Friends are those people that you surround yourself with whom you can choose for yourself. Don’t get me wrong I love my family and feel very fortunate to have such a close relationship with them. However, friends are just as important. I am lucky to have three best friends who are practically family, we support each other through thick and thin (literally!).
Therefore when one of them makes a request fora bread that she would like me to make, I couldn’t resist the idea of making it as a surprise for her when she landed back in London. Her idea was to create pesto bread. This I thought, is what this challenge is all about, creating something unique and exciting.
I began thinking from the moment she made the suggestion about how to combine the two, bread and pesto and most importantly how to present it, so the pesto is seen. I then remembered the idea from Yotam Ottolenghi’s babka recipe and how he explains to shape the cake. He explains that you should roll out the dough into a long, flat rectangle shape and spread the mixture (in Ottolenghi’s case chocolate and mine pesto) evenly. Then roll the dough towards you to create a spiral effect. The trick then is to cut your rolled dough in half length ways so you have a ribbon effect. Take both strips and intertwine them. The result is very effective.
As the pesto was going to be a very powerful flavour and has olive oil in it, I decided it needed a very basic bread recipe that uses olive oil as the fat. I found a recipe that just uses strong bread flour, yeast, salt and olive oil. It was another all-in-one recipe where you combine all the ingredients together, creating a well and adding the water to it to help form the dough. I had a few minor hiccups along the way as I had tripled the dry mixture and couldn’t understand why I didn’t have enough water when I realised I had doubled the quantity of water not tripled it! Note to oneself, if increasing the mixture write down your quantities before starting.
The result was very impressive… it looked great and the smell was heavenly. The basil and garlic combination has to be one of my favourites. I was surprised how green the pesto stayed considering some of it was open in the oven. Next time I may slightly reduce the amount of garlic to allow the basil to take over the flavour a bit more.
Pesto actually originates from Genoa in northern Italy from around the 16th century. The idea is to grind it to release the full aroma of the basil leaf. It is mostly associated with being a dip or served as a sauce for Pasta. I have recently discovered that it works amazingly when you place a spoonful of it on sliced baked aubergines.
Here is a classic recipe for Pesto.
½ clove garlic, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
3 good handfuls fresh basil, leaves picked and chopped
1 handful pine nuts, very lightly toasted
1 good handful Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
extra virgin olive oil
For the bread I adapted the recipe slightly. I used ground almonds instead of pine nuts and I didn’t include the cheese. In addition I added quite a bit more garlic as I needed the taste to be pungent as I had a feeling that the bread might dilute the flavour once cooked. I think this has become one of my favourite breads so far on this challenge…
Before I end this week’s entry, I must tell you about my crazy and mad but amazing all night Challah making experience. The opportunity to bake over 200 challah rolls and 15 large challah’s for a Friday night event arose ( I might have volunteered myself and some of my friends to help me). I wanted to see what it was like to create challah on that scale. As I work during the day, this expedition began on Thursday at 7.30 pm in the kitchen of one of the local event halls where my friend and I made 20 batches of challah by hand – taking just over 2 hours to make.
Two more friends joined later and the shaping of the challahs began around 12pm after the dough had risen, this is when the real mission began! Very quickly it became apparent that this was going to take us much longer than we had anticipated. We had to shape the rolls (there must have been at least 5 variations of roll shapes), let them prove again and then bake them, which took time as don’t forget we were making 20 times the mixture. We had one work surface for shaping, the tops of the ovens for proving, and another surface for cooling as well as two big ovens for baking. For 5 hours all you could see, smell, touch (and taste) was challah!!! It was great fun, but you couldn’t stop, as there was no time to loose. We ended up leaving the kitchens just after 5am… our alarms were going off at 6.30am!
For the hour that we did sleep I think we all dreamt of challah and I woke up with aching arms that felt like I had been weightlifting for the past 12 hours! This was such an incredible experience, but not one that I would rush to do again in such a hurry. When you are making challah on that scale as an amateur baker, it needs to either be done in stages (a few batches at a time and freeze them) or in one go during the day not an all-nighter. The truth is, I couldn’t have even considered doing this without my friends… so a massive thanks to them!