Caramelized onions are one of those great foods that are incredibly simple to prepare but pack a tremendous amount of flavor. To make them, all you really need to do is cook thinly sliced onions over a low or medium heat (usually with some fat, oil or butter to keep things moist) until the onions become very soft and take on a golden brown color. The slow cooking process draws the natural sugars out of the onions and caramelises them, giving the onion a uniquely sweet flavor, in addition to the incredibly tender texture that comes from simply cooking the onions. I tend to serve them as a topping for meat dishes, or toss them into a savory veggie side. This time I decided to do something a little bit different with my onions and mixed them right into some bread dough for a batch of Caramelized Onion Bread.
The finished loaf had a tremendous amount of flavor. You could smell the faint sweetness of onions coming from the oven as the loaf baked, but that alone was not really indicative of the lovely savory flavor of the bread. The onions are tender when they go into the dough and seem to melt into the rest of the bread during baking; you can only just see specks of onion in the slices of bread during serving. The bread is great with butter and is equally good with jam, which contrasts its oniony flavor. In addition to going well with dinner, I think it would also work served at breakfast alongside eggs, or even used as a toasted sandwich bread.
I have a strong bias for sweet onions – panoche, hawiian and vidalia – and so I used sweet vidalia onions in this bread. I think that they’ll make the best bread, but in reality just about any onion will work because the natural sugars of any onion will come out while they are caramelized before being incorporated into the dough. If you choose to use a red onion, specks of the onion will be slightly more visible in the finished bread because they have a slightly darker color after cooking than white or yellow onions.
Caramelized Onion Bread
1 1/2-2 cups thinly sliced sweet onions
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups water, warm (100-110F)
4-5 cups bread flour
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp salt
In a medium sauce pan, cook onions and 1 tbsp of vegetable oil over medium-high heat until onions are translucent. Reduce heat to medium, add remaining vegetable oil and continue to cook until onions are light golden, about 15 more minutes. Cool to room temperature, or just slightly warm.
In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), combine yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup water. Stir to dissolve and let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Pour in remaining water, 3 cups bread flour and mix well. Add onions, pepper, salt and another cup of flour and stir again. If using the stand mixer, use a dough hook attachment. Add remaining flour gradually until dough comes together into an elastic ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let rise unil doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Lightly grease a 10-inch tube pan with vegetable oil. Gently deflate risen dough on a lightly floured surface, press a hole in the center of it (like a giant donut) and place in tube pan. Let rise until nearly doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
When bread is finished rising, bake for 45 minutes. An internal read thermometer will read about 200F when the bread is finished and the loaf will be a dark golden color.
Turn loaf out of pan onto a cooling rack to cool to room temperature before slicing.
Makes 1 large loaf