I like to be alone. Or, to be more candid, I need to be alone pretty often. Growing up in a house with three sisters, a veritable menagerie of animals, and two parents, you get used to fiercely guarding your own independence.
It's funny how sometimes a day alone can make you melancholy, or it can feel like a gift. When it's the latter, the hours stretch out ahead of you, deliciously empty, waiting to be filled with any passing whim. You can put your phone away. You can take a long walk, and stop when you want to stop. Run when you want to run. You can willfully ignore lines of a recipe at dinnertime, leaving out the garlic because you don't really want four entire cloves in your chicken, thankyouverymuch. You can fast-forward through the parts of the movie you don't like.
Remember that Sex and the City episode when Carrie and company discuss "single person behavior"? Miranda wears weird infomercial moisturizing lotion gloves when she's alone. Carrie likes to eat a stack of Saltines spread with peanut butter and jelly while standing up in her kitchen. (Carrie is possibly my spirit animal in this moment.) Sidebar: Yes, I went there with the SATC reference, that was bound to happen sooner or later, sorry gents.
The truth is that this kind of thrill we derive from being alone generally only kicks in in contrast to being surrounded with people most of the time. When you're really and truly alone for a serious stretch of time, it's not that exciting to know that no one is around to judge you, or comment on your habits. Instead, in those times we crave connection.
I get both. Most of my days are spent alone. And I'm good at being alone. I work well in quiet hours where I can structure my own habits: When I take a run, and how I drink my coffee, and when I choose to eat lunch. Solo days also help me to be extra happy and bubbly when I'm around people.
But sometimes I find myself transforming from alone into lonely. There are indications of this. I'll notice myself trying to spin my interaction with the cashier at the check-out line into a real, deep conversation. (People behind you at Fairway are not into this.)
I'll spend too much time on the Internet, looking for a spark. I'll stand on a crowded street in the evening rush hour, as people stream about me with purpose, heading to dinners or home to their children or the gym, and I'll feel impossibly lonely. Close to tears. I'll close my eyes and think about home.
And here's one of the many things I love about baking: It's incredibly soothing when you feel down, and always can be counted on to fill up a few blank hours, giving purpose to an otherwise silent day. And if you're having a good day, it improves upon that.
I made this bread when I was at loose ends. Suddenly the hours flew by; I was immersed in the recipe, figuring out how to shape the intricate twisted loaves, and debating which fillings would work best. My kitchen smelled like yeast and toasted cheese and pizza spices.
I'm going to make it again (and again and again). I'll make it on good, happy, busy days. I'll make it on rainy days. I'll try every variation I can think of (pesto-filled, sweet Nutella-filled, cream cheese and almond-filled, coconut-filled), because it is really that good.
Pizza Cheese Twist Bread
Makes 2 loaves
**You can buy the pizza seasoning I use here, and I am obsessed with that stuff, or make your own by blending dried oregano, dried basil, dried rosemary, dried onion flakes, dried thyme, sea salt, crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic powder together.**
1/3 cup whole milk
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant or active dry yeast (1 envelope)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/4-3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used a mixture of Gruyere, cheddar, and Parmesan)
1/4 cup pizza seasoning
Combine the milk, water, and sugar in a small bowl and heat until very warm but not scalding (microwaving for 30 seconds will do the trick).
Add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Let sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is foamy and puffy-looking on the surface.
Add the egg (use a room temperature egg; if yours is cold, let it sit in a bowl of hot water for a couple minutes), olive oil, and salt. Stir to combine well.
Add the yeast mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitting with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour. Start with 3 1/4 cups and mix until the dough comes together.
The dough should be pretty sticky but shouldn't be wet, and it should come together in a ball. Add a bit more flour if you need to, and then continue to knead using the dough hook for 5 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a large lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let rise for about 1 hour, until doubled.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough out to a 12" x 20" rectangle.
Using your fingers, spread the softened butter evenly over the surface of the dough.
Sprinkle the cheese and the pizza seasoning evenly over the dough.
Starting with the end closest to you, roll the dough lengthwise into a tight log (so you have a 20" long log). Pinch the seam to seal.
Using a very sharp serrated knife, slice the log in half, so you have two 10" logs. Slice each log in half lengthwise -- this will likely be very messy! Don't worry if it seems like it's falling apart. Persevere. Now you have four 10" half-cylinders. Take two, and twist them together, keep the cut sides up. Pinch the two ends together and place, cut sides up, in a greased 9" x 5" loaf pan. Repeat with the other two pieces of dough.
Cover both loaf pans and let rise for about 30 minutes.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the loaves for about 35 minutes. If the top is getting too brown, you can tent them with aluminum foil towards the end.
Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then run a knife gently around the edges and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.