An Impressive-Looking Main Dish
While this bread looks difficult to make, once you’ve tried it, you’ll see how simple it really is.
The most diffcult and time-consuming part of the whole process is forming the tiny Italian sausage meatballs. (It’s a good job for a Little Helper if you happen to have one handy in your kitchen.)
You really need parchment paper for the handling of the braided dough. Moving the bread from the prep board onto a sheet pan without a sturdy piece of parchment underneath is a disaster waiting to happen. You might get away with a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil if you’re out of parchment paper, but regular aluminum foil is simply too thin to hold up under the weight of the bread when moving it. Another potential disaster!
The first time I made this bread, I obsessed over getting each of the dough strips the same width. I even had a plastic ruler handy to check each one. Forget it! Estimation is good enough as long as you don’t end up with several extra strips on one side of the filled bread. Once it’s ready to eat, no one at the table is going to be looking at the width of those individual strips to see if they’re equal.
Although they might get out a ruler to check that someone else’s slice of pizza bread isn’t bigger than theirs!
Oven: 350 degrees F – Baking time: 30 minutes – Serves 3
To make the dough:
Pour milk into a microwave safe bowl and heat for about 45 seconds until warm. Stir in oil. Sprinkle yeast on surface and stir to dissolve.
Mix in about half of the flour.
In a small bowl mix together the Italian seasoning, grated Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder.
Add the seasoning mixture and salt to the dough and mix. Mix in enough additional flour to make a workable dough that is not too sticky.
Sprinkle additional flour on kneading board and knead dough until smooth. Place in a bowl greased with vegetable shortening or oil, turning dough to cover with the grease. Cover with a towel and let stand in warm place to rise for about 1 ½-2 hours depending on the ambient temperature in your kitchen.
Prepare fillings while dough is proofing.
To prepare the fillings:
Roll small amounts of Italian sausage in your hands to form small meatballs, about the size of a hazelnut or macadamia. Place in heated frying pan over medium heat to brown. When brown, remove from pan onto paper towels to drain off excess grease. Set aside.
Place a sheet of paper towel on a microwave safe plate. Arrange about half of the pepperoni in a single layer on paper towel. Cover with another paper towel then microwave for 30 seconds. Remove from microwave oven and press down on top paper towel slightly to remove additional grease from warmed pepperoni slices. Set slices aside. Replace paper towels and repeat with the other half of the pepperoni slices. Set aside.
Shape and Fill the Dough:
After the first rise, punch down dough and remove from bowl. Place on large sheet (12 x 16 inches) of parchment paper. Press down into a small rough rectangle, cover, and let rest for three or four minutes.
Roll out dough to cover all of the parchment paper. Use the tip of a paring knife to lightly score two lines along the middle third of the dough lengthwise to form a guide for placement of fillings.
Spread the pizza sauce evenly within the scored lines, leaving ½ inch uncovered at each short end of the dough. Place a layer of prepared pepperoni on top of the sauce, about three slices across down the length of the dough, again leaving each end uncovered. Sprinkle Italian sausage meatballs over the pepperoni layer. Sprinkle a generous layer of the shredded Italian blend cheese over the rest of the fillings, again leaving the ½ inch at the ends uncovered.
Using a paring knife, cut one inch strips of dough branching out from each side of the filled center of the dough. Fold the uncovered ½ inch of dough at the ends up and over the fillings. Braid the dough strips over the fillings by alternately lifting one strip on one side and placing it at a slight angle over the fillings, then repeating with a strip of dough from the opposite side of the filled center section. Repeat to the end of the filled center section alternating strips of dough. Slightly press down on the dough strips at each end to secure.
Use the parchment paper to slide the filled bread onto a sheet pan. Cover and let rise for about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
After second rise is complete, bake in a 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.
Leftovers can be reheated in a 350 F oven for 10 minutes. Cover with foil if needed to prevent over-browning.
If you’d like to use peppers, onions, or other vegetable fillings, you’ll need to par-cook them by sautéing in a bit of oil, then draining them on paper towels. The idea is to remove excess moisture from any fillings to avoid sogginess or excess juices bubbling out of the formed bread while baking.
Pre-cooking is required for other types of meat fillings such as ground beef, bacon, or chicken.
Hint: Avoid the urge to over-stuff the braid. The extra items will increase baking time to heat through causing over-browning of the bread, and also tend to bubble out of the braided dough while baking and making a mess of your beautiful creation.