Feta, Thyme and Honey Loaded Loaf
This recipe will help you create a delicious savoury loaf that's perfect for sharing. It's difficult to beat the taste of freshly baked bread but when it's combined with salty feta, sweet honey and fresh herbs it's absolutely divine! If you don't have the time to make the bread yourself, just pop to your nearest supermarket bakery, pick up a fresh bloomer and skip to step 6... we promise we won't tell anyone!
To make the bread.
- 500g of strong white bread flour
- 3 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 sachet of fast-action dried yeast
- 1 tsp of salt
- 300ml of water
To load the loaf.
- 200g Feta cheese
- 20g fresh thyme
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 tbsp of Just Bee Honey
- 1 tsp of fresh ground black pepper
Other things you will need.
A large mixing bowl
A small bowl
A lined baking tray
A spatula and other common kitchen utensils
A bread scraper (optional but can be very handy)
Time to make and bake: around 4 ½ hours (including proving and cooling time)
Step One: Mixing the bread dough.
Add the flour, salt and dried yeast to the large mixing bowl and give it a stir around with a fork, Make a well in the centre and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, followed by 300ml of lukewarm water.
Using a spatula, mix everything well until it forms a nice soft bread dough. The dough should be perfect but if it feels a little too wet or dry we can deal with that at the next stage.
Step Two: Kneading the dough.
First prepare a clean surface to do your kneading on, that could be your counter top or a large chopping board. To stop the dough sticking you can either dust your surface with flour or wipe it over with a little oil. If the dough feels a little wet then I would recommend using flour as it will help dry the dough slightly, otherwise I prefer to oil the surface to keep the dough nice and silky.
Kneading is fairly simple but can be a bit of a workout for your arms! The most straightforward method is to simply push the dough with the heel of your hand or knuckles out in one direction, then fold the dough back on top of itself. Turn the dough 90 degrees and do the same again. Ideally we want to knead the dough for around 10 minutes. This will ensure the gluten is stretched which will give the dough its elasticity.
Step Three: Proving the dough.
Once you have finished kneading the dough should be smooth and stretchy. Give your mixing bowl a quick clean then wipe a little oil around the inside to stop the dough sticking. Gather the dough into a ball and then place it inside the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel, cling film, or something similar to keep the dough clean while it's proving.
Ideally we want the dough to double in size- this should take around one hour, but can vary a little. An hour at room temperature on a warm day is usually about right, but if you have a particularly cool kitchen it may need a little longer, so just set it aside and get on with something else while you are waiting.
Step Four: Knocking back and more waiting!
Get the baking tray ready by lining it with parchment paper, then remove the dough from the bowl and repeat the kneading process again- but this time being as vigorous as possible. This knocking back process will remove some of the air that is inside the dough. Some people like to use their fist to literally punch the air out of the dough, but I find good vigorous kneading with the heel of the hand is just fine.
Once you are happy with your dough and it feels soft and smooth gather it into a nice loaf shape, you can leave it circular or more of an oval shape if you prefer. Then transfer the loaf onto the tray once you are happy with the shape. It will grow in size again and rise in the oven so don't worry if it looks a little flat.
We need to leave the loaf to prove again for another hour, so we want to cover it. The easiest way here is to just upturn the mixing bowl and place it over the loaf.
Step Five: Baking the bread.
First set the oven to Gas mark 7 or 220C (lower to 200c for a fan assisted oven) then check on your loaf. It should have doubled in size again and it's almost ready to bake. Before we pop it in the oven take a sharp knife and cut a criss-cross pattern in the top. You don't need to cut deep, around 1cm down is fine. Not only does this look nice but it will also serve as a guide when we cut into the loaf to add the fillings later. Aim for around 4 or 5 cuts each way.
Pop the loaf into the centre of the oven and bake for around 30 minutes. Once baked it should look golden brown, have risen considerably, and make a hollow sound when you tap the bottom. Baking time can vary 5 minutes or so either way, so do check around 25 minutes and continue baking as long as necessary.
Once baked remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for at least 45 minutes.
Step Six: Loading the loaf!
Into the small bowl crumble a 200g block of feta cheese, then add the fresh thyme. You can either chop the thyme, or just pull all the leaves off. Then add a single tablespoon of Just Bee Honey, a teaspoon of ground black pepper and give it a good mix until combined.
Take your loaf and using a good bread knife, cut deep cuts (around two thirds down) into the loaf using the criss-cross pattern you made before as a guide. Then start pushing the feta mix from the bowl deep into the cuts using a spoon. If you have a helping hand then the whole process will be much easier as one person can gently hold the cuts open while the other is pushing the filling in.
Keep going until you've pushed all the cheese mix into the cuts of the bread. Next drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil across the top of the loaf, concentrating on the cuts, so it will soak into the softer bread. To finish drizzle over the other tablespoon of honey and grind a little extra black pepper on top. Don't be tempted to add any extra salt as Feta cheese is already quite salty and it will be balanced perfectly with the sweet honey and pepper.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 or 200c (180c for fan assisted ovens). Put your loaf back on the baking tray and return to the centre of the oven for 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. If you want to enjoy the loaf while it's still warm then you can tuck in after around 10 minutes. To enjoy in the days after, we recommend toasting slices under the grill and spreading with butter while it's still warm!