I’ve fallen in love with spinach all over again. And rather than endlessly make Spinaci al Formaggio e Pepe over pasta or spaghetti squash, I thought I’d mix this love with a new love: artisan bread. I adore Braided Spinach Loaf. As I write this, the loaf is rising on the other side of the kitchen counter, and the aroma is mouth-wateringly delectable.Jump to Recipe
I was inspired by a Craftsy (now Bluprint) course to experiment with a whole wheat version of artisan bread. (I used a braided loaf recipe from the course as a starting point for this recipe, too.) Zoë Francois taught the course, wrote the book, and is an interesting person. My dough recipe is not quite the same as hers, but close. And I follow much of the techniques she uses in preparing artisan bread.
My first experiments with my whole wheat version included a boule loaf and a cinnamon-walnut roll. I normally buy breads like this—the white flour version—so I was already a bit nervous about how they’d turn out. Further, I couldn’t preheat my stone. After breaking my other stone the week before (yikes!) I discovered my stoneware was not designed for the methods used in baking this artisan bread. I wasn’t taking any chances breaking the remaining stone.
Baking the boule this way was not a straightforward effort. Ultimately, my husband and I agreed the home-made, whole wheat version had a desirable texture and a pleasant flavor. It was different but just as appealing as the white flour boule I made the week before using Ms. Francois’ “master” artisan dough recipe. My rolled loaf was a spur-of-the-moment creation that did not have a control sample. It was a baguette-shaped loaf that delighted the palate.
A Bunch of Flour
I don’t normally keep whole wheat flour on hand, so how did I end up with 10 pounds of it? My husband went shopping as quarantining began in our area and discovered that bread was sold out. So he headed for the flour (don’t you love how confident he was that I’d bake bread?) and the all-purpose flour was gone. So he hoped for the best and grabbed a couple of varieties of whole wheat flour and some corn meal.
I’m Rolling in Dough
The ease of this no-knead dough makes me happier than I would have thought. It takes only about 5 minutes to make, and it will keep, refrigerated, for two weeks. I keep my dough in the mixing bowl, but it could easily be transferred to a smaller bowl after the first loaf is made if needed.
About a week after I baked my first bread loaves I still had half my batch of whole wheat artisan bread dough waiting for me. I grabbed a grapefruit sized piece and went to work. I love that the same dough can make a hand-shaped loaf of bread or be rolled. For this bread, you’ll roll it out, layer filling in the middle, cut strips, and braid them over the middle. The filling is easy. You sauté fresh spinach leaves and garlic in olive oil and sprinkle on the rest of the ingredients.
I Meant to Do That
Typically, when you roll out a rectangle, bread is braided lengthwise, but I chose to go the other direction. I also used what turned out to be a mummy-style braid, tucking ends inside one another to ensure the braid would stay closed. You can fill in the center lengthwise third if you like. It will look like a more traditional, braided bread. Just be sure to pinch the braids where they cross. According to Ms. Francois, they’ll pop up like spiders if you don’t. This loaf was fun to make, lovely to look at and mouth-wateringly savory.
About Braided Spinach Loaf
The recipe assumes you are making one loaf. Scale up the filling for as many loaves as you want to make. I’ve not tried a gluten-free version of this bread, but I’m curious about almond flour and corn meal and just might give that a go. It’s an elegant vegetarian dish. If you don’t eat cheese, eliminate it. You might try adding mushrooms or a plant-based Italian sausage instead. Reduce the salt for a lower sodium version.
Braided Spinach Loaf is a hearty bread, so you can serve it as a vegetarian meal. You could also serve it as a side for any number of dishes. For Italian fare, think eggplant parmesan or Italian sausage and peppers … or perhaps a roasted pork loin. For presentation, try pairing this with a spatchcocked chicken. I can just imagine an earlier, simpler time, when artisan bread was made daily, and a spatchcocked bird of some sort a typical accompaniment.
“Perhaps this war will make it simpler for us to go back to some of the old ways we knew before we came over to this land and made the Big Money. Perhaps, even, we will remember how to make good bread again.”― M.F.K. Fisher
Braided Spinach Loaf
For dough (can cut recipe if additional dough not desired):
- 3 C whole wheat flour
- 3 C white whole wheat flour
- ½ C all purpose flour
- ALTERNATE: 6 ¼ C all purpose flour and ¼ C whole wheat flour
- 3 C warm water
- 2 TSBP yeast
- 1 TBSP kosher salt
Filling for a single loaf:
- 1 C spinach sautéed and drained
- 2 cloves garlic diced
- 1 clove garlic sliced
- ¼ C grated parmesan cheese or cotija powder
- ½ tsp pepper
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ¼ tsp oregano
For egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 TBSP water
- 2 TBSP sesame seeds for topping (optional)
- In a large stand mixer bowl, combine warm water and yeast.
- Mix together flours and salt in a bowl, then add this to water and yeast mix a cup or so at a time.
- Stir and/or use mixer with bread hook.
- Let sit for about 2 hours to rise.
- After first rise, you can use immediately or place covered in refrigerator for up to 14 days. Tip: Wrap in plastic or alternative. I use a flour sack cloth and/or pot lid. Whatever you use, the dough needs to breathe but not be overexposed to air so as to dry out.
- Take a grapefruit size piece of the dough and place on a floured surface.
- Lightly flour dough and roll it out to about ¼ inch thick shaped to an approximately 8 x 12 rectangle.
- Layer filling in the middle third of the bread dough: first spinach, then garlic, then cheese. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and oregano over the layers.
- Cut dough into an equal number of about ½-in-wide strips from either edge of the dough to the edge of the layered portion.
- Egg wash one side of strips.
- To braid, fold strips over the filled portion. Place the egg wash side over the un-egg-washed side. Continue folding until all strips are braided.
- Let sit for about 45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Brush egg wash over the dough and place in preheated oven.
- Bake 35-45 minutes. Bread will be a gentle brown.