Black Pepper Cheddar Bread

  I stumbled across this recipe in one of my favorite baking cookbooks and decided to give it a try. It was amazing!  D ate almost half of a loaf as soon as it came out of the oven.  Originally I was going to give the bread away for Mother's Day but I was so glad that the recipe made four loaves because I wanted to keep some for myself.   The black pepper gives it an unexpected bite and the cheddar cheese adds a savory contrast.  This bread is excellent plain or toasted with butter or as part of a grilled cheese or egg sandwich.  I hope you like it as much as we do!

Black Pepper Cheddar Bread
(Adapted from On Baking by S. Labensky)

Sponge Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp yeast

Combine and mix until smooth batter forms.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled (about 4 hours).

Bread Ingredients:
2 Tbsp yeast
1 Tbsp salt
1 3/4 cups warm water
12oz shredded cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Place sponge mixture in a large bowl or mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Add yeast, salt, and water and mix until ingredients are combined.  Add cheese and pepper and mix until evenly distributed, then add white flour one cup at a time until dough forms into a ball.  It may be necessary to remove the dough from the bowl to knead in remaining flour until dough comes to the best consistency: soft and tacky but not sticky, with a smooth, even surface.  Knead for 3 more minutes, then place dough in a clean, greased bowl and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled.  Punch dough down and shape into four loaves.
  To make sandwich loaves, use a floured rolling pin to roll each dough portion into a rectangle on a lightly floured surface.  Roll dough onto itself from the shorter side and tuck the open ends underneath to seal the loaf.  Place dough roll seam-side down in greased loaf pan.
  To make round (artisan) loaves, divide dough into two portions and knead until dough until a smooth surface forms.  Gently shape into as desired and place on greased baking sheet.
  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, then bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes. 
Bread is done when the crust is golden brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped. Turn loaves out of pans immediately after removing them from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for 30 minutes before cutting. 
  To store, allow loaves to dry, uncut, overnight on a drying rack and then place in ziplock bags and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

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