Tomato Basil Loaf

2016 Food Blog February-0424N. and I first discovered Panera when we were living in Eugene. This seems a bit counterintuitive, since Eugene doesn’t have any Paneras. But on a visit or two with my parents, and N.’s parents, it became an easy place to pick up lunch, or a dinner for a sunset hike, and I was quickly sold on their vegetarian sandwich, not just because it came layered with pickled red peppers and fresh greens and spicy spread and crumbled feta, but because the bread it used – a fluffy tomato and basil flavored loaf with an intriguing, slightly sweet streusel across the top crust – was addicting. When we could, N. and I started buying a whole loaf of the bread on our last day in California, to take home to Eugene with us.

2016 Food Blog February-0378Now that we are in Los Angeles, there are Paneras everywhere (in fact, I just checked: there are at least five within a 5 mile radius of our house). Despite that proximity, though, we don’t go there very often. There are several reasons for this, but mostly, if I’m going to spend my money on restaurant fare, I’m going to explore what Los Angeles has to offer rather than a national chain. Regardless, the tomato basil bread, with that intriguing streusel, remains a favorite of mine, and when “red” was declared as February’s Twelve Loaves theme, I decided this was the right time to try a little re-creation attempt.

2016 Food Blog February-0370My bread combines lush, densely flavored scarlet tomato paste with a generous dusting of dried basil. The loaf itself is moistened and sweetened with buttermilk and molasses, and though it does bake up more orange than red, it makes perfect sandwich slices for cucumber and mozzarella, or pesto chicken, or just well-buttered toast.

2016 Food Blog February-0375The challenge here was the streusel. There are a number of “copycat” recipes out there for Panera’s loaf, but few of them make any attempt at the dark, sweet, sticky crumble adorning the top crust. I finally found a suggestion for a glaze made from tomato paste and brown sugar, thinned with a little water, and brushed over the top of the loaf. Since my first attempt was a little heavy on the tomato paste in the dough itself, reserving some for the top seemed like a smart adjustment. It did look a bit distressingly like a meatloaf with the traditional ketchup coating when I first applied the glaze, but the flavor of the finished product was strikingly similar to my inspiration.

2016 Food Blog February-03832016 Food Blog February-03892016 Food Blog February-0394Panera’s loaf is scored straight down the center so that the top crust puffs and pulls away from itself in two fat rounds, leaving the top of a slice looking almost heart shaped. I decided I wanted to try something new, so I went for a twist instead, separating my dough into two sluggish, sticky logs and wrapping them around each other before depositing into a loaf pan.

2016 Food Blog February-04042016 Food Blog February-0406A second rise, a glaze, and a quick 40 minutes in the oven, and I was rewarded with a loaf that, despite not being truly red, may be as close to the original as I’ll ever get. The interior is tender and chewy and springy, and the glaze hardened into gleaming sticky shellac (though it loses its crustiness as it sits). The tomato and basil flavor are both easily discernible, and the combination of tomato paste and brown sugar burnishing the top crust is just the right toasty sweetness, since despite the molasses, the bread itself is fairly savory.

2016 Food Blog February-0416Because the dough is pretty sticky, the loaf is moist and tender, which also means it’s a bit delicate. Take care when slicing into it, and be sure to give it at least half an hour to cool before attempting a slice at all. Conveniently, we found we liked the flavor better once the bread had cooled completely. As noted above, the glaze resorts to stickiness after a few hours, but it is still quite tasty, and will “crisp” up again just slightly after a trip through the toaster. Slicked with salted butter, it makes a perfect accompaniment to lesson-planning on a blustery afternoon.

2016 Food Blog February-0430

Tomato Basil Loaf
Makes 1 large sandwich loaf
4-4½ hours, including rising and baking time
1 cup cold buttermilk
⅓ cup boiling water + more to thin the glaze
3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 ¾ cups bread flour (you may not use all of it) + additional flour to dust the board
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried basil
½ cup tomato paste, divided
3 tablespoons brown sugar


