Years and years ago--okay, decades and decades ago--I bought a cookbook that has been a great reference over the years. I haven't strictly followed any of the recipes in it for a long time--and in fact, based on the many notes I added to these pages, I wonder if I ever baked any of these breads exactly as given. Still, it has been a source of inspiration and guidance over time, and I pulled it out today when I wanted to make bread in only a few hours, and not a lot of working time to spare.
I remembered that author Casella included a section on "batter breads," so I made a variation on the variation I had developed on December 3, 1994. (If you use cookbooks, please be sure to write in them--include the date made, your rating of the results, and any changes you may have added. It will mean a lot when you pull that book out years later. And yes, you can do something similar with any recipes you capture online too.)
Batter breads are nice because they are quick and they don't require getting the counters messy. Still, it is best to make these shortly before serving as they don't keep as well as other breads. Because most of these recipes use more yeast than more standard breads, they will also have a stronger flavor of yeast--another good reason to add extra ingredients like the bacon here or grated cheese, herbs, onions, etc.
This particular recipe is nice because it yields a loaf with a sturdy crust, not always typical of faster doughs. Served warm with butter or a dish of seasoned olive oil for dipping, this is the ideal side for soup on a chilly night.
It would also make some great sandwiches, layered with lots of lettuce, tomatoes, etc. along with a slice or two of deli meat or good cheese. Toasted as part of a BLT? Wonderful!
Italian Pepper Bread, ala Casala
2 c warm water
1 t salt
3 T sugar
2 T bacon fat
2 pkg dry yeast (or about 5 t of yeast if using it in bulk)
1 t freshly ground black pepper (may add up to 2 teaspoons if you like)
1 t dried basil
1/4 c crumbled bacon
1 c whole wheat flour
4 c bread flour
1. Combine warm water, salt, sugar, bacon fat, pepper, basil, and whole wheat flour. Beat well.
2. Stir in the yeast and the egg and beat until well-combined.
3. Add the crumbled bacon and then the bread flour, a cup at a time. Beat well for 3 to 4 minutes. The dough should begin to look "stringy," as seen in the photos below.
This indicates that the gluten is developing the structure needed to support the rise of the bread. The dough will also be smooth and almost glossy.
4. Cover the bowl loosely with a towel and set aside in a warm place for about an hour or so, until doubled.
5. Stir the batter down and then beat for another 2 to 3 minutes. Pour into two very well greased (bottom and sides) 8 X 4 bread loaf pans. Let rise again until batter is just barely to the tops of the pans. Do not allow to rise too much, as this could cause the finished bread to "fall," ending up with a doughy middle. This rise will also take about an hour, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
6. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 to 35 minutes, until the bread is a deep golden brown. Remove from pans immediately after taking from the oven and brush the tops with melted butter.
Replace the bacon fat with canola oil and omit the bacon. (To be honest, I don't taste the bacon very specifically in this recipe, but the overall blend of flavors is good, so you may want to give it a try.) Add 1/2 to 1 cup of grated sharp cheese and reduce the bread flour to only 3 1/2 cups.
Other herbs--oregano, thyme, rosemary, or Italian seasoning, may be substituted for the basil, or a combination of herbs can be added.
Garlic or onion powder can be added with the dry ingredients, perhaps a teaspoon or so.