Have you been watching the Great British Bake Off? I have and it’s proven something to me, my baking skills are lacking. Yeah, I can throw something together, and it will be edible but the skills those bakers have are far superior to anything I can do. I’ve decided to change that and figured mid winter was a good time to work on bread skills. I bought the biggest bag of yeast I’ve ever seen, and set out to make a loaf I’d be proud to claim as my own.
I found this recipe on Barbara Bakes for a Braided Russian Bread with Pesto Filling and it was so goergoues I wanted to make it (and eat it) immediately. The dough is pretty straight forward and for all it’s layers, twists and turns, the whole thing is actually pretty simple. I like simple, especially when simple looks like this.
I’ve made this several times and each time has been a hit. I have to say I think the first time I made it was the best, I baked it perfectly. The second time it was under baked, to make up for that the third time I forgot to add yeast, by the fourth go round I was so over cautious about adding yeast and not under baking it I over baked it. It was still delicious just crispier around the edges than is preferred but ask my kids and they’ll tell you it was just perfect.
Every time I made this I used a different filling just to get an idea about how they worked. I made them all savory, one was a straight up pesto, one an olive tapenade and finally I made a red pepper/walnut/garlic mix. So if you want simple, use a premade pesto but be open to trying a tapenade or just mixing up what you have on hand. I guess the point I’m trying to make is to do what works for you.
stir together 2 1/2 cups of flour and the rest of the dry ingredients either by hand or in a stand mixer
heat the water and oil in a sauce pan until it reaches 120˚-130˚
add to the dry ingredients, add the vinegar and stir to combine either with the paddle attachment or with a spatula
if you are using a stand mixer switch to the dough hook now and continue to mix the dough, adding as much flour as needed from the remaining flour to make a soft dough, you don't want a sticky dough but yet you don't want a stiff dough either
knead for 5 minutes or so
place dough in an oiled bowl and let double in size
wipe down a counter and roll out the dough to about 20 X 24 inches, or as thin as you can
trim the edges even if desired
spread your filling evenly over the dough leaving a 1 inch line without filling along one of the long sides
roll up from the opposite long side, kind of like you're making cinnamon rolls, once you reach the strip with no filling pinch that together with the roll to seal it up
once it's completely rolled get out a baking sheet to bake it on or prep a 9 inch springform pan by greasing it and lining it with greased parchment paper--I made a free form loaf not using the spring form pan and just used an ungreased baking sheet each time
now using a bench scraper OR a knife cut your dough lengthwise in two long pieces
place the dough on baking sheet in the shape of an X with the cut sides up
then fold the dough over in a sort of faux braid keeping the split side up was much as possible
repeat on the other side of the X
at this point the dough will be way over the edges of your baking pan, don't worry you're about to roll that baby up in a circle!
take one end and coil it up placing the end in the very center and working around to make a circle
if you're using the springform place the dough in the prepared pan and coil it inside
once the bread is shaped to your liking (it's fairly well able to be manipulated so don't be afraid to move it around)
preheat the oven to 400˚
cover it lightly and let it rise again until it's about double in size
then remove the cover and bake for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 350˚ and bake for 20 minutes or until the insides seem baked through, give it a little poke with a knife to look for doughiness
removed to a cook rack and cool before slicing
or serve it warm and tear it apart
We prefer the tearing method in our house but only with clean hands, boys, you know. Whether torn or sliced this makes a pleasant accompaniment to soups and stews or eaten for a hearty snack. The filling twists and turns throughout the bread making eat bite savory flavorful from start to finish.