Monday, March 12, 2012

Too easy cracked peppercorn bread with honey almond "schmear"

Some women have naturally adorable sneezes- barely audible little squeaks that cause their faces to pucker up ever so slightly.  Some women try to mimic these adorable sneezes- but it never works.  You can't just add a dainty little "choo" to a trumpeting "Aaaah!"  My sneezes are definitely not adorable-  but they can be a sign of good things to come.  At least, they were today.

When I lived in the Bay Area I was lucky to have a well-paying job.  Unfortunately, I was surrounded by amazing food joints, which meant that I had no need to learn how to cook and my savings account stayed at a steady $5.00.  I've come a long way since the days when Rice-A-Roni seemed like rocket science, but I still have yet to create a bagel that could hold a candle to my favorite morning stop, Noah's.  And, really- who wants to go to all that trouble for a version that is so lackluster compared to its counterpart?  So rather than exhaust myself only to be disappointed by the outcome, I decided to make a rustic bread inspired by my favorite breakfast of all time- the cracked peppercorn bagel, and to top it off with it's soul mate, honey almond schmear.

I know what you're thinking.  You've been lied to before.  But this bread is no tease- there's no kneading, no bread machine, no dough hook required.  

This recipe has been adapted from Jim Lahey's rustic loaf recipe.

Too Easy Cracked Peppercorn Bread
3 cups flour (bread flour works best, but all purpose is fine, too)
1/4 tsp instant yeast (fold up the package and store in ziploc bag in fridge)
1  1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tbsp whole peppercorns

Just mix together all dry ingredients except for the peppercorns, then add water and use a fork to combine.  It will look lumpy and not very promising, like this:
Cover with saran wrap and let rise in warm place (microwave works perfectly) for 12 hours.
Bring a small pot of water to boil and add peppercorns.  Let boil for 10 minutes, then let cool, and roll them around in a dish cloth to dry.  Place in ziploc bag and crush with hammer or mallet.  Don't get too crazy here- you don't want them ground, just halved or quartered.  Some may not get crushed at all- that's no biggie.
This picture is a lie.  You will need two hands.  But go on, mix it all up.  Squish it around, fold, whatever you gotta do to get it all incorporated. Cover again and let rise for 2 hours.
Sprinkle flour around the sides and use your hands to scoop out the dough
 Place on waxed paper coated generously with flour.  Fold in all four corners of the dough, then turn dough over and fold up both sides of the waxed paper to form a tent.  Let rest until doubled, about one hour.

Pick a ceramic pot that can withstand very high temperatures.  I used my crockpot, but because the lid has a plastic handle I used a cookie sheet as a lid instead.  Place the pot in the oven before turning it on, then set to 475.  Let the pot heat up for 30 minutes.  To grease or not to grease?  I grease the pot, but I wait until it is hot (if you grease it before, the burnt oil releases  a terrible smell and gets caked onto the pot to the point that it is impossible to remove.)  I like to grease it by dropping about a tablespoon of oil into it, then working it around the pot with a cotton cloth, making sure not to touch anything.  Then carefully plop the dough in it.  Cover and cook for 20 minutes (original recipe says 30, but I find 20 works better.)  Then use oven mitts to remove lid and cook for another 15-20 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 200 degrees.  Turn the pot upside down and plop bread onto wire rack to cool.  Do not cut into it yet!  You must wait at least one hour or the crust will lose it's crispiness.  But don't worry- it will still be warm and wonderful after the wait.  

Honey Almond "Schmear"
1 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients together, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for flavors to get acquainted. Stir once more before serving.


  1. I've been meaning to comment on this post since I first saw it a couple of weeks ago. I love cracked black pepper in breads. Usually I just keep grinding my pepper mill until my wrist wears out. What's the purpose of the boiling? Does it tame the peppery flavor? Or does it make it easier to crush the peppers?

    I never thought of peppered bagels though. I actually make bagels regularly, so maybe next time I'll give the black pepper a try. I want to try the almond spread too.

  2. Shambo, the boiling makes the peppercorns softer, not so much for crushing the peppers, but so you don't chip a tooth (which I nearly did the first time I made this, before I learned about boiling.) About the grinder- personally I prefer to crack the peppercorns by hand. That way it's a bit more rustic. I always liked how Noah's peppercorn bagel had some that were practically whole, others very small- sort of makes every bite an adventure.

  3. Thanks for the info. I understand completely about the tooth issue. No need for extra dental bills. This is definitely something I want to do soon. I love to bake different breads. Adding flavorings (like the crushed black pepper) is absolutely essential when making low sodium breads, so this is a great idea.

  4. I'm baking this bread tomorrow for your cousin Billy's school. I've been searching and searching for just the right thing to make. Many students are vegetarian and others are vegan. Today I made cinnamon coffee cake (G-ma's recipe), tonight I'm baking banana bread, tomorrow I'll take in your bread and "schmear" and for the last day, I'll take a pecan coffee cake. Thank you my niece for having this website for me to research! I love you so much!

    1. That's awesome, auntie! Hope they like it.