I could write a long ode to the amazingness (yes, I did mean to use the word amazingness) of this pesto bread. But right now as you read this, I am probably basking on the beach in Spain or swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. And who wants to think or be complicated at the beach? Instead I will keep this simple and straight to the point.
When I found myself with a large bunch of lemon basil last week, a stroke of brilliance (if you will allow me to toot my own horn) came to me as I had the idea of making it into pesto, slathering it over bread, and baking it all into this wonderful concoction.
This bread is great. The lemon basil I used in the pesto (which I’ve found at farmers markets) gives a very fresh, lemon-herby aftertaste. This keeps the flavors from being too heavy on your tongue. If you can’t find any lemon basil, I still recommend that you make this bread, but maybe add a small amount (tsp?) of lemon juice to your pesto to keep that lightness.
This bread needs no doctoring to serve. I’ve just been eating it plain. One note: it is harder to eat this bread when styled in the twist I’ve made it into, as the chunks tend to come apart where the pesto layers between them. But it’s so pretty! I personally don’t think this tendency to break apart detracts at all from the bread, but if you do I recommend maybe leaving the bread in the spiral and letting it rise and bake as such.
Braided Pesto Bread
makes 1 8″ loaf
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp sugar
2 1/4 tsp (1 package) instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 cups flour (I used 2 cups white whole wheat + 1/2 cup bread flour)
1/4 cup pine nuts, extra for garnish
1/2-3/4 cup pesto, recipe following
Directions (with pictures):
1. Proof the yeast: Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water, and let stand for 5-10 minutes until mixture is frothy.
2. Add in salt, olive oil, 1/4 cup of pine nuts (or extra if you want more texture in your bread) and 2 cups of flour.
3. Mix the dough by hand. Once the dough is sticking together and slightly tacky turn out onto floured surface and begin kneading it, adding the remaining 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough is smooth and not sticky. (I used about 2 1/2 cups of flour in total.)
4. Knead for 5-10 minutes until dough is elastic.
5. Place the dough in a large lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm spot for 1-1.5 hours until doubled. Check to see if dough is done rising: push into it with two fingers, 1″ deep. If the dough springs back it isn’t done rising, if it essentially stays indented then it is done.
6. Shape the dough: roll the dough out into approximately a 9″ x 13″ rectangle. Spread the pesto in a thin layer over the dough. You can sprinkle some more pine nuts here if you would like to have more texture. Roll the dough along the short-edge to get a roll that is about 9″ long.
Taking a sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise, all the way through. Gently, leaving the cut side open, twist the two long halves together by draping them over each other. Place shaped dough in a 8 x 4-inch loaf pan. Put any pesto that might have dripped out during shaping in the crevasses on top. Sprinkle pine nuts for garnish over the top. Let rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 ºF, bake for 30-40 minutes until the crust is a golden brown.
yield: 1 cup
2 cups packed lemon basil
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
Put all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process until only small chunks remain.