least (!) 15 minutes after you first close it. You can check if it’s done by tapping on the base (done when it sounds hollow) or piercing the loaf with a needle (no sticky dough when removed from the loaf).