For a long time I was terrified of yeast. After several ill-fated attempts to bake with it in my teens (cinnamon buns that turned out like hockey pucks, a leaden loaf of homemade rye, pretzels reminiscent of teething sticks) I gave up. Yeast and I were like oil and water, I decided. We just didn't mix.
Then last year I accepted a recipe-testing job that required me to make a whole chapter's worth of yeasted baked goods: braided challahs, cheese Danishes, whole wheat loaves, the list went on. To my surprise, they turned out great. Even more surprising was how much I enjoyed the smell of yeast blooming in warm water; kneading the dough by hand; and the patient process of letting it rise, punching it down, and letting it rise again. By the time I had finished the job I had been converted. Once a yeastophobe, I was now a yeast freak.
That's why I was so excited to try Lollipop Tree's Organic Rosemary Garlic Bread Mix. Amid the rows of mixes for corn bread, bran muffins, and sweet quick breads like banana and pumpkin, you don't often find mixes that call for yeast at the grocery store. In addition, I thought the Lollipop mix was a pretty good deal: the packages may have cost a lofty $6.99, but all I had to add was some water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. To bake a similar loaf from scratch I would have had to purchase a number of ingredients, including fresh herbs and pricey sea salt, not to mention roast a head of garlic in advance.
Lollipop Tree, a family-owned specialty foods company based out of New Hampshire, prides itself on using only the finest quality all natural ingredients, and when I opened the bag of mix I could smell the difference. As I set to work stirring in the yeast, water, and olive oil, the comforting scent of rosemary filled my kitchen—and the loaf wasn't yet anywhere near the oven.
The instructions on the back of the bag called for kneading the dough with a stand mixer for 10 minutes. Since I don't have one (and, frankly, working the dough out on my big wooden table is my favorite part of baking bread) I kneaded it by hand for 9 minutes until it was smooth and elastic. Then I let it rise, covered with a kitchen towel, for about 45 minutes.
After a second rising my dough was ready to be baked. Almost immediately after placing the loaf in the oven, the room filled with the intermingling aromas of warm bread and roasted garlic. Even though I knew my bread had come from a boxed mix, it was hard not to feel a bit like a domestic goddess.
When I took my loaf out of the oven 35 minutes later it was perfectly even in shape and a lovely shade of golden brown. I let it cool for as long as I could stand it, then cut it into thick slices. The bread was absolutely perfect: light and airy with tiny, tender crumbs and a dense crust reminiscent of top-quality Pullman loaves. The rosemary was assertive yet not overpowering, and the roasted garlic imparted enough flavor that the bread needed nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil in order to completely satisfy. An obvious pairing for tomato soup, this bread would also be fantastic toasted and slathered with white bean hummus, or sandwiched with leftover roast chicken.
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