Tomato-Saffron Bread and Sandwiches

I know.  I’m tomato-obsessed.  But this latest object of my tomato affection is truly delicious and versatile.  This sunny-colored bread makes a great variation on a grilled cheese sandwich, and is just plain good all on its own.   I imagine it would make lovely croutons for a tomato and mozzarella salad, or a nice addition to a bread basket served with seafood soup or stew.  I have a favorite sandwich that I buy from a local cafe.  They call it the “parmesan-crusted veggie sandwich”.  I was able to make my own version of Cafe 1505’s specialty with my tomato-saffron bread, avocado, lettuce, red onion, and yes, tomatoes.  So here we go, one last homage to this summer’s tomato harvest.  Enjoy.

Tomato-Saffron Bread
(makes two 9×5 braided loaves)
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105-115F)
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
1 1/2 cups fresh (homemade) tomato juice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 1/2 to 6 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
egg wash for glazing the loaves before baking
2-3 teaspoons poppy seeds
Sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl.  Let stand until foamy.  Steep the saffron threads in the remaining 1/4 cup of warm water for 5 minutes.  Warm the tomato juice in a medium saucepan and add the tomato paste, honey, and oil.  In a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour and the salt.  Add the yeast, saffron, and tomato mixtures and beat with a whisk for 3 minutes, or until smooth.  Add flour1/2 cup at a time, until the mixture forms a thick, shaggy dough that clears the sides of the bowl (you could do this in a stand mixer, if you prefer).  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a smooth, springy dough is formed.  Add only as much flour as necessary to prevent excessive stickiness.  Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 -2 hours.

Tomato-Saffron Bread on the rise.

Gently deflate the dough, turn out onto a lightly floured work surface, and divide into 4 equal portions.  With your palms, roll each section into a 12-inch log.  Twist 2 sections of dough around each other to form a 2-strand braid.  Repeat with the remaining 2 portions of dough.  Place in 2 greased 9×5 inch loaf pans.  Brush the tops gently with egg glaze (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk) and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until the dough reaches the tops of the pans, about 45-60 minutes.  Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 35-40 minutes or until browned and firm (an instant-read thermometer will register about 200F when the bread is done).  Gently remove from the pans to cool on racks.
(from “Bread” by Beth Hensperger)

Here are the two sandwiches that I made with the tomato-saffron bread.  I thought this Mediterranean-inspired bread needed some similar ingredients, so I chose Fontina cheese, prosciutto, and basil for my Italian-themed grilled cheese sandwich.

For each sandwich:  2 slices tomato-saffron bread, 1/2 cup shredded Fontina cheese, 1 or 2 leaves fresh basil, torn into rough pieces, 1 large, thin slice prosciutto (or best quality smoked ham), and 1 generous tablespoon butter.  Layer 1/4 cup cheese on 1 slice of bread, pressing down gently to an even layer.  Scatter the basil leaves atop the cheese and arrange the prosciutto on top.  Cover with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and another bread slice.  Press together gently.  Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet and add the sandwich.  Cook until golden brown and the cheese is beginning to melt, turn and repeat on the other side.  Keep warm, wrapped loosely in foil, in a low oven,while you make additional sandwiches.  Serve while the cheese is melty and gooey.

Now for the Parmesan-crusted vegetable sandwich:
Make a Parmesan butter by combining 2 tablespoons soft, unsalted butter with 4-5 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese.  This will be enough for 2 to 3 sandwiches.  Spread one side of each slice of tomato-saffron bread with the Parmesan butter.  Toast to a crunchy, golden brown in a non-stick skillet or under the broiler.  Cool the bread slices on a rack while preparing the vegetables.

 To assemble the sandwiches, layer, on the non cheese-crusted side of the bread, thinly sliced red onion, avocado (sprinkled with lime juice), tomatoes, and lettuce.  Season the vegetables with salt and pepper as you layer them on the bread.  Top with another slice of bread, cheese-crusted side up.  Cut in half and serve.  The textures of this sandwich are so good:  crunchy, cheesy bread on the outside and cool, crisp, creamy vegetables on the inside.  So delicious!

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