Totally Decadent Cheese Bread

I have previously mentioned my love of Cook’s Illustrated. This recipe is from this month’s issue. I was expecting a nice little loaf with a toasty cheese flavor – but this is totally over the top. This thing, seriously, is cheese bound together with other full-fat dairy products and a tiny bit of flour. I would suggest that this remain a special-occasion recipe, because as soon as I tasted it, I could tell that it would have an instruction tag on it for my stomach that would read “Send straight to thighs.”

This recipe originally called for “Parmesan” cheese, a falling-down-on-the-job not usually characteristic of Cook’s. Domestic Parm can have a bitter, acrid flavor, only amplified by baking, and genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano would be too strong in this application, in my opinion. I’m going to counsel that Parrano (from Holland, a sharp Gouda type) be used where Parmesan is called for, as it’s fairly widely available now and it bakes wonderfully.

I don’t keep nonstick cooking spray on hand, and this calls for it – I greased the pan heavily with butter instead, but had release problems with the bottom of the loaf.

NB from Cook’s: If, when testing the bread for doneness, the toothpick comes out with what looks like uncooked batter clinging to it, try again in a different (but still central) spot; if the toothpick hits a pocket of cheese, it may give a false indication. The texture of the bread improves as it cools, so resist the urge to slice the loaf while it is piping hot. Leftover cheese bread is excellent toasted; toast slices in a toaster oven or on a baking sheet in a 425-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes, not in a conventional toaster, where bits of cheese may melt, burn, and make a mess.

3 oz. Parrano cheese, shredded on large holes of box grater (about 1 cup)
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder (yes, 1 tablespoon is correct)
1/4 t. cayenne
1 t. salt
1/8 t. ground black pepper
4 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2 in. cubes, or mild Asiago, crumbled into 1/4 to 1/2 in. pieces (about 1 cup) (I used McAdam NY Sharp – I would have used Grafton Village Classic Reserve Cheddar or McAdam NY Extra Sharp if I had access to it around here.)
1 1/4 c. whole milk
3 T. unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten lightly
3/4 c. sour cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position, heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 5 by 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray, then sprinkle 1/2 c. Parrano evenly in bottom of pan.

2. In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper to combine. Using rubber spatula, mix in cheddar or Asiago, breaking up clumps, until cheese is coated with flour. In medium bowl, whisk together milk, melted butter, egg, and sour cream. Using rubber spatula, gently fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined (batter will be heavy and thick). Do not overmix. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan; spread to sides of pan and level surface with rubber spatula. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 c. Parrano evenly over surface.

3. Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick or skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45 – 50 minues. Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes; invert loaf from pan and continue to cool until warm, about 45 minutes. Cut into slices and serve.

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