Back in the summer when basil was aplenty, I thought about making huge jars of pesto to store for use in the coming months. I only managed to make a lone medium-sized jar before the season ended, but I knew I’d want to make this pesto swirl loaf when temperatures cooled. My thing for bread and pesto goes a long way…
Years ago, I was friends with a girl called Nkechi. We were part of this truly dedicated book club where half of the group wrote fan fiction in their spare time. While reading Under the Tuscan Sky, one woman wrote Under the Tucson Sky, and everyone except N and I thought it was so clever; we sort of bonded over that.
She was studying to be a nurse and I’d go over to her flat for dinner on Wednesdays. Most of the time we had rice and chicken stew, she made all her meals in glass cookware because she was convinced aluminum pans were full of lead and other harmful chemicals. For a long while, I too wanted glass cookware.
The summer after we met, she set off to travel Europe with her boyfriend. They were broken up by the time she came back and she’d become a born again Christian. She also brought back pesto to share, jars and jars of it!
For our book club gatherings, someone would usually bring out an old sandwich press and we’d make delicious gooey pesto and cheese sandwiches. I don’t remember half of our discussions, but boy, do I remember those pesto sandwiches. This bread reminds me so much of my book club sandwiches; if I were to ever join a (physical) book club, I’d definitely bring this bread.
I think it was there that I learned that it’s always expedient to have a jar of pesto around. It’s handy not just to toss with pasta or the odd grain for a quick meal, but also for a myriad of super delicious creations – on pizza, in soup, hand pies, as sandwich spread and of course baked into dough like this fragrant, savoury and utterly wonderful loaf of bread.
This is the type of bread you bake on a rainy dark Sunday while a big pot of soup simmers away. That is what I do.
Of course, you can always make pesto with other herbs and nuts readily available to you, this parsley and cilantro number with pistachio would be awesome, but it’s totally fine to use store-bought pesto too.
To cut down on the work I try not to make my pesto and bread on the same day; hence the desire to stockpile pesto in the summer. I also mix and knead the dough in my trusty old bread machine, it’s the oldest kitchen equipment I own. If you have a stand mixer, feel free to put the dough hook attachment to use.
The bread is light and chewy, and so good on its own fresh out of the oven. I love it with dipped in a bit of olive oil and za’atar. We sit around tearing into it piece by piece until it’s all gone! I add a little nutritional yeast to the dough to elicit that cheesy tang, which in turn, works well with the pesto for this super savoury bread. It’ll keep for a few days, and it’s wonderful toasted and slathered in butter.
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water
- 1 cup warm water, at about 110 degrees f.
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
- 3 cups all-purpose flour or white whole-wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Olive oil for brushing
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup pesto (preferably thick)
- Mix ground flaxseed and water in a small cup or bowl, set aside and let mixture thicken for at least 5 minutes
- Add warm water to medium bowl and stir in sugar and yeast, let mixture sit and proof for 5 – 10 minutes, until it gets foamy and fragrant
- Stir in flax and coconut oil and mix well
- In a large bowl, mix flour, nutritional yeast, nutmeg and salt together
- Make a hole in flour and pour in yeast mixture, use a wooden spoon to mix until dough becomes wet and shaggy
- Knead dough until it comes together roughly
- Turn dough on to a lightly floured work-surface and continue kneading until smooth and elastic (Dough is ready if it bounces back when you stick a finger in it)
- Form dough into a smooth ball and place in a lightly oiled large bowl; cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour
- On a clean flour-dusted work-surface roll dough out roughly into an 8-inch square or diameter (or 8x9-inch rectangle) at about 1/8 inch in thickness
- Using a spatula, slather pesto over dough surface, leaving a slight border around the edge
- Starting from your end, roll up dough tightly, pinching the edges are you go.
- Use a sharp knife to slice the dough lengthwise into two, from end to end
- Pinch the far ends together and braid dough by passing one roll over the other (twisting together), pinch the other ends tightly together when done
- Transfer dough into a lightly greased 9-inch loaf pan (you may need to press dough into pan to fit)
- Cover and allow dough to rise for an additional 30 minutes
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- When ready to bake, brush the top of the bread (the parts that does not have pesto) with olive oil
- Bake bread for 35 – 40 minutes until warm brown and crusty and baked through (bread should sound hollow when you tap on it)
- Remove the bread from pan by gently turning it onto a cooling rack (you may need to gently loosen the edges with a table knife)
- Let bread cool completely before slicing