As anybody living in England can tell you, the classic British summertime has begun and the past few days have been gloomy and wet to say the least. Since going outdoors was a big no no, this left me no other choice than to bake bread this weekend. This loaf is filled with a vibrant Moroccan inspired vegetarian filling, spicy, sweet and studded with sharp goats cheese. It packs a big flavour punch, so don’t worry about serving it with any kind of dip. By itself, with a handful of salad makes a lovely starter to any dinner party. Or eat the whole thing in one sitting and call it dinner… guilty.
For the bread
250g strong white flour
1 1/2 teaspoon fast-action yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
30g softened butter
handful of nigella seeds
For the filling
1/2 red pepper
1 large red onion
100g dried apricots
100g goats cheese
splash of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 teaspoon harissa paste
1 tablespoon of sumac spice
1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon
handful of fresh coriander
1. The first thing, as ever, is to get your dough formed and proving. Measure out the strong white bread flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the fast action yeast to one side of the bowl and the salt to the other, then dig out a little well in the middle for the liquid to go in.
2. Soften 30g unsalted butter (real butter, not margarine) in the microwave, then pour into the well in the middle of the flour. Next add the lukewarm water a bit at a time, bringing the dough together with a twisting hand movement. Once the dough seems fairly stable, tip out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-12 minutes-ish until smooth and elastic. Alternatively, if you have a stand mixer leave it to do all the hard work for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave to prove at room temperature for an hour and a half or until doubled in size.
3. In the meantime, make the filling. Chop the courgette, pepper and red onion into little cubes, roughly 1cm x 1cm. Thinly slice two cloves of garlic, then get the garlic and onion frying over a medium heat in a generous splash of olive oil. Next add the courgette and pepper and fry gently until they begin to soften. Add two tablespoons of tomato puree, one teaspoon of harissa, the sumac and the cinnamon and stir well. All the vegetables should be coated lightly in tomatoy-spicey-ness, but you don’t want them to be wet.
4. Chop the dried apricots, then add these and the raisins to the filling mix and continue to heat lightly whilst all the flavours infuse. At the last moment, add a handful of roughly chopped coriander leaves.
5. Leave the filling mix to cool. Once it has, cube the goats cheese and sprinkle it through the mix. By adding it once the mixture is cold you should hopefully get distinct bites of sharp cheese in the loaf.
6. Hopefully the dough has finished proving now. Knock some of the air out with your knuckles then roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle ~ 30cm x 25cm. Don’t worry if your dough looks really thin- this is not a problem. Place the filling down the middle third, in a 10cm x 15cm pile in the middle. Using a pizza cutter, slice in diagonals from the corner of the filling to the outer corners of the dough. Tuck the end sections up and around the filling, sealing in as much as possible. Cut the sides into strips (~ 2.5cm in thickness) and fold them oven the middle, alternating one side then the next to give a plait like appearance over the top. Try to seal in as much of the filling as possible, although as the filling is not too wet it is not a disaster if you get the odd gap.
7. Transfer onto a lined baking tray and prove for a further 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200•C.
8. Brush the top and sides of the loaf with a beaten egg yolk. Scatter a generous amount of nigella seeds over the top.
9. Bake for 20 minutes at 200•C, then a further 20 minutes at 180•C until golden brown on top.
10. If possible, leave to cool for 10-15 minutes then eat.