Sunflower pizza bread

Bread baking is one of the oldest culinary arts. The process absolutely amazes me, each and every time. You start with only  flour, water, and some yeast, and with just time and warmth of the oven somehow end up with this round, golden,  crackly, wonderfully smelling goodness. There is something extremely therapeutic in bread making for me. Tiny cookies and frosted cakes, while awesome in their own right, would never be able to offer me as much as breads and rolls do. Just the act of putting my hands through the dough, “feeling” it, and working with it instantly calms me and brings me comfort. (There are many moments when the three men living with me are acutely aware the woman in their life needs some calming, and they all know what to do by now  – throw either chocolate or a bag of flour at her, and LEAVE. By the time they can smell the aroma of a freshly baked bread, it’s usually safe to approach the beast wife/mother).

Yeast dough is awesomely versatile. It’s stretchy and malleable,  you can really play with it, and give it hundreds of different forms. When my sons were little, I didn’t  bother buying them play dough. I let them have fun with scraps of my bread dough, and when they were done with their creations, I baked them up and voilà – play time and lunch rolled into one. (Baked dinosaurs, anyone?) Those were the good times, while they still wanted to play with their Mother. These days they just storm into the kitchen, wolf down a loaf or dozen rolls and walk away, only to be staaaarving half an hour later.

I had so much fun making this bread. This time I used savory “pizza” filling, but I bet sweet filling would be nice as well. The process is a little time consuming, but majority of it is just  “waiting time”, while you’re free to do whatever else you need or want (Need: to finally scrub down that bathroom. Want: to kick back with some magazines and ponder what I’ll bake tomorrow. Hmmm, which is it going to be? Tough, tough choice.) When the dough has risen, you shape it, fill it, put some egg wash on it, slide it into an oven, and there you have it – a perfect appetizer, light lunch, when paired with some green salad, or – in my case – a small snack to keep my men-sons from starving to death in the hour that it takes me to put dinner on the table.

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Sunflower Pizza Bread

Yeast dough:
  • 450 g (1 lb., 3½ cups) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 250 ml (1 cup) milk, lukewarm
  • 2¼ teaspoons dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 55 g (¼ cup) butter, softened
Filling:
  • 100 g salami
  • 100 g ham
  • 100 g cheese, grated (I used smoked Gouda)
  • ¼ cup each onion and red pepper, chopped 
  • 1 teaspoon each basil and oregano

+ 1 egg yolk mixed with a little water, for egg wash
sunflower seeds, caraway seeds, or poppy seeds for decoration

Method:
  1. Whisk sugar into a cup of lukewarm milk. add yeast, and let stand for about 10 minutes to dissolve and “bloom”.
  2. In a bowl of your stand mixer, mix all the remaining ingredients for the dough. Add the yeast/milk mixture, attach the dough hook, and knead on low speed for about 7 minutes, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and is smooth and elastic (add a little flour/water by tablespoons if needed).
  3. Transfer the dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm spot for about 45 minutes, until doubled.
  4. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling by mixing all the filling ingredients in a bowl. Set aside. Line a big baking pan with parchment paper.
  5. Punch down the risen dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half. Roll out each half into a circle about 9 inches in diameter (I used a plate that I traced onto the dough). Place one dough circle on the lined pan. Set the other circle aside and cover to prevent drying.
  6. Divide the filling roughly in half. Place one half of the filling in a heap in the middle of the rolled out circle in the pan. From the other half of the filling, form a ring around the edge of the dough circle, leaving 1 inch border.
  7. Place second circle of the dough carefully on the filling, pinch the edges to seal. Take a small bowl with the diameter of the heap of filling in the center, and place it on top of the dough where the heap is. Press down lightly, then take a fork and make indentations all around the bowl. Leave the bowl in place for now.
  8. Make crosswise slits about 1 inch apart all around the circle, cutting through the ring of filling. Turn each slit slightly to expose the filling. Remove the bowl from the center, cover the bread, and let it rise while you preheat the oven.
  9. Preheat the oven to 400 °F (convection oven 375 °F). Brush the bread with egg wash, and sprinkle with seeds. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until golden.
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