Experimenting with Hearth Bread
Hello, BBQ Esquire Community
Allow me to introduce myself: Mrs. Esquire here. My husband, BBQ Esquire, is our family grill master, but I work on the prep side of some of our BGE collaborations. My hands made a cameo on the blog in the Turducken post, and I did the camera work in the Caveman Grilling video. I hope to share my experience with some of our shared BGE creations, most of which involve baking.
Use your Big Green Egg to bake delicious hearth bread
In a small urban town home like ours, outsourcing some of your baking to the backyard can make entertaining easier, and it allows you to use the space in the kitchen for other projects. Skip heating up your oven when your house is already packed with people, and skip piling up bread pans in the sink when you already have a bunch of dishes to do. Hearth bread refers to loaves baked directly in a wood fired oven, or on stoneware. These breads are rustic, freeform, and thick-crusted.
One aside about my baking technique: I love cookbooks and I love recipes. However, most of the time I do not actually follow them. I use recipes, and the gorgeous photos that often accompany them, as a starting point for an idea. I make liberal substitutions, imprecise measurements, and add in my own “flair”. It’s a little like the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show when I get going in the kitchen. Have you ever seen that guy use a measuring cup?
Many of my creations are one-time-only inventions, and I cannot recreate them. But, I do use certain recipes regularly as my starting off point for a particular dish or item. In the case of hearth bread, I always refer back to a recipe published in Gourmet Magazine in May 2008 for a Georgian cheese bread. I have made this recipe in my oven following the actual method. It makes a delicious bread. But I also use the concept and a rough interpretation of the ingredients to make hearth breads in the Big Green Egg.
The recipe that inspires my BGE creations
Georgian Cheese Bread
Adapted from Natia Gigani
Caucasus Travel Ltd., Republic of Georgia
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (a 1/4-ounce package)
- 7 tablespoons warm water (105-115°F)
- 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 pound Havarti cheese, coarsely grated
- 1/4 pound salted mozzarella, coarsely grated
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted
Sprinkle yeast over warm water and stir in 1 tablespoon flour. Let stand until creamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast does not activate, start over with new yeast.) Stir together salt and remaining flour in a large bowl, then stir in egg and yeast mixture to form a dough. Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and turn to coat with flour, then knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Form into a ball and dust with flour. Let dough rest in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap, punching down with a wet fist every hour, at least 2 hours and up to 3.
Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in middle.
Turn out dough onto floured pizza pan, turning to coat, then flatten with your fingers into a 7-inch disk. Toss together cheeses and press into a compact 3-inch ball with your hands. Place ball in middle of dough, then gather dough up around ball of cheese, squeezing excess dough into a topknot. Press down on topknot with a damp fist to press cheese out from center. Continue to flatten dough and distribute cheese evenly, pressing outward from center, until dough is an 11-inch disk. Cut a 6-inch X through top of dough to expose cheese. Bake until pale golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Brush surface of dough with butter and bake until golden and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more. Serve cut into wedges.
And now for the change-up
So the recipe I just listed is my inspiration. I make all kinds of adjustments and substations.
For the slice of bread pictured here, I didn’t have nearly enough cheese on hand, so I used what I had, making the cheese more like a little garnish in the center rather than a major flavor contributor as it is in the original recipe. I substituted about 1 cup of whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour . I substituted tolive oil for butter. Because I had significantly less cheese, BBQ Esquire cooked the loaf lower and slower than the recipe calls for (375°F as opposed to 500°F, at least double the recommended cook time, or until the crust is browning). BBQ Esquire set the grill with the plate setter legs down and the stone set on top of a spacer, such as the little Big Green Egg feet.
This bread won’t win any prizes at the state fair. It was imperfect and strangely shaped, but it was absolutely delicious and fun to bake. It is fun to experiment, so I hope you can use the basics of this Georgian Cheese bread as a starting point for your BGE creations, too.