Baking bread is an exercise in faith.
It’s mystery and miracle and mess all wrapped in one yeasted loaf.
I’m a reluctant bread baker. I come to the process a skeptic. Even as I watch yeast send frothy bubbles to the surface of warm water, I wonder, will this actually work?
And as dough works against the grain of my palms, folded and rolled and pressed, I ask, will this really be worth it?
And then there is the waiting. Oh, how I hate the waiting. Dough is turned into oiled bowl and covered from anxious eyes. There’s nothing that can be done. Nothing to see. Nothing to do. Only the waiting and the wondering, why am I even bothering with this bread baking business?
But when I return, the skeptic is rewarded.
Wonder of wonders, the dough is risen.
But there’s more. There is rolling and patting. A smattering of jalapeno and green onion. A sprinkle of chili powder and handfuls of cheese. Then a roll. And a slice down the middle. And an attempt at braiding and shaping this stubborn loaf.
And suddenly cheese is everywhere. Jalapenos are jumping ship. There is panic and fretting and I think to myself, this looks like a hot mess.
But there is that mustard seed of faith, that tiny bit of hope that remains. Maybe this will work, despite all my mishaps and failings.
Dough is squished into pans. Another season of waiting. Another miracle.
Dear Jesus, it rose!
A hot oven, a held breath.
30 minutes later, a lofty, golden loaf. The smell of yeasted bread. A little slice of heaven slathered in butter and eaten when it’s still hot enough to burn the tongue. Spicy, cheesy, soft bread. It’s perfect.
Friends, my life is this jalapeno bread. I look at it—these fragments–this flour and water and salt, and wonder how it will ever be anything but flour and water and salt. I wonder how these broken pieces could ever make something whole.
In the waiting, I wonder. What am I doing? What the heck is Jesus doing? What’s He creating with these humble ingredients I’ve laid before Him?
Sometimes all I see is the hot mess. I see cheese flying off countertops, dough sticking to wax paper, a misshapen braid squished into a pan. I don’t see the subtle changes. The ways the yeast is working. The ways Jesus is slowly raising me to new life in the day to day, mundane, in the waiting.
But I look back and see. I see how in seasons of waiting and confusion and mess, He was making something new. He was making me new.
So I make bread. Not because I trust myself or my skills. But because I trust the yeast. I trust that despite my feeble hands and skeptic heart, flour and water and salt are being transformed into something all-together different. Something whole. Something new. Something good.
This bread is something good indeed. It’s soft and spicy and makes an absolutely killer grilled cheese. This recipe makes two loaves, so feel free to mix it up and try different herbs or seasonings on each one. Or wait until next week and I’ll show you how to use the same recipe to make a sweet cinnamon swirl loaf.
- 794 grams (6½ cups) bread flour
- 2 tsp. fine salt
- 5 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. lukewarm milk
- 1½ Tbsp. fast rise yeast
- ¼ cup melted, unsalted butter
- 4 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
- 2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
- ⅓ cup green onions, diced
- Chili powder
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the flour, salt and sugar. (I usually don't weigh my ingredients, but for bread I like to. If you don't have a scale, hold back one cup of the flour until the end then add if needed).
- In a large measuring cup, combine the water and milk. Whisk in the yeast until dissolved. Add the yeast mixture and the melted butter to the dry ingredients. Use the dough hook to beat the mixture until it begins to form a cohesive structure or about 2 minutes. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
- Continue to mix the dough, adding additional flour or water if needed. The final texture should be soft and springy. If you touch it with you finger, it should feel tacky, but you shouldn't have to struggle to get your finger out.
- Place the dough on a generously floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes, then form dough into a ball. Place the dough in a large lightly oiled bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Put in a warm spot to rise until doubled in size (usually 60-90 minutes). Alternatively, you can refrigerate the dough and allow it to rise overnight. If you refrigerate, be sure to remove the dough and allow it to come to room temperature before proceeding with the remaining steps.
- Divide the dough in half. Turn it out onto the floured surface and use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll each portion into a 10 by 16 inch rectangle. If the dough spring back, just allow it to rest for 5-15 minutes then come back and try it again.
- Spread each half of the dough evenly with cheese, chili powder, jalapeño, and green onion. Roll it up jelly roll style starting with the short end.
- Use a knife to slice the dough down the center lengthwise. (Here's where it starts to get messy. The dough will be floppy and the cheese will be falling out all over the place. Don't worry. Soldier on, friend).
- Turn the dough so the cheesy side is facing up, and both strands are side by side. Pinch one end together then carefully drape one strand over the other, alternating each time so you're essentially "braiding" the two sides together. Pinch the opposite end together.
- Do the same thing for the other half of the dough, or experiment with different fillings.
- Grease two 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pans. Carefully lift the loaves into the prepared pans. Sprinkle any cheese that fell out on top. Cover loosely with saran wrap and allow to rise until the dough is about an inch above the pans.
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake for 45-50 minutes total, covering with foil halfway through.
- Remove from the oven and cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the outside and carefully remove the loaf. Allow to cool completely or slice off a chunk right away because you're impatient like me. :) Enjoy.
Recipe adapted from Seasons and Suppers