Dough (see notes for Tangzhong method)
- To make the dough: Combine all of the dough ingredients in a bowl (or the bucket of your bread machine), and mix and knead — by hand, using a mixer, or in your bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a smooth, very soft dough. The dough should stick a bit to the bottom of the bowl if you're using a stand mixer.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise until it's doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes. Note: When making anything with yeast, it's best to let the dough rise to the point the recipe says it should, e.g., "doubled in bulk," rather than watching the clock. Rising times are only a guide; there are so many variables in yeast baking that it's impossible to say that bread dough will ALWAYS double in bulk in a specific amount of time.
- Meanwhile, thoroughly drain the tomatoes, patting them dry. Use kitchen shears to cut them into smaller bits. Shears are also useful for slicing/chopping the basil.
- Gently deflate the dough, shaping it into a ball, and letting it rest for 10 minutes. Then flatten and pat it into a 22" x 8 1/2" rectangle. Spread with the cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and basil.
- Starting with one long edge, roll the dough into a log the long way. Pinch the edges to seal. Place the log seam-side down on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Using kitchen shears, start 1" from one end and cut the log lengthwise down the center about 1" deep, to within 1" of the other end.
- Keeping the cut side up, form an "S" shape. Tuck both ends under the center of the "S" to form a "figure 8;" pinch the ends together to seal.
- Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, 45 to 60 minutes.
- While the loaf is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F. If there are bits of sundried tomato sticking out on the surface, gently tuck them under the dough so that they don't char.
- Uncover the bread, and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting it with foil after 20 to 25 minutes to prevent over-browning.
- Remove the bread from the oven, and transfer it to a rack to cool. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Store, well-wrapped, at room temperature for a couple of days; freeze for longer storage.
Don't want to use bread flour? The bread may not hold its shape quite as well, but feel free to substitute all-purpose flour 1:1 for the bread flour in the recipe. Reduce the water to 1/4 cup.
Want to make a softer loaf with extended shelf life? Try the tangzhong technique, a Japanese method for increasing the softness and shelf life of yeast rolls. Begin by measuring out the flour and milk you’ll be using in the recipe. Now take 3 tablespoons of the measured flour and the 1/2 cup milk; put them in a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it forms a thick slurry; this will take about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer the cooked mixture to a bowl, let it cool to lukewarm, then combine it with the remaining flour and the other dough ingredients, increasing the amount of water to 3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon). Proceed with the recipe as directed. Well-wrapped and stored at room temperature, your loaf should stay soft and fresh for several days.