Thursday, November 15, 2012

Braided Pesto Bread

I find myself making a lot of yeast bread lately. Now that I've gotten a feel for things (and don't end up with scary yeast monsters anymore), bread-making is a snap.

This bread has quickly become one of  my favorites. It's soft and delicious on its own and the filling adds an amazing touch. I want to experiment with other sorts of fillings (tomato paste? mozzarella and pepperoni? did I just blow your mind?), but so far I keep coming back to the pesto. It's salty and cheesey and basily - exactly what this fluffy bread calls for - and the green looks so pretty leaking out of the dough. My only problem is with the Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top - absolutely necessary in my opinion, but it has the unfortunate habit of burning really quickly if not watched. Don't worry - it's not a deal-breaker. Burned cheese or no, you'll be all over this bread.

I'm not sure I can look at pictures of this bread any longer. I might need to go make some now. Good thing I have so much frozen pesto!

Braided Pesto Bread
Slightly adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride.

1 c warm water (105-115° F)
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 1/2 c flour plus some for dusting
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2-3/4 c pesto (the original recipe called for 1/2 c of a very liquidy pesto - since my homemade pesto is more pastey, I needed to add more)
2 tbsp grated Parmesan

Measure warm water into a bowl, sprinkle on yeast and let sit ten minutes until frothy (a tiny pinch of sugar can be added to help the yeast get going). Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer, add flour, oil and salt and mix on low with the dough hook attachment until well blended.

Increase speed to medium and knead with dough hook for five minutes, until smooth and elastic. Remove the dough to a floured counter top and knead by hand, adding a little flour if necessary, until smooth and unsticky (the dough should be a bit tacky, but not stick mercilessly to everything it touches). Form the dough into a ball and transfer into a bowl coated in cooking spray. Put in a warm, undrafty place and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to an hour.

When the dough is doubled, flour your counter top again and pat and roll your dough into a rectangle, about 18x12 inches. Spread the pesto over the top of the dough, leaving a clean 1/2" border (ok, so mine's closer to an inch - even with my ruler, I can't measure).

Carefully roll the long side of the dough toward you, making sure your roll is tight and the end remains pinched closed. Once the dough is totally rolled, pinch the seam closed (if your ends are too floury to be properly pinched, pinch from a bit further back, where the dough is stickier).

Transfer your roll to a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You could do this after you've formed the ring, but it may be difficult to transfer to the baking sheet - perhaps doing it on the counter with a sheet of parchment under it would solve both problems, but I haven't tried it yet. Next time.) Carefully slice the dough in half lengthwise (my enterprising husband discovered that a dough scraper works far better than a knife for this job).

Quickly and carefully, pinch the top ends of the dough halves back together and twist them into a braid, trying to keep the cut ends facing up (so they look pretty and don't spill out pesto in the oven). Twist your braid into a ring and pinch the ends together. (If your ring looks kinda funky - fat in some places and thin in others - take some time to plump and poke at it to make it into a prettier shape.) Set it aside to rest and rise for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425° F.

When the ring has risen, bake for about 22 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese, then return for another 2-3 minutes until melty and golden. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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