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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Prep Time:      25 Minutes
Baking Time:  30 Minutes
Total Time:     1 Hour 25 Minutes
Yields:             2 loaves braided bread


(For Sponge)-

3/4 cup warm water,
2 teaspoons sugar,
1 envelope (1/4-oz.)  Rapid-Rise Yeast,
1/2 cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour,

(For Dough)-

All ingredients of the sponge,
3/4 cup sour cream,
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened,
2 large eggs, beaten,
1/3 cup sugar,
1 teaspoon salt,
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil,
2 1/2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour,
2 cups Whole Grain Wheat Flour,
Egg wash for brushing top of braided bread loaves
1/3 cup pine nuts, roughly chopped

(Vegetable & Cheese Fillings)-

2 tablespoons light olive oil,
2/3 cup onions, chopped,
2/3 cup green bell peppers, chopped,
2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped,
1/3 cup Kalamata or black olives, sliced,
1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped,
1 container (15-oz.) low fat ricotta cheese, drained,
1 large egg,
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese,


1.)  In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients,(warm water, 2 teaspoons sugar, yeast and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour). Stir well to combine, loosely cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof for 10 minutes.

2.) In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the sponge, sour cream, butter, 2 eggs, 1/3 cup sugar, salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 2 cups of all-purpose flour and whole grain wheat flour and mix with the paddle attachment on medium speed until the dough is a rough, shaggy mass. Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead on low speed until a soft, smooth dough form, about 5 minutes, adding more of remaining 1/2 cup all-purpose flour if needed to achieve the correct consistency. Remove dough from bowl and place dough into a large greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap, and allow dough to rise for 1 hour, or until dough has nearly doubled and quite puffy.

2.) If working by hand or stand mixer, place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow dough to rise for 1 hour, or until dough has nearly doubled and quite puffy.

3.) While dough is rising, prepare fillings. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add in onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives and basil to heated olive oil and cook for 2 minutes, or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Spoon cooked vegetables onto a paper toweled well lined plate and let drain of excess oil and cool vegetable filling for 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, prepare the remaining cheese half of the fillings. Add the ricotta cheese, remaining egg and parmesan cheese and stir until cheese filling mixture is blended; set aside.

4.) Gentle deflate the dough and divide it in half. Cover half with plastic wrap and set it aside. Place a large sheet of parchment paper, (18- to 20-inches long in size) as you roll out the first half dough piece into a 10 x 15 –inch rectangle. Rolling on parchment paper helps when moving the prepared bread dough loaves much easier to transfer onto the two baking sheet pans. Lightly press two lines down the dough lengthwise, to divide the center section, and top with half the cheese filling mixture, spread the cheese filling evenly in the center lengthwise, leaving 3 –inches on all sides free of the filling. Sprinkle half of the vegetable filling evenly over top of the spread cheese filling.

5.) To form the mock braid, cut 1 1/2 -inch crosswise strips down the length of the outside dough sections, making sure you have the same number of strips down each side. Beginning on the left, lift the top dough strip and gently bring it across the filling diagonally. Repeat on the other side with the top dough strip, so that the two strips crisscross each other. Continue down the entire braid, alternating strips to form the loaf.

6.) Repeat the rolling, filling, and braiding steps of preparation for the second piece of dough, using the remaining cheese and vegetable filling mixtures. Set both the prepared loaves aside, lightly covered, to rise for 30 minutes, or until quite puffy.

7.) Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the loaves with egg wash, (one lightly beaten egg and 2 teaspoons water), and sprinkle over top of each of the loaves evenly with pine nuts. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown. Remove baked loaves from the oven and cool for 15 minutes before serving the two loaves. Serves 12.

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