- Tried & Tasted -

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Basil Pesto, Poppy Seed Braided Bread

I like using fresh basil in my cooking but at times I am unable to use it all up in one recipe. Fresh basil is not a herb that keeps well in the fridge so instead of letting it sit in the fridge and dry up, I make it into a basil pesto. 

Pesto or, in extenso, pesto alla genovese, is a sauce originating in Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, Northern Italy. It traditionally consists of crushed garlic, Pine nuts, coarse salt, basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (cow's milk cheese) and pecorino sardo cheese (sheep's milk cheese), all blended with olive oil.

Basil pesto can be enjoyed in many ways (see notes following the basil pesto recipe). 

As I have been making home made bread frequently at the start of the year, I decided to incorporate the basil pesto into my weekly loaf and yielded a savory bread. 

My husband commented that he was expecting a sweet bread from the looks of it, because this kind of braided bread is usually filled with brown sugar and cinnamon or some forms of chocolate filling. The next day, I did use this same recipe to make a chocolate hazelnut braided bread. I will be posting that soon too. Let's first enjoy this bread with a bowl of warm home made roasted butternut squash soup (a butternut squash and an onion is roasting in the oven as I'm typing this post).

The intense smell of basil, Parmesan cheese and garlic while the bread bake was so mouth watering. The internal structure of the bread is moist and chewy.  

Store bought pesto can be used if you find it a hassle to make it from scratch.

Basil Pesto, Poppy Seed Braided Bread
Make a 9" or 23cm round bread
240g organic bread flour
60g organic wholemeal flour
24g sugar
3/4 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
198g full fat milk, at room temperature
15g extra virgin olive oil, at room temperature

4 Tbsp home made basil pesto or any store bought pesto
2 tsp poppy seeds (optional)

Brushing onto the dough
1 egg, for egg wash
1 tsp olive oil, for brushing on bread when it comes out of the oven

Steps to braided bread:
  • Line a large baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper. 
  • Into a mixer with dough hook attachment or in a bread machine, place flours, sugar, instant yeast, milk and salt and mix into a dough. Once the mixture comes together, mix in the butter. When the olive oil goes in, you may feel that the mixture looks like they are not going to come together, but don't worry, the machine do its magic. A smooth, uniform dough will be form after 10 - 15 minutes of kneading by the machine.
  • Place the dough in a covered and lightly oiled bowl. Leave it to rise in a warm, draft free area until dough has double in volume.
  • Once it has doubled in volume, remove the dough from the container and placed it on a work surface. The dough should now be very soft and elastic but not sticky. But if it is sticky, use a very small amount of flour to dust the work surface.
  • Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 30cm by 60cm rectangle. Spread the basil pesto evenly onto the rolled out dough, making sure to leave a 2cm border of dough untouched by the pesto. Evenly sprinkle the poppy seeds.
  • Roll the dough onto itself along the shorter end to form a log (just like rolling a Swiss roll). Once rolled up, pinch the end (along the breath of the dough) together.  
  • Seal the two ends of the log tightly by pressing down firmly on the two ends. Roll the log with both hands using a light outward motion along the log, to even out and stretch the dough a little.
  • Place the dough in a '1' position and using a sharp, long knife, starting 2cm below the top of the dough, cut the dough right in the middle of the number '1', splitting the log into 2 long strips but still attached at the top. Turn the split surfaces to face upwards.
  • To form the braid, take the piece on the right and place it above and across the piece on the left. The piece on the left, now becomes the piece on the right. Using the same steps, place the now piece on the right, above and across the piece on the left and repeat until you reach the end of the dough and pinch the dough together to complete the braid.
  • Now bring the two ends of the braid and press them together and form a circular braid. 
  • Place the complete braided bread onto the baking tray lined with parchment paper, covered with an oiled cling wrap. Let the dough rise to double its size in a warm place, approximately 45 - 60 minutes. 
  • When the bread is about 90% double in size, preheat oven to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F. Brush the surface of the bread with an egg wash. Bake the bread for 20 - 25 minutes
  • Once out of the oven, brush the surface of the bread with olive oil. Let the bread cool on a cooling rack before removing it from the pan.

Home Made Basil Pesto 
Handful of fresh basil
1/2 handful of pine nuts or almonds or mixture of both
50g Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or any mature cheddar
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp salt
100ml extra virgin olive oil, more if you want to thin out the paste

Steps to pesto:
  • Place all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until it becomes a thick, uniform paste. If the mixture is too thick, add more olive oil to loosen it.
  • Place into an airtight container and pour some olive oil over the top to cover the mixture. This is to create a airtight seal between the mixture and the air so that the basil will keep its color. This can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Different ways I use the home made basil pesto:
  • stirred into freshly cooked pasta,
  • on a toast,
  • substitute tomato sauce on a pizza,
  • stirred into a stew before serving.
I have also used this same recipe to make a Chocolate Hazelnut (Nutella) with Pearl Sugar Braided Bread.

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