There’s nothing better than warm bread. There, I said it. My mom bakes bread every week, and when we were growing up, this usually meant a simple white Pullman loaf. When the loaves were still hot from the oven but cool enough to touch, we’d slice off the heel and slather it with butter and devour it, the heat turning the inside soft and doughy.
The pleasure of tearing into bread straight from the oven is one I still hold high above most others. I’d hope you would all agree, and if you’ve never made bread at home before, today’s recipe is a good place to start. If you’re familiar with baking yeast bread, you’ll quickly see that this is a fairly straightforward dough: no overnight work or sourdough starter or fussy technique. The recipe yields a soft, tender, easy-to-roll dough, perfect for fancier shapes like a braid.
I say fancy, but don’t be afraid! This braiding technique is nothing more than making a few cuts in your dough and folding them over the filling at an angle. The best part? If it’s terribly messy it always comes it of the oven looking neat and delicious anyway.
Inspired by the flavors of an Italian appetizer spread–cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, soppresata, and herbs–this bread is fantasically savory and makes a gorgeous centerpiece for a brunch or party. It’s also very nice with soup or salad as a simple meal, and you can easily vary the filling to suit your taste.
One helpful tip: Be sure to only heap the filling in the center third of the dough (which will be on a rectangle once you roll it out). If you spread it too far to the sides, you risk it spilling out of the braid. This is not the end of the world if it happens! With any shaped bread, practice makes perfect. The first time is usually a bit of trial and error and once you get the hang of the method, the next loaf will be easier and tidier.
I particularly love the step of brushing my dough with a garlicky-infused butter before adding the filling. If you’re smart (I sense you are), you’ll double the garlic butter and save some for brushing on day-old bread, or spooning over roasted vegetables, or stirring into cooked grains.
Italian Appetizer Bread
- 3 cups bread flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant or active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
- 1/3 cup lukewarm water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup sundried tomatoes (not in oil), roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (or baby spinach)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped Italian sausage (more to taste!)