“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight...
[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells... there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
The food-blogging world is full of inspirations. And there are some bloggers (now friends) whose blogs are bound to leave you with an instant urge to try out something. Aparna's blog Diverse Kitchen is one such blog for me. So when she called out to people last month to bake with her by saying "We Knead to Bake" some 60 other foodbloggers joined her in baking bread and the theme was 'Pull-Apart Breads'.
Pull apart breads are just perfect for a little group of family or friends, sitting around a table where food and conversations flow freely. These breads are totally rustic and they make for cozy eating together where no fancy cutlery is required. I would give you a tiny little warning before making this bread if you live alone. These loaves are so addictive that you'll go 'just one more slice' a few times and before you know you've eaten a whole loaf by yourself. Bake this for others and this bread will win you many friends. Eat this alone and you'll end up...never mind.
You should have this one basic pull apart bread recipe in your repertoire because there are a lot of variations you can do with this. Make a sweet cinnamon bread by omitting the garlic in the dough and using cinnamon, sugar and butter instead of pesto. You can also make an Indian Masala Bread by smearing coriander chutney or using finely chopped coriander, green chillies and garlic with some toasted cumin seeds. The sweet version can be customised for Christmas time by using orange zest, cinnamon, marmalade, ground cloves. Use your kid's favourite jam in the filling for a kiddie's party.
Either way, this bread is a showstopper - truly a rustic beauty, so much so, that within 5 minutes of me posting this picture on my Facebook page, a friend who runs a bistro in Chennai wanted the recipe so he could add it to his menu. So try it out this weekend and if you don't have pesto on hand, use your imagination and whatever is available in the kitchen and don't forget to share this with loved ones.
You'll end up with some leftover dough- for which keep a couple of foil tins or smaller tins handy-you could use the same stacking technique or roll it out into a rectangle, smear with butter and pesto, roll lengthwise and cut into one inch pieces. Place these pieces cut side up in the smaller tins and proceed with second round proving. Brush with milk and bake similarly. Note that smaller tins will take lesser time to bake.
Recipe for Pesto Pull Apart Bread
Makes one regular sized loaf plus 2 baby loaves or a few pesto rolls extra
Takes roughly 3-3.5 hours in all, including proving time
Recipe adapted from My Diverse Kitchen
½ C warm milk
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp instant yeast / active dry yeast
3 cups all purpose flour (maida)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp soft butter or 1 tbsp butter + 1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, grated or ½ tsp fresh garlic paste
¾ cup milk (at room temp)
½ cup Pesto
2 tbsp melted butter
- Dissolve sugar in ½ cup slightly warm milk (slightly over room temp, any warmer and yeast will be killed)
- Mix the yeast into this and cover for 5 minutes. Milk with froth and bubble, indicating yeast is active.
- In a large bowl, take flour, salt, grated garlic, soft butter / olive oil, add this yeast mixture and use upto ¾ cup more milk at room temp. Knead to make a soft pliable dough.
- Grease a large bowl with oiled fingers. Place the ball of dough in this and allow to prove for 60-90 minutes, until dough doubles in volume.
- After doubling- punch down air gently, make a ball again and on a clean floured surface, roll this out to a rectangle –roughly 20 x 12 inches. Using a measuring scale, cut out the rectangle into a square of 12 x 12 and use the remaining strip of dough to make other baby loaves or rolls.
- Brush surface with melted butter and then smear pesto (or any other filling such as coriander chutney, tomato pickle, cheese for other flavours) all over the surface.
- Cut this square into 6 equal strips 2 inches wide (a pizza cutter works well for this)
- Stack the strips one on top of the other, pesto side up.
- Cut these stacked strips again into 2” wide squares (6 squares). So you will get 6 square stacks of 6 layers each.
- In a parchment / foil lined loaf tin (not the very broad kind) – line the stacks next to each other like pages of a book, making sure the pesto smeared top of the stack are all facing one direction.
- Cover with damp towel and allow this to rise in a warm place for one hour.
- Preheat oven at 180C. Gently brush the top of the risen loaf with milk and place this in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, till it’s lightly golden on the top. Serve warm with pasta or eat as it in like an appetiser.
You can make plenty of variations as mention in (6) – choose from spices like panch-phoron, chilli flakes, roasted ajwain, cumin seeds to sprinkle before cutting into strips and stacking.