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Thyme Cheese Bread

Thyme and cheese pair together beautifully in this savory bread. Serve warm from the oven with creamy, fresh butter and tea for an afternoon snack, or with a cup of homemade soup and salad for a soul-satisfying lunch.

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast

1 1/4 cups very warm water (120°F)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the sugar and yeast in a large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended. Add the warm water to the flour mixture and stir a few times more to incorporate. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place for an hour.

Stir in the olive oil, rosemary and salt. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough is soft and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes.

Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes or until dough becomes smooth and elastic, sprinkling surface with more flour to prevent sticking. Knead the shredded cheese into the dough. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 45 to 60 minutes, or until dough has doubled in size.

Punch down dough. Place dough on floured surface and shape into an oval loaf, pulling down the sides of dough to make a smooth top.

Transfer the shaped loaf onto a baking stone or cookie sheet and dust with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let rise for the final time in a warm place 45 to 60 minutes or until dough has almost doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place an oven-safe bowl or pan filled halfway with boiling water on the lowest oven rack. Using a very sharp knife or razor blade, make several slashes down the center of the loaf.

Bake the loaf for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 400°F and bake another 20 to 25 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Transfer loaf to a cooling rack. Cool 30 minutes before slicing with a bread knife.

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