Raise your hand if you haven’t made no-knead bread yet. Yep, that’s what I thought—I’m the only one in the world who hasn’t baked this miracle of yeast, flour, and water. Heck, even my mom, the person who taught me how to knead at a very young age, now bakes it.
That’s my loss, I suppose, because having had the pleasure of eating it I do find it quite delicious. But recently I wanted a loaf of fresh-from-the-oven bread and couldn’t wait overnight for the dough to work its magic: this meant I’d have to bake bread the old-fashioned way—by kneading.
I grew up with homemade bread and mom always had a jar filled with sourdough starter living the in the fridge. Though she didn’t just make sourdough bread—she also made cinnamon-raisin bread, dark whole-wheat bread, dinner rolls, saffron rolls, oatmeal bread, hot-cross buns, and a multitude of other baked goods that involved yeast, kneading, and patience.
When I was young I hated being the only kid with a sandwich on homemade bread, but over time I grew to love that toasty, yeasty smell that filled the house as a loaf baked, and the way butter just tasted better on a soft slice of bread straight out of the oven.
When I graduated from college and realized I’d have to cook for myself otherwise I’d go broke, bread baking became one of my passions. The first loaf I ever baked was a French baguette from The Joy of Cooking. It wasn’t very crispy and the crumb was a bit dense but it didn’t matter, I was hooked. I started spending my weekends experimenting with all sorts of different breads—one in particular that was a big hit with my friends was an olive-rosemary recipe I found in The New Basics Cookbook.
Now that I’m older, I don’t bake bread as often as I’d like—but on a recent lazy Sunday, the conditions were perfect for reading and waiting as my bread dough rose. Laurie Colwin has an amusing chapter about bread baking called “Bread Baking Without Agony” in her book Home Cooking. As she recounts the first time she baked bread with a friend, she expresses frustration with all the time involved for just one loaf.
She writes: “The result was a perfectly nice loaf of bread, but after spending an entire day in its service, I expected something a little more heroic.” She has a point—there is a lot of downtime when baking bread, but on certain days I don’t mind being abiding as the yeast does it work. I find it peaceful that so much is happening without my exerting too much energy—save for the mixing and the kneading.
I guess that’s been my reluctance toward no-knead bread: I like to knead. Bread baking can be so non-eventful that if I didn’t knead, I probably wouldn’t feel like I’d contributed much to the process. Not to mention the excellent upper-body workout kneading gives you.
Jalapeños are at their peak right now and after picking up a whole mess of them at the farmers’ market, I was searching for ways to use them beyond salsa. I then remembered a delectable bread that can be found at Goode Co. Barbecue in Houston, Texas. Most barbecue places in the state will serve you a standard couple of slices of Mrs. Baird’s white bread with your pile of smoked meat.
This malleable bread is excellent for wrapping around a hotlink or two to form an impromptu sandwich. But Goode Co. takes its bread to a whole new level—they make theirs in-house and it’s laced with jalapeños and cheese. Barbecue purists may sniff at Goode Co.’s offering; they might say it’s just too fancy-pants for real barbecue. Perhaps. But it sure is tasty.
After looking through the Houston Chronicle archives, I found a recipe for this bread that had been written by none other than Sheila Lukins, author of The New Basics Cookbook, home of that olive-rosemary loaf that made me so popular at dinner parties back in the day. I read through her recipe and while it looked good enough, I made some adjustments.
Where she called for a quarter cup of sliced jalapeños, I used a whole cup. Where she recommended white cheddar cheese, I used Longhorn. And I did some other fiddling, such as using buttermilk instead of regular milk, adjusting the flour quantities and skipping some of her overly detailed directions. I was a little worried that the recipe might not turn out okay, but it actually exceeded my expectations—this was a moist, spicy and cheesy loaf—the only things missing were some hot links and brisket.
Now that I can turn on my oven without stripping down to my skivvies, I’ll be baking bread more often. And since I’m back in bread-making mode, I reckon I’ll finally try no-knead bread as well. But for now, I’m happy with this jalapeño-cheese loaf, my first bread of the season.
Jalapeño cheese bread
- 1 packet yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 1/2 cups bread or all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 5 jalapeños, seeded and diced
- 2 cups (8 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
In a mixing bowl, stir together the yeast and water. Wait a few minutes, then stir in the melted butter, egg, buttermilk, sugar, and salt.
Add to the mixing bowl the bread flour and semolina flour and stir until well combined. If the dough is too wet, gradually add more bread flour 1/4 cup at a time.
Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Alternatively, if you're using a stand mixer, blend with the dough hook until it's kneaded.
Lightly grease a bowl with oil or butter. Form the kneaded dough into a ball and place into the bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size—about an hour.
LIghtly grease a 9x5 loaf pan. After the dough has risen, place the dough on a floured surface, and slowly knead into the dough the jalapeños and cheese, a little bit at a time. When the jalapeños and cheese are incorporated into the dough, place the dough into the loaf pan. You can also sprinkle semolina in the bread pan for additional friction.
Cover the pan and let the dough rise until doubled in size (it should be at the top or a bit over the top of the pan)—about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Bake the bread for 40-45 minutes on a center rack (when you thump the top and it sounds hollow, the bread is done).
Let cool for 10 minutes, and then slide it out of the pan, slice and enjoy!
You can use all-purpose flour in place of both the bread flour and semolina flour if you don't have those on hand.