What would life be like without the occasion surrender to whimsy? There are certain foods, which, when you lay your eyes upon them, bring a smile to your face and a honey glow to your cheeks; the type of foods that elicit a little giggle, often punctuated with the expression “Awww!” so often used to describe ‘cute’ things. I have a reverence of sorts for foods that are as fun and artful to look at as they are delicious to eat. When it comes to creating foods that are fully of whimsy and visual interest, this is my wheelhouse. I found myself pottering around my kitchen today, bolstered by an enthusiasm to satiate my craving for some combination of bread and meat. I found myself where I find myself frequently: telling myself that a bread this cute was worth wasting a lot of carb calories on — the all too familiar refrain of the carb addict.
And so, I set out to make these cute little caterpillar breads. Don’t even try to tell me that they didn’t make you crack a smile. But I reckon I know what you’re thinking: they are tedious and time-consuming and not to be tampered with unless you have an afternoon off to do nothing but bake bread. And to that, I say: O ye of little faith, would I dare to share a recipe with you that isn’t as simple as it is delicious? There is no food in this world that eager zealousness paired with visual acuity cannot create with ease and very little time.
This cute bread is also a celebration of sorts. It’s my birthday today and though the last few years of my adult life have brought many changes to who I am today, I’ve retained the one trait that every woman my age should have in spades: reckless abandon in the kitchen. The sands of time have yet to rob me of my brimming and burgeoning desire to create unique foods. So follow my lead and give this daring recipe a try. This recipe is the cadillac of cute breads — right up there with ‘panda bread’ and ‘bears in tea cups’ (stayed turned for those recipes in coming weeks). An entirely unscientific poll taken in my kitchen at a dinner party some years ago, found that two-thirds of people thought cute foods are superior in taste than those foods that are made with little creativity, and so, to that end, I bring you this recipe. These cute little caterpillar breads are often filled with sweet fillings such as coconut, in local Chinese bakeries around Toronto, so the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can fill these breads with: sweet or savoury, the choice is yours to make.
Dijon and honey are a classic combination that convert everyday chicken to a delicious, flavourful treat, so I used chicken flavoured with these ingredients, along with veggies, to fill the breads. There’s plenty of wiggle room with the filling so feel free to use ground beef or ground chicken or any other meat you desire, and add any veggies that you may have on hand. You can also make a sweet filling of coconut or even a mixture of nuts and chocolate!
The dough is incredibly easy to handle and because it is greased before it is proofed, it requires no extra flour while rolling out. It is pliable and easily rolls out with a rolling pin. If you notice your dough is sticking to the surface that you are rolling it on, you can simply dust it lightly with flour but you shouldn’t need to if your dough was prepared correctly. Below is a step-by-step pictorial which illustrates the exact process to create these lovely little breads. Being able to mimic the recipe with visual aids will make creating these breads a breeze!
The dough should be rolled out to a 9-inch x 6-inch oval or rectangle.
Add the filling along one of the longer sides of the rolled out dough. Be sure to divide your filling in 5 equal portions to make it easier to know how much filling goes in each bread. Do not overfill the bread with filling or it will be difficult to roll and your dough may tear.
Fold the dough over the filling gently, ensuring the filling is uniform in width along the entire length of the dough. Press the filling gently but firmly to ensure it is all enclosed neatly within the dough.
Beginning with the first incision or strip, fold them over, one by one, until each strip is wrapped around the dough, making sure that there is uniform distance between each strip. Tuck the ends of the strips under the roll to ensure that they do not lift up during the baking process.
Line the rolls up side by side, leaving about 2-3 inches between each roll on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a reusable heat-proof silicone mat as I’ve used here. Silicone mats are extremely handy as they can be washed and reused time and again. Your baked goods will remove easily without mess from a silicone mat and the mat eliminates the need for expensive parchment when baking cookies, breads, etc.
Brush each roll carefully and very thoroughly with the egg wash to ensure that the egg reaches around the roll and between each of the strips.
These rolls can be sprinkled with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or sea salt. My mild obsession with sea salts drove me to sprinkle a beautiful, but mild, red Alaea Hawaiian sea salt on the rolls to give them visual interest and a little hint of saltiness with each bite.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (30 ml) warm water
1 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (30 ml) butter, melted
2 tablespoons (30 ml) oil
1 egg, beaten and divided
3/4 cup milk, warmed
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, poppy seeds or sesame seeds
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons barbeque sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons (30 ml) oil
1/2 green bell pepper (capsicum)
1 small onion
1/4 cup parsley
Prepare the dough: Combine the warm water and yeast in a small bowl and set aside for 5 minutes until the yeast starts to foam and bubble a bit. In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, sift the flour. Add the baking powder, sugar, salt, butter, oil and half the egg. (Reserve the other half of the egg to brush the tops of the breads before baking.) Add the yeast mixture to the mixing bowl. Using the dough hook attachment on your mixer, combine all the ingredients. Turn the mixer on low and slowly pour the warm milk in until the dough starts to come together. (Pour the milk slowly as you may not need to use the entire 3/4 cup of milk.) If you’ve added too much milk and the dough is too sticky, simply add a tablespoon or two of flour to make the mixture less tacky/wet. When the mixture comes together and starts kneading, it should be dry enough not stick to the sides of the bowl. Continue to knead on medium speed for 10-12 minutes. You can also do the kneading by hand on a floured work surface. Once the dough is thoroughly kneaded, remove from the bowl and transfer to a bowl that is lightly greased with oil. Rotate the dough in the bowl a few times to coat the surface with oil and place, covered, in a draft-free place to rise for about 45-60 minutes or until doubled in size.
Prepare the filling: Marinate the chicken by combining with it the minced garlic, dijon mustard, honey, barbeque sauce, crushed chili flakes, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes while the dough is rising. In the meantime, chop the onion, bell pepper and parsley. Set aside. In a small saucepan, warm the oil. Remove the chicken from the fridge and fry the chicken until it is browned and cook through. Set aside in a plate. Add the onion, bell pepper, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper to the same saucepan and cook until they are tender. Remove from heat. Shred or chop the chicken into small pieces. In a large bowl, add the chicken pieces, the cooked onion and bell pepper and the fresh parsley. Stir to combine.
Assemble the caterpillar breads: Remove the proofed dough from the bowl and divide it into 5 equal sections. Using a rolling pin, roll each one into an oval or rectangular shape to about 9 inches x 6 inches and 1/4 inch thickness. If desired, melt a tablespoon of butter and use some of it to brush the surface of the bread to add extra flavour and tenderness. Once you’ve brushed the dough with butter, add your filling along one of the longer sides of the oval or rectangle. On the side opposite the filling, using a sharp knife, cut 12-14 strips about a third of the way into the oval of the rolled out dough. Fold the dough over the filling to encase its contents and then, one by one, fold each strip over the roll, with uniform distance between each strip. Tuck the ends of the strips under the dough so they do not open and puff up during baking. Place on a large baking sheet lined with a heat-proof silicone mat or parchment paper. Repeat the process with the remaining 4 balls of dough. Allow the breads to rest for about 20 minutes. They will continue to expand ever so slightly. Brush the remaining half egg over the assembled breads and sprinkle with the sea salt of your choice, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 18-20 minutes until the tops are beautifully browned. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yields: 5 caterpillar breads