When I think of my Italian grandmother in the summer, I picture her busy. I, too, have a 15-pound marble mortar and pestle that sees heavy pesto-making activity in my kitchen all summer long. Pesto, whether freshly made or store-bought, goes well with just about everything. Of course, it’s naturally wonderful with pasta, but it’s also a delicious spread for a sandwich, smear for chicken or beans, or even something a little more unique, like a filling for these savory sourdough pesto knots. These made-from-scratch treats are sure to usher in all the summer feels, no matter the time of year.
I love the shape of these knots because they’re a clever way to create contrasting flavors and textures. The areas of dough exposed to the heat in the oven become crispy for a satisfying crunch, but the interior nooks and crannies of the twists remain soft and tender. This play of contrasts is developed further in the flavor department as the rich, buttery dough is brightened by herby, nutty pesto. Each bite is crunchy yet soft, with a deliciously savory pop from the basil that lingers throughout the meal.
These knots are lovely on their own as a savory breakfast or, my favorite, on the brunch table alongside pan-fried sunny-side-up eggs. If you’re out of pesto or want to go in a different direction, try ½ cup of olive oil with garlic and chopped herbs, or finely chopped sun-dried tomato and olives. —Maurizio Leo
- Prep time 37 hours 30 minutes
- Cook time 50 minutes
- makes 9 knots
ripe sourdough starter (100% hydration)
bread flour, plus more for dusting
large egg (about 53 grams)
fine sea salt
extra-virgin olive oil
large egg, beaten
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
A small handful of pine nuts, finely chopped (optional)
Mix the dough (9:00 a.m.).
Cut the butter into small pats and place on a plate to sit out at room temperature and soften. In a small pot, heat the water to about 76°F (24°C). Warming the water will help increase the final dough temperature at the end of mixing to ensure strong fermentation activity.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the sourdough starter, flour, egg, salt, and warm water on low speed until combined and no dry bits of flour remain. Increase the speed to 2 and mix for 3 to 5 minutes, until the dough starts to clump around the dough hook—it won’t completely come off the bottom of the bowl.
Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes in the bowl.
The butter should be at room temperature by this time—a finger should easily push into a piece without much resistance. If the butter is still cold, place it in the microwave for a few seconds at a time until it’s soft to the touch.
Turn the mixer on low speed and slowly stream in the oil. Once all of the oil is absorbed and the dough comes back together around the dough hook, add the butter, one piece at a time, waiting until each piece is fully incorporated before adding the next. Continue to mix until the dough is smooth and once again begins clumping on the dough hook, about 5 minutes total. The dough will be homogeneous and moderately elastic (strong) at the end of mixing, but still sticky.
Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with reusable plastic or a silicone lid, and bulk ferment.
Bulk ferment the dough (9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.).
Let the dough rise at warm room temperature (76°F/24°C) for a total of 3 hours. During this time, you’ll give the dough three sets of “stretches and folds” (see the next step for explanation) to give it additional strength. The first set is performed 30 minutes after the start of bulk fermentation, and the next two sets at 30-minute intervals, then the dough will rest for the remaining 2 hours 30 minutes. Set a timer for 30 minutes and let the dough rest, covered. After 30 minutes, give the dough its first set of stretches and folds.
To stretch and fold, with wet hands, grab the north side (the side farthest from you) of the dough and stretch it up and over to the south side. Then fold the south side up over the north. Perform two more folds, one from east to west and one west to east. Finally, let the dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes.
Perform the remaining two sets of stretches and folds in the same way, with 30 minutes of rest in between. After the third set, let the dough rest, covered, for the remaining time in bulk fermentation.
Chill the dough (12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., or up to 24 hours later).
After bulk fermentation, place the covered bowl in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 24. This time in the fridge will chill the dough, making it easier to roll out, cut, and twist into knots.
Roll out the dough, spread the pesto, cut, and shape the knots (1:30 p.m.).
Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper. Remove the bowl from the fridge, uncover, and liberally flour the top of the dough and a work surface. Using a plastic or silicone bowl scraper, gently scrape the dough onto the floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a rough 10x14-inch rectangle so the long sides are at your left and right. Using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the pesto onto the dough from edge to edge.
Next, fold the top of the dough farthest from you down toward your body, overlapping about two-thirds of the dough-rectangle. Repeat for the bottom edge of the dough, folding it up over the dough so it completely overlaps and makes a three-layered rectangle in front of you, with short sides to your left and right—imagine folding up a letter you’re sending to your pen pal (is that still a thing?). Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the rectangle into 9 (1-inch) strips.
Starting with one strip, hold the opposite ends of a strip in each hand and begin twisting. After a few revolutions, the strip of dough dangling between your hands can now be knotted. Hold one end still and, using your other hand, coil the twisted strip around your stationary hand one or two times, ending by tucking the end of the dough in the moving hand into the center circle of the coil, twisting the whole thing to make a twisted knot. Place the knot on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining strips, arranging in three rows of three knots.
Proof the shaped knots (2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
Cover the baking sheet with a large, airtight bag and let the dough proof on the counter at room temperature for 2½ hours. Be sure to heat the oven 15 to 30 minutes before the full 2½-hour proof time.
Bake the knots (preheat oven at 4:00 p.m.; bake at 4:30 p.m.).
Place a rack in the middle of the oven; heat to 400°F (200°C).
In a small bowl, whisk the egg and milk until frothy. Uncover the baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the egg wash onto each knot in a thin, uniform layer.
Bake the knots for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C) and bake for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the tops are golden. Avoid over-baking to ensure the knots are only slightly crunchy on the outside but have a soft interior.
Remove the pan from the oven. Lightly brush with the oil and top with the pine nuts, if using. Let the knots cool for a few minutes, then enjoy. They’re wonderful while still warm.
Once cooled, the knots can be stored in an airtight container on the counter for several days. Reheat in the microwave or a warm oven before serving.