180ml warm water
28g active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
500g bread flour, plus more for dusting
1 tbsp sea salt
80ml olive oil
1 large egg
1 tsp water
For the pesto:
Leaves and soft stems from 85g watercress, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
150g grated vegetarian Parmesan or other hard cheese
Zest of one lemon
55g pine nuts, toasted
120ml extra virgin olive oil
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment combine the warm water, yeast and sugar and mix at low speed until just combined (about 30 seconds). Leave to stand for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is frothy.
Heat the milk in a saucepan set over a medium-low heat until tiny bobbles form at the edge of the pan. Do not allow to boil. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
Once the milk has cooled, add it to the mixer along with the olive oil and salt. Mix at a low speed until just combined. Add the flour one quarter at a time, mixing after each addition on a medium-low speed. Ensure everything is combined.
Change the paddle attachment on the mixer over to the hook, ensuring that any dough is scraped off and put back into the bowl. Mix on low speed for about 1 minute, then increase the speed to medium and mix for about 5-6 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Lightly oil a large mixing bowl and place the dough inside. Lightly oil a piece of clingfilm and use it to cover the dough, oiled side down. Cover this with a clean cloth and set aside in a warm place to prove for around 1 hour, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size.
Make the pesto by adding the watercress, garlic, cheese, lemon zest, and pine nuts to a processor. Pulse until everything is pureed, then blend continuously while adding the olive oil in a steady stream. Scrape down the sides with a spatula and then blend for another 30 seconds to make sure everything is combined. Set aside. (This can be done up to two days in advance but must be brought back up to room temperature before using.)
Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick mat. Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and teaspoon of water together then set aside. Also prepare another large square of parchment to work on when you shape the bread.
Lightly flour a work surface then turn out the proved dough and cut it into three equal pieces. Use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out the first piece to a 12 inch/30cm square. It should be about 3mm in thickness. Use a spatula to scoop a third of the pesto onto the dough and spread evenly, leaving a border uncovered on the edge closest to you. Brush this exposed border with egg wash, then begin to roll the dough into a tube from the furthest edge towards you as tightly as you can. Once you have rolled the dough fully into a tube, pinch the seam closed with your fingertips. Gently roll the tube back and forth over the work surface until it spreads lengthwise to about 20 inches/50cm long. Cover with cling film and set aside while you repeat with the remaining dough and pesto.
Line up the rolled tubes on the prepared piece of parchment paper. Use a large sharp knife to make a lengthways slash in each roll, cutting a deep slit halfway down the depth of the tube. Be careful not to cut all the way through.
Roughly measure the centre point of the tubes. Working towards you from the centre, plait the tubes together by crossing one of the outer tubes gently over the middle one. Then cross the other outer tube up and over the new middle one exactly as if you were braiding hair. Repeat, working your way down to the end so that half the tube is braided. Then turn the parchment around and plait the other side from the centre to the end. Carefully join up the ends so that the plaited dough forms a ring shape, then pinch firmly together to complete the circle. Use the parchment paper the dough is resting on to transfer the whole thing to your lined backing tray.
Make four equally spaced dents for the eggs in between the strips of the plait. Gently position the eggs one by one. Press them down carefully to avoid breaking them. Lightly oil a piece of cling film then use this to cover the bread. Allow to prove for around 30 minutes.
Uncover the plaited load and brush well with the remainder of the egg wash. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and bake for an additional 45 minutes or until the bread is a warm brown colour. If you rap the bread gently on the bottom, it should sound quite hollow.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes on the baking tray. Then transfer to a cooling rack and allow to come down to room temperature before serving. Serve on a platter and slice at the table.