Pesto Swirled Bread

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I’ve only recently discovered how therapeutic bread baking can be. Right from activating the yeast to the kneading (oh, the kneading!) to watching it proof – the entire process is so rewarding. Of course it took me a quite a few failed attempts to get to this point. But it was all worth it. A freshly baked loaf of bread resets my mood. Slicing into a homemade loaf, toasting a slice with butter and topping it off with a fried egg….that’s how you need to start your day!

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The pesto swirl just kicks it up a notch. Pesto and bread are a match made in breakfast heaven. I made my own spinach-kale-basil pesto but a store bought pesto will work just as well. Make sure it is not too watery. If it is, cook it down on the stove top on a medium-low flame till it reduces to a thick spread-like consistency. You don’t want any extra moisture or water in your bread, trust me!

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If you’re not a pesto person then go ahead and substitute it with whatever spread you like. Or jam. Or applesauce and cinnamon. It’s a very versatile recipe.

The instructions will seem a little too long and complicated but the actual process is anything but. This is definitely something you can try if you’re new to bread baking.

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Ingredients

  • Warm water – 1 and 1/2 cups
  • Active dry yeast – 2 and 1/4 tsp (one packet or 7 gm)
  • Light brown sugar – 2 tbsp
  • Unsalted butter at room temperature – 3 tbsp
  • All purpose flour – 3 to 4 cups divided*
  • Salt – 3/4 tsp
  • Pesto – 1/2 to 2/3 cup

*You may not need all 4 cups of flour. Start with two cups and add flour gradually  till the dough is just formed as per the instructions given below

Yield – 2 loves each approx 8×4 inches

Method

  • Warm water on the stove top or in the microwave till it reaches 110 to 115 F (43 to 46 degree Celsius). Stir in the brown sugar and sprinkle yeast over it. Stir gently and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to let it activate
  • In a large bowl add butter, salt, 2 cups of all purpose flour and activated yeast and using a mixer, knead it on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes
  • With the mixer still running add more flour to the dough 1/4 cup at a time. Stop when the dough starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl and starts to gather around the dough hook
  • Feel the dough between your fingers. It should still be a little tacky but should not stick to your fingers
  • Take the dough out of the bowl, place it on a lightly floured surface and knead with your hands till it turns smooth and elastic. If you feel the dough is too sticky add flour 2 tbsp at a time and continue to knead till it turns smooth. Make sure you don’t add too much flour
  • Grease a large bowl (you can use the one used to mix the dough) and place the ball of dough in it. Turn it once so that both sides of the dough ball are now lightly greased. Loosely cover the top of the bowl with a cling film and set it in a warm place to rise. It should double in size. This takes approximately 45 minutes
  • After it has doubled in size take it out of the bowl onto a floured surface, punch it down and then divide it into two halves. I used two 7.5 x 3.5 inch pans. If you’re using a larger loaf pan you may not need to divide your dough
  • Roll each half of the dough out into a rough rectangle about 1/4 inch thick
  • Spread pesto evenly over the surface of the dough and starting from the short side, roll it up as tightly as you can
  • At this point you can pinch the ends together and place it into a greased loaf tin. You will get spiral swirls of pesto. If you’re looking for a little more drama then you can braid the dough as described below
  • Cut the rolled up dough in half lengthwise leaving about an inch from the top still joined. Twist each cut portion of the dough outwards a couple of times. Then loosely braid these two portions over each other and pinch together at the free end. It will get a little messy but that’s okay. Place this loosely braided dough in a greased loaf tin. Repeat with the other half of the dough ball.
  • Loosely cover the loaf tins with greased clingfilm and set aside in a warm place to rise again till they double in size. This takes 30 to 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 F or 180 degree Celsius while they proof
  • Bake the loaves in a preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes till they turn a deep golden brown on top and sound hollow when you knock lightly on the bottom of the loaf. If they don’t feel hollow put them back in the loaf pans and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes and then check again
  • Once done take the loaves out of the pans and set them on a cooling rack to cool down completely
  • Once cooled you can store them at room temperature covered in two layers of aluminium foil. They will stay fresh for a couple of days. If you need to store them for longer then I would suggest freezing slices of bread. Though I have not frozen bread yet, I’m sure they last much longer that way.

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Parmesan-Thyme Focaccia

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I can probably bake cupcakes in my sleep but the thought of baking bread gives me nightmares. After three failed attempts I had almost given up on breads. But like with anything worth having, persistence pays. So does common sense!

Lessons learnt so far- start with simple, basic recipes. Pay attention to technique and the most important one, have patience! Baking bread is so much more rewarding than baking a cake (did I just say that?!) I truly enjoy the process. If you have not done this before, I urge you to give it a shot. It is so worth it!

 

Focaccia is a great place to start. It’s simple and superbly flavorful. You can play around with your choice of herbs and spices. It is a very versatile bread too – you can make sandwiches or just dip it into your favorite soup for a very comforting meal.

You can also bake it in any shape you like. I divided my dough in half after the first rise. Rolled out half into a rectangle to be baked on a sheet tray and sectioned the other half and baked it in my cast iron wedge pan

Yield – One 9 x 14 inch rectangle

Ingredients

  • Warm water (between 110 and 115 F) – 1 and 1/3 cup
  • Honey – 2 tsp
  • Active dry yeast – 1 package (0.25 ounces)
  • All purpose flour – 3 and 1/2 cup + extra as needed
  • Extra virgin olive oil – 1/4 cup plus more for drizzling on the bread
  • Grated parmesan – 1/3 cup
  • Sea salt – 2 tsp
  • Fresh thyme – 6 sprigs (you can use dry too)

Method

  • Take warm water in a bowl. It is advisable to measure the temperature with a thermometer. The optimum temperature for yeast is 110 to 115 F. Add honey to water and stir to dissolve. Sprinkle yeast on top and mix briefly. Set this aside for about 5 minutes till the yeast blooms and the water turns foamy
  •  Use a stand mixer or hand mixer with the dough hook attachment, run it on low speed and gradually add the flour, olive oil, salt and parmesan to the water and yeast mixture. Once it’s all added in run the mixer on medium speed for about 5 minutes
  • If after 5 to 7 minutes, the dough doesn’t pull away from the sides and gather around the dough hooks, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time till it comes together. The dough should not be too sticky
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and gently bring it together into a ball
  • Grease a large bowl and dump the dough ball into it. Now flip the dough ball in the bowl so that the entire ball now has a coating of oil

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  • Cover with a clean kitchen towel or greased cling film and leave it in a warm place to rise. This takes about an hour and the dough will almost double in size
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently roll it out into a rough rectangle till it is between 1/4 to 1/2 an inch thick. Place it on a greased baking tray, cover with a greased cling film and let it rise again for 15 to 20 minutes

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  • Preheat oven to 400 F or 204 degree Celsius
  • After the dough has risen, poke deep holes all over it with your finger. Drizzle olive oil generously over the entire surface of the dough. Sprinkle thyme and sea salt over the entire dough

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  • Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes. The focaccia will be slightly golden and will easily slide around on the tray when done
  • Slice and serve with more olive oil

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Recipe adapted from Gimme Some Oven