Updated: Sep 9, 2021
As a service to my readers, food & feast posts will always feature the recipe first, with history, folklore, and cooking tips toward the bottom of the page. For background on this recipe and helpful hints for navigating technique, scroll down! Otherwise, dive right in with the recipe below.
cheddar, herb, & caramelized onion braid
Yields one braided loaf
Serves 10-12 guests
Contains flour, egg, dairy
Prep time : 1 hour
Cook time : 40-50 minutes
FOR THE FILLING
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large white or yellow onions, sliced
3 tablespoons lightly packed fresh oregano
3 tablespoons lightly packed fresh thyme
1 tablespoon red wine
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
6 oz sharp white cheddar, grated
FOR THE DOUGH
2 pounds frozen pizza dough, thawed
1 egg, beaten
Fresh cracked pepper
Cracked caraway seeds
Begin with your filling. In a skillet, heat your olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add your onions, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes until soft and caramelized. If your onions begin to scorch, turn your heat down slightly. When the onions are rich and brown, stir in your fresh herbs, wine, salt, and pepper. Cook just until the red wine is absorbed, and then remove from heat. Set your onions aside until cool.
Next, prepare the dough. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Roll your dough out on a sheet of parchment into a long rectangle, at least 12 inches (about 30cm) wide and ¼ inch (6mm) thick. Slice your dough along each side into strips about 1 inch (2.5cm) apart, leaving the middle ⅓ of the dough untocuhed (see below for a photo of this procedure). Lay your grated cheddar down along the center ⅓ of your dough, and top with the caramelized onions. Beginning at the top of the loaf, tuck the end of the dough over the filling, and layer the strips of dough from either side over the filling as well, alternative left and right. When the bread is braided, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with cracked pepper and caraway seeds.
Transfer the dough and parchment to a baking sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the bread is golden and fully cooked. Allow to cool enough to handle before slicing, as a too-hot loaf will allow melted cheese to run out of the bread when sliced. Store airtight and finish within 3 days.
I'll keep it brief with this recipe, but there is something about this bread that makes everyone's mouths water. I've been using this recipe since I was 16 years old, first baked for an apple picking date with an old boyfriend. It was an instant hit. Soft, pillowy pizza dough, braided into a loaf that looks way more complex than it is, enshrouds a center of soft, gooey white cheddar and rich, aromatic caramelized onions. It is the perfect fall or winter bake, making do in season where fresh fruit and vegetables are not as available, and the decadence of simple ingredients - bread, cheese and root veg- can be relied upon. For a picnic or as an accompaniment to hearty soups and stews, this recipe is a perfect fit.
And for its pounds of visual appeal, featuring neat, overlapping braids, this loaf is shockingly simple to prepare. If you've never braided dough, consider starting here. The images here should provide some insight into the technique, where alternating strips of dough are layered over the filling, tucking the ends securely under each new layer. Even a large loaf braids up in seconds, and the pizza dough is stretchy and easy to handle.
If we consider the planetary correspondences of the ingredients here, it's pretty clear that this loaf is squarely ruled by the erotic spheres of Venus and Mars. Pastries, especially those with an aesthetic flair and a soft, pillowy texture, are traditionally Venusian- the sphere which rules tactile pleasure and sensory enjoyment, both of which (hopefully!) feature in this recipe in spades. Caramelized flavors are Venusian as well, here represented in a transformation from savory to sweet as the raw onions cook slowly and their sugars are gently warmed and browned. However, the flavor profile of onions, cheese, and slightly spicy herbs like oregano and thyme is squarely Martial. Mars rules each of these components individually, particularly the onions and herbs, as well as the bitter flavors they lend to the final bake.
As these are the two planets which are said rule lust and attraction, perhaps it's no surprise that this bake is a total crowd pleaser. While I wouldn't recommend this recipe for love magic per se (there are definitely more romantic options than onion bread), it certainly seems to provoke desire, and oohs and aahs from guests when it emerges from the oven. And as much as these spheres rule love in their own ways, their broad rulerships also govern comfort (Venus) and hunger (Mars). Perhaps this is where this bake relates to the planets, in the nexus of what is filling and what is delicious, offering a profile of flavors and textures that no one could turn down.