  • In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, combine the cold buttermilk and the boiling water. This creates a yeast-friendly temperature without having to wait for the buttermilk to warm up. Stir in the molasses and the yeast, and let sit for 5-10 minutes until the surface of the mixture foams up and it smells bready.
  • While the yeast is working, combine 3 cups of the flour with the salt and basil in a large bowl. I use the bowl of my stand mixer. After the yeast has had a chance to wake up and is foamy, add the liquid slowly to the flour mixture and mix on low with the paddle attachment (or with a wooden spoon) to combine. Scrape in the tomato paste and again, mix just to combine.
  • Now, if you are using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook. If you are not using a stand mixer, turn out onto a well-floured board. Knead at medium speed for 5-7 minutes, adding in more flour if needed ¼ cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and takes on the consistency of soft, sticky play-dough.
  • Oil the inside of your work bowl (I use a non-stick spray), turn the ball of dough over inside a few times to coat it evenly, and then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and stow in a slightly warm spot for 1½-2 hours, until almost doubled.
  • Once the dough has risen adequately, punch it down by gently depressing your fist into the center to release the air, then let rest about ten minutes to get its breath back. Meanwhile, spray or butter a standard loaf pan.
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and divide it into two equal portions. Roll each half out into a pudgy log about 9 inches long. Pinch one end of each log together tightly to connect, then create a twist by lifting the left strand over the right, then repeating (because now what was the right strand will be the left one) until you come to the other end of each log. Pinch these remaining ends together tightly, then tuck underneath the twist you’ve created and gently place it in the prepared loaf pan. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise again for 45-60 minutes.
  • About 30 minutes before you put the dough into the oven, preheat to 350F, and make the glaze by combining the remaining 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, and 1-2 tablespoons of hot water to thin to a barely pourable glaze. When ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap, brush the glaze over the top of the loaf in a thin layer, and gently slide it into the preheated oven. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until the interior tests 180-200F on an instant read thermometer.
  • Cool at least 10 minutes in the loaf pan, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool at least 20 minutes more before slicing and eating. We found the flavor was better once the bread had completely cooled.


#TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Cake Duchess and run with the help of Heather of All Roads Lead to the Kitchen, which runs smoothly with the help of our bakers.

This month we’ll be baking breads with a RED theme in honor of National Heart Month, Valentine’s Day, and the Oscars (red carpet) – any red ingredient goes! For more bread recipes, visit the #TwelveLoaves Pinterest board, or check out last month’s mouthwatering selection of #TwelveLoaves enter last month’s breads featuring a “new to you” type of flour!

If you’d like to bake along with us this month, share your “RED” themed bread using hashtag #TwelveLoaves!

Sweet Potato Apple Oatmeal Bread

I seem to be increasingly fond of dishes with long titles. There’s nothing particularly extravagant about this quickbread (though I must admit, the prep work involved makes it not all that quick), but the title is lengthy because it does have a lot going on.  Harvest color from a baked, mashed sweet potato, juicy chunks of apple, a hearty, wholesome boost from the oats, plus a hefty dose of brown butter, buttermilk, cinnamon, and a streusel topping crammed with walnuts and dried apple rings. But I didn’t want to overload you, so sweet potato apple oatmeal bread it is.

Food Blog October 2013-2708This bread turned out to be a lovely little response to October’s Twelve Loaves theme: root vegetables. Upon first reading this mandate, I was a little concerned. I’ve already done loaded potato biscuits. Carrot cake is, eponymously, not bread. Beets and rutabegas and parsnips and all those other decidedly savory tubers I’d welcome in a roasting pan or in a latke just don’t seem like a good fit in bread, yeasted or otherwise.

Food Blog October 2013-2701Los Angeles has recently decided that, since it’s almost the middle of October now, Fall might be okay. It might be acceptable to hover below 80 degrees during the day,* and nights could, possibly, occasionally, fall to the chilly (hah!) mid-50s. This has put me in mind of all the harvest flavors I love which, predictably, takes me to Thanksgiving. Once there, it’s only a tiny hop to the humble sweet potato.

Food Blog October 2013-2687Sweet potatoes are true root vegetables. Unlike taro or ginger, which are technically modified stems, or even the grand old potato itself, which is a tuber but not a “true” root (I know, I was shocked too!), sweet potatoes are the root of the plant.

Food Blog October 2013-2680Food Blog October 2013-2685Food Blog October 2013-2682Thankfully, they are also delicious. I love their mellow, starchy sweetness in savory and sweet applications, but I’d never tried incorporating them into bread before. I knew almost immediately I wanted a quickbread rather than a yeasted loaf, and from there it only remained to pair a few flavors. Apples seemed like a nice match for sweet potato: big, fresh Honeycrisps have been showing up at our Farmers’ Market lately, and their juicy tartness would be a good foil for the dependable mellow of my main player. Oatmeal would bulk up the bread a little, giving it strength to support the onslaught of apple and sweet potato I had in mind. I found an oatmeal quickbread recipe that sounded promising on Flour Child, but things really cemented when I read Irvin’s post on Spiced Brown Butter Apple Walnut bread on his blog Eat the Love.

