Cheesy goodness

My daughter isn't a picky eater, she's a difficult eater. And it's not her being a brat; in fact, it's because she reacts so badly to some foods that we've decided to completely avoid those that cause her breakouts. Like tomatoes. And eggs. Just scary.

She loves cheese, though. LOVES IT. She also likes toast, which is usually made by me from scratch. I've gotten quite bored with making grilled cheese sandwiches for her every couple of days, so last night I decided to try something that still combined cheese with my bread recipe - cheesy bread.

It was quite simple, really. We usually have cheese in the house (see Maddy's love for it) and I've always got the ingredients for bread on hand, so it was just a matter of finding the time to make them. Luckily I'm a fan of letting bread rise as long as possible, because I let this batch rise for 4 hours yesterday. Turned out beautifully.

I'm definitely going to make them again - with more cheese and seasonings, and will have to do some up with a cinnamon/sugar topping (something else Maddy likes). Yes, I know I could make these infinitely healthier if I were to go with a whole wheat flour, but if this is the one grain-based product in my life that hasn't made the change (and I've gone whole wheat or whole grain for everything else - rice, pasta, crackers, cereal), it's not the end of the world.

I'll put the recipe and directions up after the jump (because it's kinda long and I really don't want to have a post that you have to scroll forever to get through), so you can try it too. And you don't need any fancy instruments or skills to make this - I have 2 feet of counter space and I did them. You can too.

Cheesy bread-like things

4 tbsp yeast or 4 packages yeast (I use Fermipan yeast because it's what my mom uses. I'm not sure what would be an equivalent if you don't have Fermipan in your area)
2 1/4 warm water (105-115˚ F, or warm to the touch, but not hot)
3 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp shortening (I use Crisco now. I used to use Tenderflake, but my bread kept turning out crappy)
6-7 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour (not self-rising, not cake; if you want to use whole wheat, use the same amount. Other grains, not a clue)
sprinkle of salt (or, 1 tbsp as the book calls for, but my family doesn't use salt that much so I just sprinkle it)

In a large bowl (preferably metal or glass, because plastic can retain old odors and oils), take shortening and smear with a fork into the bottom of bowl (helps with the melting). Pour in water and add yeast. Stir lightly to mix. Add sugar and salt and stir. Leave for 10-15 minutes while a foam forms (that means the yeast is working and eating the sugar).

(Use a strong wooden spoon to stir everything, BTW. I've got a spoon that I use specifically for breadmaking.)

Add in half of the flour (3 cups), slowly, while stirring until well-mixed. Add remaining flour, while stirring, slowly until it looks easy to handle.  On a clean counter or tabletop, sprinkle some flour and turn dough onto it. Lightly cover your hands with flour, too, and kneed dough until it's smooth and elastic (6-10 minutes). I can't tell you when it's elastic - it's something that you just learn. You can tell when it's been overworked, though - it gets TOUGH. Don't panic if that happens. Just stop.

Take the dough and place it into a lightly greased bowl (I use the one I mixed everything in - it doesn't have to be free of dough or anything) and cover with a towel. Put bowl in a warm place (either in the kitchen near the stove, or in your laundry room if you're doing laundry. Or the bathroom if it's humid.).

Let it rise until it's double - about 1 hour. I leave mine as long as I can, so it's up to you. It doesn't hurt if you leave it longer, but if you try to do anything with it after only a little bit of time (30 minutes), it won't work right. Believe me.

Punch down dough - best part of this, besides the actual eating. On a floured surface, roll out small balls of dough (about the size of a golf ball) until it's a long, snake-like piece. You can twist it however you want - like bread twists, or pretzels or shapes. It's up to you. Just don't make them too big or small - I found that about the size of a Blackberry worked the best for pretzels or shapes. The twists shouldn't be too twisty, because then what's the point? It'll just bake up like a stick.

Place the creations onto a greased piece of tin foil on a baking sheet. Now, this was a personal preference because I know cheese sticks when it melts in a 450˚ oven. Melting on foil is much easier to deal with than having it melt directly onto the baking sheet. Don't put the dough too close together on the sheet, either - they will grow a bit more before they get into the oven and while they're in the oven.

This is what happens when you put the dough too close together... not exactly what I planned, 
but could actually be a nifty addition to a pasta-based dinner party - cheesy bread pulls!

Once the dough is on the tray, take some seasonings - I used a generic Italian seasoning

I let my dough rise again for 10 minutes or so before I put them into a 450˚ preheated oven, for 10-14 minutes. As with all my bread, I put them on the bottom rack, closest to the element. Don't open the oven door while they're baking or you'll let the heat and humidity out, lengthening the cooking time.

Remove the bread from the oven and take them off the sheet to cool on a wire cooling rack. Sprinkle more cheese on to melt while cooling. I waited about 10 minutes before trying one because they will be HOT right away.

Now, I know it doesn't look like they're done because they aren't golden brown on top. That's because I didn't put an egg wash on them (Maddy reacts badly to eggs) so mine stayed whitish. They were done, though... the underside of the bread was a little overdone, but I blame that on the oil I used (vegetable).

They were quite good and have kept really well in a storage bag in the freezer. The cheese I used - generic mozzarella, generic marble, and shredded Parmesan - didn't really stay gooey, but it was still cheesy. And delicious.

A word of warning - oregano at a high heat will smell like pot. You can eliminate it or just live with it... I guess it depends on where you live and who you live with.

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