Sunflower Bread/ Pane Girasole/ Pain Tournesol
By now I’m sure there’s no one who regularly reads (or even once in a while) my blog who hasn’t realised that I love baking bread. If there’s one thing I do like more than baking bread then it is baking unusually shaped bread. For me it brings together some things I really enjoy – baking bread, getting creative with the dough and the aroma of bread in the oven.
So whenever I do come across an unusual way of shaping bread dough, I suaully make a note of it to try out whenever I can. This time it’s a Sunflower Bread which seems to pop up on a lot of Italian food blogs under the name of Pane Girasole, French food blogs as Pain Tournesol and some Eastern European blogs as well, under other names. Girasole (in French) and Tournesol (in Italian) mean “Sunflower”, by the way.
Shaping breads into patterns or designs inspired by nature is something that goes way back in time, shaping bread/ loaves into flowers have attained significance and come to stand for various aspects of human life such as fertility, purity, love, etc and have been adapted into social and religious celebrations especially in cultures all around the world, especially those that have always baked and celebrated with bread. So while flower shaped breads have been around for a very long time, I don’t know if shaping breads into sunflowers is something traditional or something that someone was inspired to try out one fine day.
I came across sunflower shaped breads a long time back on Pinterest and have baked this this twice before. A couple of sites on which I came across this bread were in languages that I couldn’t understand though Google Translate did help some, I couldn’t figure out a couple of the ingredients. The recipes had very detailed step-by-step instructions on shaping the bread accompanied by images so that was a big help. I needed a somewhat rich dough to start with so I went to one of my trusted bread sources to look for one.
I have found King Arthur Flour very reliable with their recipes and detailed descriptions/ instructions (especially if you also follow their blog) and decided to use a somewhat adapted version of their Korovai (Ukrainian Wedding Bread). The Korovai is celebratory bread and typically made from an enriched dough which is fashioned into the most beautifully decorated breads, some of which are true works of art!
The dough comes together quite easily whether you knead it by hand or machine. It is important to knead it well to a soft and pliable dough. What will take a little time is the shaping. Its not really difficult to do, but it would be good to work methodically and quickly or you will have the outer ring of “petals” sitting for a long time and rising a bit before you’ve managed to fashion the second row of petals.
If you understand things better when they’re explained visually like me, then this is an excellent video on how to shape a Sunflower Bread. Its worth watching before getting started.
This bread is definitely a winner with or without the sunflower shape. Add the sunflower shape and you have a stunner – a bread that’s soft, flaky, slightly buttery with the aroma of cardamom and a hint of orange.
- I used my food processor with the plastic blade but you can knead the dough by hand if you prefer. Put 1 1/4 cups flour, yeast and the milk in the processor bowl and run the processor till these are well mixed and form a very sticky dough. Leave this covered, to rise until “puffy”. This should take about an hour.
- Now add the remaining ingredients except the melted butter and chocolate chips and knead, until the dough is soft and smooth. Take the dough out and place in a well-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough double in volume (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
- Lightly grease your baking tray or line it with parchment paper. Your tray should be large enough to comfortably take an 11” (in diameter) round sunflower bread.
- Now the dough has to be shaped. Gently deflate the dough and shape it into a rectangle. Divide the dough into half, and then divide one of the halves into 1/3rdand 2/3rd to give you three portions in all.
- Start with the big portion of dough (1/2) keeping the others aside. Divide this portion into five equal portions. Dusting your work surface with a little flour and roll out each portion into a circle that’s about 7 1/2" in diameter. Make sure all the 5 circles are of the same size.
- Place one circle in the centre of the baking tray. Brush the surface completely with melted butter and put another circle of dough over this so it fits exactly on top of the first one. Brush again with melted butter and cover with another circle of dough. Repeat this till you have a stack of the five circles but do not brush the top most one with butter.
- Using a sharp knife, pizza or pie wheel cut a cross that intersects in the centre through the 5 layers stopping about an inch from the circumference of the dough stack (See the photographs). Make sure your cuts are neat and cut right through to the bottom of your baking tray.
- Cut another cross exactly in the centre of the first cross, also intersecting at the centre and stopping at about an inch from the circumference.
- You should now have a sort of star shape with 8 spokes to it, forming 8 equal triangular segments cut into the dough separating only on 2 sides.
- Slowly peel back each triangle from the centre, and fold it back outwards so the the “tip” of the triangle is extending a little beyond and resting on the edge of the dough circle. When done, you should have a circle of dough “petals” pointing outwards and an empty circle in the middle.
- Now take the 2/3rdpiece of dough and divide it into five equal pieces. As before, roll each piece out into a circle, but about 6” in diameter this time. The diameter of this set of the circles should be equal to the diameter of the “empty” circle from the first set of “flower petals” on the baking tray.
- Repeat the same process by brushing melted butter over the circles and layering them one over the next. Do not brush the topmost circle of dough. Place the stack of dough circles in the middle of the “petals” on the baking sheet. This should fit into that empty space exactly. Now cut two crosses, as done earlier, leaving about 3/4" from the edge/ circumference. This time however make the cuts so that they lie adjacent to the middle of each “petal” in the outer ring of dough. This will ensure the second inner row of petals is alternate to the first one.
- In the same manner peel back the triangular segments outwards, resting them such that they form an alternate row of inner petals. Take the 1/3rd portion of dough, roll it smooth and flatten it to fit the centre space of the inner row of petals.
- Brush the remaining melted butter all over the surface of the “sunflower”. Sprinkle black sesame seeds or poppy seeds in the centre and bake the bread at 200C (400F) for about 12 minutes. This will cause the bread to puff up and brown a bit. Then turn down the oven temperature to 180C (350F) and bake it for another 20 minutes till the bread is done and a beautiful golden brown.
- Cool the bread on a rack and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.