Christmas is now well behind us, and our life has finally got back into its normal rhythm after a pretty gruesome start to the year. Sadly we are of the age when our parents’ generation is passing on and our contemporaries are succumbing to the scourge of cancer and other middle aged diseases. 3 funerals over 3 weekends has been a sobering experience and a strong reminder to all of us that we have but one life on this earth and we should never take it nor our loved ones for granted. This is however a baking blog not a life coaching one, and this being our first normal weekend of the year meant a bake of some sort was a necessity.
It is also almost a year log since I started the band I have been reviewing how it has gone. My original intention was to try new things every weekend, but over the last few months especially, I have been sinking back to old favourites and life certainly got in the way of baking every weekend. As a delayed New Year resolution I have therefore decided to try to be more resolute about venturing into more new ground. Chocolate tempering is one of those areas I have avoided, as is sugar work but how I square those circle with getting my weight down (a medical necessity after a year of persistent high blood pressure) I am not so sure.
I have started relatively simply. I wanted to make bread as that is the comfort centre of my baking, but also in line with my resolution wanted to make something a bit different. When it comes to trying something new in bread I usually hit the German websites as the variety of breads they do is huge, and sure enough this “Blumenbrot” (flower loaf) caught my eye early on in my search.
I was intrigued why I didn’t come across this in the Anglo Saxon webosphere and realised that my literal translation of Blumenbrot was taking me down a false alley. “Star Bread” is the right term fro an english googling session, and that also brings up sweet varieties made with sweeter dough and nutella or chocolate fillings. Whilst I love Nutella, given this loaf measures 25cm from one side to the other, that much Nutella would be too much even for a sweet tooth as big as mine. Savoury is much better suited to this size of loaf. I have also chosen to stick with the German “Flower” rather than “Star”. It has a more romantic and rural touch to it.
Is it hard to do? Well it is fiddly but hugely enjoyable and very satisfying as you watch the pattern emerge. It is made by rolling out 3 circles of dough, stacking them on top of each other with pesto spread between each layer, and then sectioned into 16 slices which are then twisted and joined to create the flower (or star). The pattern comes the twisting of each section, exposing the layers of pesto.
Getting the pattern even is down to 3 things
- cutting the 16 sections evenly – my handy cake sectioner from Dr Oetker came to the rescue on that one
- twisting the sections evenly so that the neighbouring twists meet up with each other
- not stretching the pieces when twisting them
Don’t be frightened off by this though as it is a fun bread to make and nowhere near as hard as it sounds wrong on the first set of whilst by not starting them high enough, as you can see on the pictures, it didn’t ruin the loaf.
It is also worth making your own Pesto. I am ashamed to say I have never done this before and it really is dead easy especially if you have a food processor or liquidiser. You also need quite a lot and making it yourself is cheaper than buying about 3 tubs of fresh pesto from the supermarket. Please please avoid those nasty jars in the supermarket. The flavour is far too strong and slightly nasty and they are awash in oil.
A few other technique pointers on this one to watch out for
- when plaiting bread, it is wise to go for lower hydration of the dough as this makes it easier to handle and more robust. This recipe has the water content at 50% of the flour whereas a normal loaf is anything up from 60% (with ciabatta at a very soggy 80%).
- rolling out dough is a frustrating experience as the gluten you have so carefully developed means it has a tendency to bounce back on you as you flatten it out. Rest it for 10 minutes before you start, don’t flour the surface or else your dough will slide around, press out the circle initially using your fingers and the heel of your hand, and then finish off wth the roller ensuring you keep a circular shape and don’t have a thicker edge than the middle
- when making the Pesto hold back on the oil. Once baked the dough soaks it up but when forming the loaf, too much oil makes for a very slippery experience which almost led to disaster when I lost my grip and almost sent the whole loaf crashing to the kitchen floor.
- forming the loaf on the bottom of a flan tin helps keep the bread perfectly round which also helps make the the pattern. The other option is using a large plate to continuously check you are not puling the bread out of shape as you do the twisting. Covering the flan bottom with baking parchment protects it from the knife you use to cut the dough but be careful not to twist the parchment into your bread!
- 600g Strong White Bread Flower
- 300g Water
- 12g Salt
- 50g Olive Oil
- 10g Instant Yeast
- 1 tbsp Milk and a beaten egg yolk for brushing over the door before baking if you want a shiny finish – otherwise leave this out
- 100g Pine Kernels
- 2 cloves of Garlic peeled
- 100g Parmesan
- 100g Basil Leaves
- 100ml Olive Oil (Extra Virgin)
- 1/2tsp salt
- 23cm flan tin bottom (something without a ridge)
- food processor or liquidiser
Your oven will need heating to 200C / 180C fan.
Making the Dough
- grease your flan tin bottom and line with baking parchment
- combine your dough ingredients and knead for 10 minutes
- set aside in bowl covered in clingfilm and allow to rise until doubled in size – depending on the temperature in your kitchen this takes about 60 minutes at room temperature but can take longer
- meanwhile make your Pesto
- toast the pine kernels until slightly browned by heating them in a frying pan without oil – watch these like a hawk as they can burn
- as soon as they are toasted tip them into your food processor
- blitz until finely chopped
- add your garlic cloves (peeled) and blitz again until chopped
- now do the same with the parmesan (break it up into chunks – there is no need to grate it)
- add your leaves and salt and blitz again
- finally pour in your oil and blitz – start with 80ml and then add the rest if you think the mixture needs it
- set aside
Preparing the loaf
- divide your dough into 3 even pieces and form into balls
- allow to rest covered for 10 minutes
- roll one piece out into a 23cm circle and place on top of the flan tin
- cover with a thin layer of pesto (about a 1/3rd of what you have made)
- roll out another piece to exactly the right size (use the top part of you flan dish to measure this) and place in top of the other
- spread with pesto
- roll out the final place and place on top
- mark your dough into 16 evenly spaced slices – a cake sectioner is perfect for this
- place a glass (about 6cm across) in the middle and cut through the dough to create 16 slices still joined to the centre
Twisting your loaf
- make sure 2 pieces are separated properly
- pick them up by the end
- twist twice outwards away from each other – so the one in your right hand is twisted clockwise (to the right), and the one in your left is twisted and-clockwise (to the left)
- continue wth the next pair until you have gone all the way round
- now finish of each one as follows
- starting with the first pair
- pick up the inside corner of each and do a half twist so they stand vertically
- join them together by pinching the bottom
- now continue the twist form the top bring the top round to the bottom and pinch again
- neaten off by tucking the ends under each other
- continue until finished
- starting with the first pair
- brush your loaf with the egg and milk mixture
- cover and allow to rise for 15 minutes
- place into a baking tra
- bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown – you may want to put a tray underneath to catch any excess oil
- take out and allow to cool
- don’t be tempted to slide it off the flan ring until cooled to bod temperature or else one of the flowers may break (and you will burn your fingers!)