Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread

Pain de Campagne

Why This Recipe Works: We loved the idea of a yeasted cheese bread. We imagined something decadent, featuring bold cheddar flavor and a lingering finish of complementary black pepper. We wanted a rustic loaf that we could cut into generous chunks to dunk into a bowl of homey tomato soup. Big cheese flavor was a must, but to load our loaf with the most cheese, we had to hurdle a few obstacles. We started by kneading a generous amount of shredded cheddar into the dough, but this produced a crumb that was very delicate. That’s because the fatty cheese coated the gluten strands, preventing them from linking up. Next, we tried spiraling the shredded cheese into the dough by rolling the dough into a square, sprinkling it with shredded cheese, forming the dough into a jelly roll, and then coiling the roll. This created pockets of melted cheese throughout, which we loved, but the crumb itself no longer had flavor. More problematic, excess melting cheese busted out of the loaf and oozed grease from the bread, smoking up the oven. To get the best of both worlds—a flavorful crumb and pockets of melted cheese—we kneaded just half of the cheese into the bread and then spiraled in the remaining cheese for gooey goodness that didn’t escape.

Makes: 1 loaf
Resting time: 6 hours, 20 minutes
Rising time: 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours
Baking time: 35 minutes
Total time: 11 ½ to 12 ½ hours, plus 3 hours cooling time
Key equipment: water-filled spray bottle, large linen towel, 5-quart colander, baking stone, 2 (9-inch) disposable aluminum pie plates, 2 quarts lava rocks, pizza peel, lame, instant-read thermometer

Look for a cheddar aged for about one year. (Avoid cheddar aged for longer; it won’t melt well.) Use the large holes of a box grater to shred the cheddar. You can substitute a round banneton, or proofing basket, for the towel-lined colander.

⅔ cup (3⅔ ounces) bread flour
½ cup (4 ounces) water, room temperature
⅛ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

2⅓ dough (12¾ ounces) bread flour
1¼ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1¼ teaspoons coarsely ground pepper
1 cup (8 ounces) water, room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded, room temperature (2 cups)

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
1. For the sponge:
Stir all ingredients in 4-cup liquid measuring cup with wooden spoon until well combined. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until sponge has risen and begins to collapse, about 6 hours (sponge can sit at room temperature for up to 24 hours).

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
2. For the dough:
Whisk flour, yeast, and ¾ teaspoon pepper together in bowl of stand mixer. Stir water into sponge with wooden spoon until well combined. Using dough hook on low speed, slowly add sponge mixture to our mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry our remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Cover bowl tightly with plastic and let dough rest for 20 minutes.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
Add salt to dough and knead on medium-low speed until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, slowly add 1 cup cheddar, ¼ cup at a time, and mix until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Transfer dough to lightly greased large bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
Using greased bowl scraper (or your fingertips), fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 45 degrees and fold dough again; repeat turning bowl and folding dough 6 more times (total of 8 folds). Cover tightly with plastic and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding and rising every 30 minutes, 3 more times. After fourth set of folds, cover bowl tightly with plastic and let dough rise until nearly doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
Mist underside of large linen or cotton tea towel with water. Line 5-quart colander with towel and dust evenly with flour. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter (side of dough that was against bowl should now be against counter). Press and stretch dough into 10-inch square, deflating any gas pockets larger than 1 inch.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
Sprinkle remaining 1 cup cheddar evenly over dough, leaving ½-inch border around edges. Roll dough away from you into snug cylinder. Pinch seam closed.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
Turn cylinder seam side up and roll away from you into snug spiral, ending with tail end on bottom. Pinch side seams together to seal.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
Using your cupped hands, drag dough in small circles on counter until dough feels taut and round and all seams are secured on underside of loaf. (Some cheese may become exposed.)

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
Place loaf seam side up in prepared colander and pinch any remaining seams closed. Loosely fold edges of towel over loaf to enclose, then place colander in large plastic garbage bag. Tie, or fold under, open end of bag to fully enclose. Let rise until loaf increases in size by about half and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, 30 minutes to 1 hour (remove loaf from bag to test).

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
One hour before baking, adjust oven racks to lower-middle and lowest positions. Place baking stone on upper rack, place 2 disposable aluminum pie plates filled with 1 quart lava rocks each on lower rack, and heat oven to 450 degrees. Bring 1 cup water to boil. Remove colander from garbage bag, unfold edges of towel, and dust top of loaf with flour. (If any seams have reopened, pinch closed before dusting with our.) Lay 16 by 12-inch sheet of parchment paper on top of loaf. Using 1 hand to support parchment and loaf, invert loaf onto parchment and place on counter. Gently remove colander and towel. Transfer parchment with loaf to pizza peel.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
Carefully pour ½ cup boiling water into 1 disposable pie plate of preheated rocks and close oven door for 1 minute to create steam. Meanwhile, holding lame concave side up at 30-degree angle to loaf, make two 7-inch-long, ½-inch-deep slashes with swift, fluid motion along top of loaf to form cross. Sprinkle top of loaf with remaining ½ teaspoon pepper.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread
Working quickly, slide parchment with loaf onto baking stone and pour remaining ½ cup boiling water into second disposable pie plate of preheated rocks. Bake until crust is dark brown and loaf registers 205 to 210 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating loaf halfway through baking. Transfer loaf to wire rack, discard parchment, and let cool completely, about 3 hours, before serving.

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