Bread Illustrated’s Caramelized Onion Bread

Watch out, Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread. You’ve got some competition.

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Previously, Cedric declared the Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread to be his all-time favourite. He’s got a point: it is incredibly delicious. I’ve made it four or five times and it has NEVER lasted long enough to make it to the freezer – it always gets eaten fresh.

But there’s a new bread contending for the number one spot on Cedric’s most beloved bread list. Incidentally, it is the recipe that immediately follows the Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread in the cookbook. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Caramelized Onion Bread.

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If you like savoury, you’ll love this bread. You’ll just have to get your hands a little dirty if you want to make it.

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Since this bread comes from the Bread Illustrated’s “Upping Your Game With Sponges” chapter, it’s no shocker that this bread requires a sponge to be made ahead of time. You can either make it the day before and let it sit up to 24 hours, or you can time your day just right by making the sponge in the morning and continuing with the rest of the steps six hours later. I opted for the former.

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After the sponge has risen and started its collapse, it’s time to caramelize the onions. This is pretty straightforward and also involves a little garlic, thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper. You have to let the onions cool completely before mixing them into the bread.

The caramelized onions are incorporated in two different steps. The first half of the onions is kneaded in right away with the flour, yeast, and water. This part went alright for me. The second half of the onions is added after the dough has had a short rest and salt has been added – you add the onions in increments of one tablespoon while the dough is mixing away. This made my dough very sticky and it had trouble “catching” on the hook attachment in my mixer. Scraping it with a rubber spatula didn’t do much – I had to periodically stop the machine and use my hands to pull the dough off the bottom of the bowl to get it to mix properly.

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It was worth the constant stop-scrape-start, because my onions looked pretty incorporated when it was all said and done – though the dough was very sticky.

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Pre-shaping – doesn’t it look like molten lava?

After another brief (30 minute) rest, there are a couple of fold-and-rise sessions. Then, the dough is shaped.

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I use a colander lined with a tea towel as the book suggests – be sure to dust the tea towel with AMPLE amounts of flour, as my dough got quite stuck to the towel even though I’d floured it.

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Aaaaand this is why you use plenty of flour. This is one sticky dough!

I’ve talked about Bread Illustrated’s lava-rock-in-pie-plates method of baking before – it’s the one I use when I make my weekly sourdough or any other crusty type breads (think pain de campagne). It took just under 50 minutes in the oven for my bread to get nice and crusty.

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I salvaged the shape somewhat despite the tea towel stickiness.

While Cedric LOVED this bread (even for breakfast), I wasn’t quite as passionate about it. It was good and the onion flavour was definitely there, but it didn’t sweep me off my feet and it required a little more effort than your typical loaf. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it again – but since Cedric is such a fan, I’m sure I’ll whip it up every now and then.

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YUM. (Yes, I added heaps of flour pre-bake.)

Truthfully, I think I’m just more of a sweet or neutral bread person. The savoury ones are nice, but they’re usually not my favourites.

What do you think – is sweet or savoury bread better?


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