Food Blog October 2013-2688So, sweet potato, baked rather than steamed or boiled to cut down on moisture, an excessive mound of apples, left in sizable chunks that, when you start to mix them in will seem like far too many, rolled oats to bake into a breakfast-worthy slice, and the usual players – brown sugar and cinnamon and just enough salt – get topped off by a streusel you will want to eat not just on this bread, but on everything.  Walnut pieces, more oats, cinnamon for flavor and flour for texture, enough butter to hold things together, and the crowning touch: roughly chopped dried apples that, when baked, dehydrate even more into crispy, gloriously tart-sweet candy. I’m already imagining it on oatmeal, or pancakes, or baked on its own into a take on granola.

Food Blog October 2013-2699This is a moist loaf, and hearty, but not particularly dense. It can’t quite support its own weight, which means slices collapse easily on themselves because they are groaning under the quantity and size of the apples. It is also not terrifically sweet. I was aiming for a breakfast or a mid-morning snack kind of loaf. If you want something more dessert-like, or if you just have a determined sweet-tooth, try increasing the quantity of brown sugar by a few tablespoons.


* This morning’s meteorological news, however, may have made a liar out of me.

Food Blog October 2013-2707

Sweet potato apple oatmeal bread
Adapted from Flour Child and Eat the Love
makes one large loaf
For bread:
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup butter (8 tablespoons or 1 stick)
½ cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup baked, mashed sweet potato (from one medium)
2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into generous ½ inch pieces (I used Granny Smiths)
For streusel:
2 tablespoons oats
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup roughly chopped walnuts
¼ cup roughly chopped dried apple rings
2 tablespoons softened or melted butter


  • If you have not already baked your sweet potato, preheat your oven to 400F, pierce the flesh of the sweet potato a few times with a knife or the tines of a fork, and bake until the potato is evenly soft – anywhere from 35-60 minutes, depending on the size of the root.  When done, remove from the oven and cool completely before halving lengthwise and mashing the flesh. Discard the skin (or just eat it – it’s sweet and soft and good for you!).
  • Turn the oven down to 350F (or, if you haven’t just baked a sweet potato, preheat it to 350F) and butter, grease, or spray a loaf pan.  Set aside.
  • Begin by browning the butter. Melt your ½ cup of butter in a small pot over medium-low heat. As it melts, it will foam and sizzle a bit and some scummy stuff will appear on the surface. That’s okay. Water is evaporating and leaving us with a more concentrated product. After a while, little brown bits will begin to form on the bottom. This is what we want, but watch carefully – it takes a matter of seconds for butter to go from perfectly brown to burned. When the brown bits are nice and toasty, turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
  • While the butter cools, it’s a good time to make your streusel so you’re prepared later. In a small bowl, combine all streusel ingredients except the butter and whisk lightly together with a fork. Add butter and toss with the fork again or with your fingers until the mixture begins to stick together in clumps. Set aside.
  • Now, back to the bread. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. I like to use a whisk for this – it aerates the flour and evenly disperses the leavening agents.
  • In a large bowl (or the bowl of your standing mixer), combine the buttermilk, eggs, brown sugar, and mashed sweet potato. Add the brown butter and beat until a soupy, homogenous mixture is formed.
  • Add the dry ingredients to this wet mixture in two batches, beating just enough to combine after each. Once the flour mixture is incorporated and you have a thick, stiff batter, fold in the apples using a stiff spatula. It will seem like there are too many for the quantity of batter, but don’t worry. It will all work out.
  • Scrape the batter, which might seem more like just battered apple cubes, into the loaf pan.  Tap it once or twice on the counter to release air bubbles and help it settle a bit.
  • Pack on the streusel.
  • Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until the topping is deeply bronzed and a toothpick or knife inserted in the center of the bread comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Since the size and juiciness of your apple chunks may vary, check for doneness the first time after an hour, so you can gauge how much more time you might need.
  • If your bread is not done yet but outlier edges of dried apple or walnut threaten to burn, treat this like you’d treat a pie crust: tent the offending areas loosely with aluminum foil to keep them from getting too dark.
  • Cool completely before attempting to slice or remove from loaf pan.  Trust me.