Stop the presses- I’m alive!
I know it’s been over a month since my last post, my sincerest apologies, and I would love to tell you about all the wonderful adventures I’ve had since then, but today, let’s focus on this beautiful braided baby. Ain’t she a beaut?
To all of you who are declaring November ‘No-Bread Month’, I’m begging you to stop and end this madness. Who decided to give bread a bad name? What did she ever do to you? Carbs are your friends. Don’t believe me? Read the article I wrote for Purple Lipstick on why food is your friend and not your enemy. *Rant over*
This recipe starts with a simple bread dough that is then rolled out into a rectangle and spread with spinach pesto and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. You can use homemade pesto or you can use any store bought pesto (I’ll avert my eyes). If you’re going the homemade route, check this recipe I have for the best pesto you will ever have in your entire life.
For the visual learners, here’s a time lapse of me braiding the wreath:
If you want to get extra-fancy and take this recipe up a notch, you can try steaming your bread for the first 10 minutes of baking. The process is simple, whilst you’re preheating your oven at 200°C you’ll adjust your oven rack to the lowest level and lay a baking sheet right on the floor of your oven. When you’re ready to bake, set the baking pan with the bread on the rack, and throw a couple of ice cubes onto the preheated baking sheet. This exercise has to be completed as quickly as possible to avoid losing heat. After 10 minutes, you’ll remove the now empty baking sheet from the bottom shelf and leave the bread to continue baking.
Steaming your bread has several benefits:
- Steam has a high heat capacity. This means that the steam will hold a much greater quantity of heat energy than the bread. So when the steam comes into contact with the bread crust, it will donate all that heat energy and the temperature of the dough increases much faster than it would have originally. This gives us beautifully crunchy crust
- The steam also helps to dissolve any simple sugars on the surface of the dough that will caramelise during baking, vastly improving the quality of the crust
- It helps reduce the amount of moisture lost by the bread during the first 10 minutes of baking, keeping the crust soft and pliable. The yeast will still be active in those first 10 minutes of baking, metabolising any sugar to carbon dioxide and water. These will escape as gases, helping the bread to rise further forming that lovely dome shape. This is known as ovenspring. (Un)Fortunately, the yeast dies shortly after due to the high temperature of the oven.
It’s up to you whether or not you’d like to steam your bread first but I would strongly recommend it.
Spinach Pesto Braided Bread Wreath
1 ½ cups lukewarm water (roughly 35° if you have a thermometer)
1 tsp yeast
2 tsp granulated sugar
3 cups of flour (bread flour would be preferred but self raising or all-purpose would work perfectly)
1 tsp salt
¼ cup olive oil
3 heaped tbsp of spinach pesto
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese + an extra 2 tbsp
6-8 ice blocks + ½ cup of cold water (optional)
- In a large measuring cup, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water and leave to proof for about 10 minutes. The mixture should be frothy and bubbling.
- Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the water with the proofed yeast, and the olive oil. Mix to form a shaggy dough. Once the ingredients are combined, turn the dough over to a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour as needed. You should knead the dough for at least 8 minutes. Turn the dough into a well-oiled bowl, cover with a towel and leave to rise until doubled in size, which should take 60-90 minutes.
- Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto an oiled surface and roll it out into a 10 in ×13 in rectangle. Preheat your oven 200°C and adjust your rack to the lowest level. *Lay a baking tray right on the floor of the oven. Grease and line a 9×13 baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Spread the pesto evenly over the surface of the rectangular dough, leaving a border of about 1 in. Sprinkle the ¼ cup of parmesan over the pesto. Starting from the long end, roll the rectangle into a log, similar to shaping cinnamon rolls. Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice the log down the long end. As you’re slicing, be careful not to pull the dough. Cut from a 90° angle, directly above the dough. Separate the two halves and lay them pesto side up. Braid the two dough pieces, laying one side over the other until you reach the end. Knot the end. Bring one end of the braid over to meet the other and shape into a circle. If you’re confused by the instructions, see the video above.
- Grease a ramekin with butter/oil and lay it in the baking sheet. Gently lift and transfer your wreath to the baking sheet and adjust it so that it fits around the ramekin. Sprinkle the other 2 tbsp of Parmesan over the dough. Transfer the dough wreath to the oven rack. *Wasting no time, add the ice cubes and cold water to the preheated baking tray. You’ll need to do this as quickly as possible to avoid losing any heat in the oven. Close the oven door and set a timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the now empty baking tray from the oven and allow the bread to continue baking for another 25 minutes. The bread is done when the crust is a deep golden bread. Allow to cool until it is barely warm before carefully removing the ramekin. Serve warm/room temperature. If there are any leftovers, keep them tightly sealed at room temperature for up to 3 days.
* If you choose not to steam your bread, it’s totally okay, my feelings aren’t hurt at all. Ignore the steps that are marked with an asterisk.