manna, milk, & honey

So, the bad news is that it's starting to getting cold and blustery here - plenty of rain, wind, and the general inclemency that makes London a city synonymous with trench coats, umbrellas and wellies. Sigh. These past many months - starting with the early hints of spring right down to the final faded remnants of summer - have been so unbelievably warm and pleasant, I think I'd genuinely forgotten that this city could be so miserable weather-wise.

The good news, however, is that the storminess out my window has made me want to do nothing but nest and bake. My revived sense of domesticity started off with a couple batches of cookies, but on a recent and particularly rainy day, I wanted something more homey, more eventful - something that required extreme patience and multiple steps. When I read about spiced Ethiopian bread over at The Wednesday Chef, while not exactly French pastry, I thought it would do quite nicely.

This Ethiopian loaf is sweetened with honey and boasts an earthy combination of cinnamon, cumin and cloves that is just lovely. Long after the baking is done, merely toasting a slice sends aromas of sugar and spice dancing through the air. I altered the recipe slightly to include both wheat and plain flour (when it comes to adding wholemeal to baked goods, I just can't help myself!) If you're tempted by how this sounds, but are afraid of the yeast (as I often am), don't be... it really is rather simple... have a go!


Ethiopian Honey-Spice Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 large egg
1/2 cup mild honey
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup whole milk, warmed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Combine the yeast, water, sugar or honey, and ginger in a small ceramic bowl and set in a warm, draft-free place until it bubbles vigorously.

2. Combine the egg, honey, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Add the milk and butter. Mix in 1 cup of the flour.

3. Add the yeast mixture and beat until all the ingredients are well blended. Add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, using only enough to make a soft dough. Use your hands, if needed, to work in the last bit of flour.

4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the bread by folding it end to end, pressing down and pushing forward several times with the heel of your hand. (The dough will be sticky. Use a dough scraper to clear the board and turn the mass of dough. Avoid adding more flour.)

5. In about 5 minutes the dough will become smoother and more elastic. Shape into a rough ball and place in a large oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise until doubled in bulk.

6. Heavily butter a 3-quart round baking dish that is 3 inches deep, such as a casserole or an enameled Dutch oven. Punch down the dough with a single blow of your fist. Knead the dough for a few minutes, shape into a rough ball, and place in the prepared pan. (Press the dough down so that the bottom of the pan is covered completely.) Cover and let rise again until the dough has doubled and reaches the top of the pan.

7. At least 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

8. Bake for 60 minutes, or until the bread is nicely rounded on top and a light golden brown. Leave in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove and transfer to a rack to cool completely before slicing.

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