At four years into the gig, I can confidently say that one of the most exciting and terrifying things about being a parent is not knowing what the future holds for your child.
At what point will the toddler who loves hugs, snuggles and noisy kisses on the cheek turn into a kid who’s too big for all that? When will Mum and Dad go from people who must know everything to ones who understand nothing? What will he be? What will he… eat?
Take this Pepperoni Pull-Apart Bread. It is essentially pizza in bread form. Presented with the prospect of trying my latest recipe test, his response was – let me get this right – “Blech.” Not atypical at this point, but somewhat surprising, given how much he loves pizza. And bread.
Nonetheless, the rest of my family and colleagues have heaped praise on this crowd-pleasing, eye-catching loaf that is the most enticing blend of cheesy, salty, spicy and fluffy. As long as the requests for more loaves keep coming, I’ll keep making it, at least once in a while. (I’m not going to pretend it’s anything other than an occasional treat, especially given the sodium level.)
This family-friendly recipe (yes, I’m sticking with it despite my son’s review) comes fromGreat British Bake Off champion and prolific author Nadiya Hussain, herself a parent of three kids. Her Netflix series Nadiya Bakes was a balm to my soul in 2020, and as soon as I saw her make the pull-apart bread in the third episode, I knew I had to try it. Thankfully, it’s among the many recipes in her new book of the same name.
Even if you’re a bread-baking beginner, you needn’t be intimidated. The dough, which can be kneaded in a stand mixer or by hand, comes together quickly and is easy to work with. You can get a loaf on the table in less than 3 hours, perfect for an impromptu game night you don’t decide on until late afternoon. I found the baking powder lent the crumb a slightly cottony texture with more, smaller air pockets than bread leavened solely by yeast (turns out another key to the perfect texture was baking the loaf rather longer than the recipe specified). It reminded me, not in a bad way, of the Pizza Hut breadsticks I ate way too many of at university.
The comparison was apt anyway, considering the pepperoni, cheese and basil tucked into the loaf. The pull-apart effect is achieved by rolling the dough into a large rectangle and then dividing it into eight portions that are folded in half around the filling and lined up side by side like an accordion in the pan. Feel free to use the recipe as a template to create your own ideal bread, swapping out the cheese and meat as you like. The sriracha lends plenty of heat, though you can try another milder tomato sauce if you or your family members are chili-averse. I could even see this working splendidly as a pull-apart garlic bread, if you slather the dough with an herb-packed compound butter.
I’m already mulling over these variations and more for future loaves, and future occasions for making them. My mind flashes forward to the future, when I envision myself pulling a piping hot loaf out of the oven and setting it down in front of a bunch of ravenous teenagers over for movie night or a post-sports practice snack. Will my son eat it then? Will a parent who offers homemade fare be greeted with high-fives or eye-rolls? Who knows. The only sure thing is he’ll keep me guessing.
Pepperoni Pull-Apart Bread
Active time: 45 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Serves: 8 (makes one 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf)
This enticing, pull-apart loaf from Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain is essentially pizza bread. With both baking powder and yeast in the mix, you get a lofty, tender dough that is relatively quick to rise and manageable for even bread-baking novices.
Feel free to customise this recipe with whatever cheese, meat or sauce you like or have on hand (as written with the sriracha, the bread skews spicy, so adjust accordingly to your tastes). You can even use it as a template for other pull-apart loaves, including garlic bread made with an herb-packed compound butter.
Storage Notes: While the bread is best when freshly baked and warm from the oven, you can store leftovers in the fridge for up to two days and reheat individual portions in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds.
For the dough
400g all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea or table salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
270ml warm water
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan
60ml sriracha (or other hot sauce or tomato sauce of your choice)
8 slices (170 to 226g) cheese, such as provolone or mozzarella
16 slices (about 85g) pepperoni
8 basil leaves
1. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, baking powder, oregano, sugar, salt and yeast, making sure to keep the salt and yeast on separate sides until you begin. Whisk or stir together until thoroughly combined.
2. Make a well in the centre, add the water, and using a flexible spatula, wooden spoon or even the dough hook of a stand mixer, stir the dough by hand until it starts to come together.
3. Now, either flour a work surface and knead the dough by hand, or attach the dough hook and knead in the stand mixer. If you are doing it by hand, it should take 10 to 12 minutes of continual kneading. If you are doing it with the stand mixer, 6 minutes on medium speed should do the trick. What you are looking for is a stretchy dough that is smooth, shiny and still just a little bit tacky.
4. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel, plate or greased plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, 35 to 45 minutes.
5. Generously grease the inside of an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (900g) loaf pan with olive oil.
6. As soon as the dough has risen, gently deflate it and tip it out onto a flour-dusted work surface. Pat or roll it out to a rectangle that is 10 by 14 inches (25 by 35cm). The dough can be sticky, so don’t be shy about dusting your hands, rolling pin and counter with flour.
7. Brush the top with the sriracha, and distribute the eight pieces of cheese evenly over the dough. Place two slices of pepperoni on each slice of cheese and then top with a basil leaf. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut the rectangle into eight equal squares. Take each square and fold it in half like a book. Stack them side by side in the pan with the filling a bit exposed at the top. If your pieces are not of completely equal thickness, place the thinner pieces at the two ends of the pan and save the thicker ones for the middle. This will keep the dough from rising and baking over the edge. Then let rise, covered with a bowl large enough to fit over the pan, a large reusable zip-top bag or greased plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is puffy and just a little higher than the edge of the pan.
8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C with a rack in the middle position.
9. Once the dough has risen, uncover the pan and place on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any sauce or cheese that may bubble over.
10. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is pale golden brown. Brush the top of the loaf all over with some of the oil. At this point, the bread will not be cooked through. Cover loosely with aluminium foil to prevent the top from burning and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out mostly clean with no raw dough (you may get melted cheese, depending on where the tester lands).
11. Brush the top of the loaf with another light coating of olive oil, then let cool in the pan for 20 minutes before pulling apart and tearing and sharing, removing the loaf from the pan first, if desired.
Adapted from “Nadiya Bakes,” by Nadiya Hussain (Clarkson Potter, 2021)
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