This bread was inspired by Barbara Bakes’s recipe, which was part of World Bread Day (October 16). Turns out there is a Bread Baking Day (BBD) roundup of recipes every month, and this month the theme is “Blogwarming Party“, which involves baking any yeasted bread. I’ve been baking a lot of bread lately (with varying degrees of success), and I thought it would be nice to have a purpose to my baking so I’m joining the roundup. Check it out, and bring some bread to the party!
The other day I found a can of poppy seed filling while browsing the aisles of our “weird” supermarket. (You know the kind – not much in the way of everyday food, but brimming with imported goodies, fancy teas, and strange canned goods). I’ve never seen poppy seed filling in my life – but I like poppy seeds, so I was certain I could put it to good use.
The problem was I didn’t know what to do with it. Poppy seed cake is delicious, but cake and I aren’t on speaking terms right now as my last three cakes have been near disasters. Cookies didn’t appeal. A tart seemed like way too much poppy seed. Really, I agonized over how to use this far more than the $1.39 price tag warranted. In the end I stumbled across this beautiful pesto-filled bread on Barbara Bakes and decided to recreate it using the poppy seed filling.
This style of bread is called a Russian Braid, a Russian Rose (when formed into a circle like mine) or Caucasian Bread. I can find nothing on the internet explaining why. My best guess is that it’s from the Caucasus mountains, and was renamed Russian bread because Caucasian bread sounded way too strange. I may be (probably am) totally wrong, if you know please leave a comment!
At any rate this is a very pretty bread, it was a lot of fun to make, and not difficult! The poppy seed filling gives it a very unique taste. My taste-testers all agree that they like it, but it was … unexpected. For one, it does not have the poppy seed texture that you get in a muffin or cake – it’s a sturdy bread, and the main textural qualities come from the layers, not the poppy seeds. Two, the poppy seeds make you think it’s going to be a sweet bread, but it’s more hearty and nutty than actually sweet. I don’t know quite how to classify this bread, but paired with a cup of chai it was absolutely delicious.
This bread was inspired by this recipe from Barbara Bakes.
Everyone who makes this kind of bread references this video of chef Ciril Hitz preparing a Russian braid – and with good cause. The technique isn’t hard, but the written instructions are somewhat clumsy. Watch the video!
What I discovered with this bread is that the line between slightly jiggly and slightly burned is rather thin. I like the toasty flavor of the slightly burned bread (it goes well with the poppy seeds) but if you don’t feel that way pull the bread out when it’s still a bit jiggly – it will set up as it cools.
Most people make a Russian Rose in a springform pan, but I prefer the more organic shape that I got by just baking it on a baking stone (a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet works great too).
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp yeast
3/4 cup luke-warm water
1/2 cup luke-warm milk
3 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp butter, softened or oil
1 tsp salt
1 can of poppy-seed filling
Combine the milk and water (not too hot, you don’t want to kill the yeast), and stir in the yeast. If you don’t use yeast often, stir in a teaspoon of sugar and let sit until bubbly – about 10 minutes. If it doesn’t bubble throw it out and try again. I use yeast all the time, but I always check it for liveliness because I’m paranoid.
Add the salt and sugar, stirring to dissolve. Begin stirring in the flour 1 cup at a time. After adding 2 cups, beat in the butter. Continue adding flour until the dough is too stiff to stir. Then turn out onto the counter and knead the dough, adding enough additional flour to create a sturdy, elastic dough. Continue kneading until you get bored (at least 5 minutes). Form the dough into a ball and place in an ungreased bowl. Cover loosely and allow to raise until doubled in bulk 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out until it’s quite thin – the thinner the dough is, the more intricate your braided bread will be. Mine was about 20″ x 24″, I ran out of counter. Spread the poppy seed filling onto the dough, leaving a half-inch border along one of the long ends. Spread a little bit of water along the dough border, then roll up the dough as tightly as you can, and pinch it closed. Gently roll the dough on the counter to smooth it out.
Using a large knife gently cut (don’t saw), the dough log in half lengthwise. Take the two halves of dough and cross them into an X with the cut-sides up. Form the braid by starting at the center X and then gently placing the right piece of dough over the left, leaving the cut-side up, continuing to twist until you reach the end of the dough, gently pinch the end, then repeat for the other half.
Once you’re done twisting, roll the dough into a pinwheel and pinch closed. Carefully transfer the rose to a parchment-covered cookie sheet, and cover with an inverted mixing bowl. Let rise for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400