Convito Italiano-style Pepper-Cheese Bread

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Chewy, peppery and just-cheesy-enough, Chicago’s Convito Italiano Pepper-Cheese bread is the stuff of legends. Convito Italiano has been baking Pepper-Cheese bread for most of the 30 years it’s been in operation. Still the concept’s best selling bread, the black-pepper-parmesan-and-provolone packed loaf isn’t one the owners will give out a recipe for. But twenty years ago, the Chicago Sun Times created its own version of the bread. In response to reader Sherri W.’s request, here is an adaptation of that recipe.

Makes 2, one-pound loaves

For sponge Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast granules
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup bread flour

 

For dough Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water

For filling Ingredients

  • 1 cup grated provolone cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided

Instructions

  1. Make sponge: In medium-sized bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in flour. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 24 to 48 hours. When ready to use, sponge will be bubbly and smell fermented
  2. Prepare dough: In an electric-mixer bowl, combine sponge with warm water, sugar and salt. Beat in 2 cups of bread flour, pepper and oregano. Add another two cups flour to make a manageable dough.
  3. Knead with mixer dough hook for 8 minutes, or, by hand for 15 minutes until dough is smooth and springy, adding enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or bowl.
  4. Place dough in oversized oiled bowl, turning dough to coat all over with oil. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm place for 4 to 8 hours. Dough will double in bulk.
  5. Punch down. Let rest for 10 minutes. Divide dough in half. Spread each half into a rectangular shape–about 8 x 14 inches. Sprinkle 1/2 cup provolone mixed with 1/4 cup parmesan cheese over each rectangle, leaving last two inches of long side of bread bare. Starting with long side closest to you, roll rectangle tightly, jelly-roll-style, tucking in ends. Place seam-side-down on lightly-greased cookie sheet and cover loosely. This time, place dough next to a bowl of boiling water, for one hour.
  6. Brush tops of each loaf with egg wash. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes until bread sounds hollow when tapped on bottom. Bread is best if served within a day.

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