“Bread is the warmest, kindest of words. Write it always with a capital letter, like your own name.” ~ from a Russian cafe sign
Now, I hadn’t made this bread for a really long time, and I had forgotten how amazing it is. Of course, any bread that is homemade, and fresh from the oven is amazing. Especially with a nice slather of butter… Anyway, this bread. Well, it’s just about perfect.First of all, it definitely wins points in the beauty category. Just look at that gorgeous golden color and the craggy, braided surface dotted with herbs. It’s the kind of loaf you want to put on display, like a loaf you might buy from a fancy bakery. And while it takes just a little effort to get this beautiful look, it’s really not too difficult. This bread has just enough golden crustiness to feel authentic and old-world. But underneath that crust hides a rich and soft but hearty interior. Flecked with herbs, the flavor of this bread is outstanding, and sets it apart from other breads. Egg and milk add richness to the dough, while there is just a touch of sweetness to augment the fragrant herbs. While I am a big fan of eating a big slab of this bread straight from the loaf with a slather of butter for breakfast or as a snack, it is also the perfect accompaniment to your hearty winter soups and stews. And while I’ve never dared to adulterate my homemade bread in this way before, I am willing to bet that this bread would be pretty awesome in a sandwich. In fact, I just may have to try it out sometime soon….
- 4 to 4½ cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 2 pkgs (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
- 1½ tsp salt
- 1½ tsp dried marjoram
- ¾ tsp dried thyme
- ¾ tsp dried rosemary, crushed
- ¾ cup milk
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup plus 1 tbsp butter, divided
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Additional dried marjoram, thyme, and rosemary, optional
- In a mixing bowl, combine 1½ cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. Set aside.
- In a saucepan over low heat, warm the milk, water, and ¼ cup butter to 120-130 degrees. Pour over the dry ingredients. Add the egg and blend well with a mixer. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough.
- Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.
- Punch dough down. Divide into three equal portions. Shape each portion into a 28 inch rope. Braid the ropes, pinching the ends together to seal. Tie the braid into a knot and tuck the ends under, forming a round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown; cover with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning.
- Melt the remaining butter; brush over the bread. Sprinkle with additional herbs, if desired. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.
If you are having trouble getting your dough to roll out into 28 inch ropes, the dough probably needs to rest. Roll the ropes out partially, then let them sit for about 5 minutes and try again. They should extend in length much more easily after a short rest.
It is important to roll your ropes to the full 28 inches prior to braiding, or you may have difficulty tying the braid into a knot.