I think this is the prettiest bread I've ever baked. Honestly, though, I stood in my kitchen beaming like I'd sculpted some masterpiece. This is a challah filled with spinach and ricotta and pine nuts, shaped into a mock braid, and sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds. When I realized the method for braiding was the same I had used for my Braided Lemon Bread, I dove right in. Here's a how-to guide.
Before you assemble: Make sure your dough is on a parchment sheet or silicone mat. Otherwise, it will be almost impossible after to move to the baking pan while keeping it intact.
1. Cut the rectangle of dough so there are tabs on the top and bottom, and evenly spaced strips on either side. Spread the filling down the middle. Try to avoid snacking on too many of the toasted pine nuts and depleting them, which is easier said than done.
2. Fold down the top tab, then fold over one side strip, followed by the one on the opposite side, repeating all the way down. Easy! So you're either folding left-right-left-right, or right-left-right-left.
3. Before you finish folding all the strips, fold the bottom tab up, then braid the remaining strips over it. You might have noticed I don't have an even number of strips on each side -- don't repeat my mistake. If you do, no big deal. I just tucked the last extra strip under. Brush on an egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds, and you're ready to bake!
Joe loved the bread and devoured it. I froze the second loaf, because he vetoed my idea of giving it away. I have to confess, however, that I didn't love the bread as much as I thought I would. I felt like the filling could benefit from a stronger flavor like goat cheese or feta. Also, the dough was just too wet and I had to add nearly an extra cup of flour to make the dough come together, even though I weighed the ingredients so measurements should have been precise. And as nice as the bread was, I found myself thinking the flaky phyllo layers of spanakopita were superior. Still, all the while, I never got tired of marveling at how pretty my loaves were.