When I first started this blog, I was a little afraid of yeast. I hadn’t had much success with bread baking and I was a little too lazy to deal with kneading and shaping. But over the years, as I have learned more and spent more time in the kitchen, I have largely conquered my fear of fresh baked bread. I even branch out to make specialty loaves, like Butternut Brioche or my Chai Spiced Swirl Bread. I stuck with the trial and error process, because there is nothing quite like a freshly baked loaf of bread. Not only because of the delicious taste, but I still get a great rush of accomplishment whenever a pull one from the oven. So for the summer tomato season, I present this lovely loaf of Italianate goodness.
Plum tomatoes give you a lot of flavor bang for your buck and roasting them first concentrates that flavor. I love the caprese classic combo of tomato and basil, but any soft herbs will do. Give oregano or marjoram a try. I find that sometimes the bread has a lovely reddish orange tinge, but sometimes it is less pronounced, but the flavor is always delicious. I love the ease of the stand mixer, but if you prefer to knead by hand, go for it.
A slice of this bread with lashings of good butter is a favorite of mine, but let me tell you about sandwiches. This takes a summer BLT to a whole new level. Or go slightly more Italian with prosciutto, mozzarella, fresh basil and sliced tomatoes. This can be a great base for crostini, sliced into triangles with some sliced tomatoes, slivered basil and salt and pepper drizzled with a little olive oil. Oh, and as a base for avocado toast. If you have some leftover bread, or it starts to harden, cut it into thick cubes, spray lightly with olive oil and toast them to make really unique salad croutons.
Fresh Tomato Basil Bread
4 plum tomatoes
2 sprigs of fresh basil
2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
2 Tablespoons honey
¾ cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Quarter the plum tomatoes and lightly coat them with olive oil. Place in a baking dish and roast until soft and collapsing and just beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Cool the tomatoes slightly then transfer to a small food processor. Tear a handful of basil leaves into the tomatoes, then puree until smooth.
- Put the yeast and honey in a small measuring cup and add the warm water. Stir to combine, then leave to sit and foam up for about 10 minutes.
- Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the tomato puree. Beat on medium to combine, then pour in the yeast mixture and beat until everything is well combined and the mixture comes together. Switch to the dough hook and beat on medium high for 8 minutes, pulling the dough off the hook a few times, until the dough is soft and pliable, but a bit tacky. Add a bit of water or a bit of flour if needed. When the dough is a nice, smooth ball, pull it from the dough hook and hold it in your hand while you lightly grease the bowl with butter or olive oil, then shape the dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hours. You can heat the oven to 150 degrees, then turn the oven off and place the bowl inside to rise or heat a 2-cup measuring jug with ½ cup of water in the microwave until boiling, the place the bowl in the microwave with the door shut (don’t turn on the microwave).
- Spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. When the dough has risen, punch it down to deflate, then pull it into a rectangle shape. I easily do this just in my hands over the bowl, but you can stretch it out on a cutting board – don’t roll with a rolling pin, just lightly stretch. Roll the rectangle into a spiral, then place it seam side down the loaf pan, shaking the pan so the dough touches all the edges of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and return it to your warm place and let it rise for 30 minutes.
- Fill a baking pan with hot water and place it on the lower rack of the oven. This helps keep the loaf soft and tender. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the loaf pan on the upper rack over the water and bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until the top is browned and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap on it. Turn out of the pan on a wire rack to cool.
- Wrapped tightly, the bread will keep for two days.