Bacon, egg, and cheese bread – that’s what my friends are calling this recipe. It sounds a little less hoity-toity that way, I guess. I just couldn’t get an idea for a savory brunch braid out of my mind. I love braiding dough. I’ll use any excuse to make homemade bread look prettier for the table, you know. And so many braids are sweet and creamy and fruity (Exhibit A: my Hot Cross Cream Cheese Braid from last spring). I thought to myself, what a great challenge to make a really cheesy, garlicky, savory one. My friends have not complained once through an extended testing phase.
Asiago cheese, milk, and eggs enrich strong dough made from Hodgson Mill Semolina Pasta Flour and Hodgson Mill White Whole Wheat Flour. The finished golden brown braid is covered with another sprinkle of cheese and crisp, bacon-like crumbles of prosciutto for a huge punch of flavor. Bar none, this is some of the best toast I’ve ever eaten.
To get started, mix warm milk, butter, and yeast proofed in warm water with a little flour and the asiago cheese. Then mix in the rest of the flour to make a stiff dough.
The dough is so much fun to work with; very strong and springy from all the gluten in the semolina pasta flour. Yet this dough has a slightly grainy texture from the white whole wheat flour, it’s just a little less smooth and silky than a 100% white flour or semolina loaf--which is a good thing, since whole grain is definitely better for you. The Hodgson Mill White Whole Wheat Flour also adds a nutty-tasting wholesomeness and helps to soften up the finished product.
Kneading this dough by hand definitely burns some calories, which may be a good thing since you can’t stop eating the delicious finished product. Have you ever noticed that as you knead dough, it gets tough, and it’s hard to stretch it without tearing? I find this happens often with dough that uses whole-grain flour. It’s helpful to include a short rest in the middle of kneading in order for the dough to relax. Let the dough rest for a few minutes when it gets tough and resists stretching and kneading. You’ll be able to sneak in a little extra kneading, and it will become much smoother and more elastic (and more fun!).
After the first rise, punch down the dough and give it a quick second knead.
Divide the dough into three pieces and roll these into long ropes. Again, if the dough resists rolling and stretching, let it rest for a few minutes and then try again. Pinch the three ends together, and braid, finishing with another strong pinch and fold underneath.
The dough needs to rise another thirty minutes, then brush the top with milk and sprinkle with extra asiago cheese and chopped prosciutto crumbles and place into the oven.
The bread comes out of the oven steaming, sizzling, and smelling like you just walked past a trattoria with a dinner special. Wait as long as you humanly can to let it cool off before slicing. It cuts like a dream, too, because the crumb is firm but airy, dense but filled throughout with lots of air bubbles; just right for toasting up golden brown, and soaking up butter.
Seriously, this bread makes the most sublime toast I have ever tasted. It’s bacon, egg, and cheese bread - breakfast in a slice. If I can’t eat it all before it starts to turn stale, I’m making a savory egg and vegetable strata. No bit of this will go to waste if I can help it.
Asiago Cheese Semolina Braid with Prosciutto
Mix together yeast, sugar, and warm water and stir together. Let sit 5 minutes until it smells yeasty and bubbles. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over low heat, or in a bowl in the microwave, melt butter and heat milk together until warm (like lukewarm bathwater, about 100-115 degrees Fahrenheit). Let cool slightly.
In a large bowl, stir together yeast and milk mixture, plus eggs, garlic powder, and 1 cup semolina pasta flour. Stir until smooth, and then stir in 1 cup shredded asiago cheese until incorporated. Then add rest of flour and stir until it forms a stiff dough and you can’t stir it any more with a spoon. Knead ten minutes on countertop, letting dough rest 5 minutes if it gets tough, and then knead 2-3 more minutes. Put in oiled bowl to rise, turning to coat the dough with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and put in warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled, about 1-1 ½ hours.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Punch down risen dough, and knead 1 minute. Divide dough into three pieces, and roll each piece into a long snake, about 16 inches long and 2 inches wide. If dough resists rolling or stretching, let it rest a few minutes and try again. Pinch together the three ends of the pieces, and gently braid them. When you reach the end, pinch the ends together and turn under. Cover loaf with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes in a warm, draft-free place.
Before baking, brush with milk and sprinkle with ¼ cup asiago cheese and finely chopped prosciutto. Bake 35-45 minutes, checking after 35 minutes and covering loosely with aluminum foil if browning too quickly. The top will get dark brown and the prosciutto will get very dark and crispy. When finished, the loaf will sound hollow when tapped (even where the braided pieces meet). Let cool, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature, or toasted.
Keep covered in a cool place up to 2 days or in refrigerator for 4-5 days. You can also substitute other sharp cheeses such as parmesan, pecorino, or Romano.
Makes one large braided loaf.
Original Recipe by Erin
You can find Asiago Cheese Semolina Braid with Prosciutto and other recipes from Hodgson Mill by visiting the Recipes page.