Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Frank's Pepper Bread

This Italian family-favorite comes to you from my late grandfather, Frank Marotta. My grandfather was strong, tough – yet loving, and one of the best bakers I ever met. An Italian-American born in New York City in 1925, he learned to be both street and book-smart while growing up during the Depression. He served in the Navy during World War II, and shortly after the war, he started a family. He learned the art of baking from his mother, Antonetta. Though he worked long hours as both a city and school bus driver, he always found time to bake – he was best known for his pepper bread. I still remember going over to my grandparents’ house and knowing right away that pepper bread was in the oven. He would bring it to every family gathering, and the guests could not wait to get their hands on it.

It wasn’t until I was much older, in my mid-twenties, that I began an interest in these family recipes. My boyfriend at the time, now husband, was particularly interested in learning more about baking. Unfortunately, at that time, my grandfather was very ill and no longer baking. My grandmother passed the recipe to me, but in her old-world fashion, it consisted of a list of ingredients with no measurements. Instructions such as, “make it like you’re making pizza dough” filled the page. For someone who doesn’t know how to make pizza dough, this was not very helpful. I spoke to her over the phone to get more details, but I could tell she’d never measured anything out, and it was all in her head as it was for my grandfather. Relying on my notes from my conversations with her on her hand-written recipe, my husband and I began recreating it.

Through trial and error, we figured out how to recreate this family favorite. Most of the credit needs to go to my husband who knows the chemistry of bread-baking – I was just the taste-tester and pepper sauté-er. I think that if this isn’t spot-on to what my grandfather made, it’s pretty darn close. Just a single bite of this delicious savory bread transports me right back to backyard barbeques with my family, weekends with my grandparents, and basically my entire childhood. I hope you enjoy Frank’s Pepper Bread as much as we do.

4 ½ Cups King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
2 Tsp Salt
2 Tsp Sugar
3 Tsp Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
1 ½ Cup Warm Water

2 Green Bell Peppers
¼ Tsp Salt
¼ Tsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
¾ Cup Grated Cheddar Cheese
2 Tbsp Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

For the Bread:

1.)   Wisk together the flour, salt sugar, and yeast in a large bowl – create a well in the middle.

2.)   Warm your water to 110° and pour it into the well. Mix the ingredients until combined. Let it stand for 5 minutes to let the water absorb.

3.)   Knead for about 10 minutes it until it’s a smooth ball – you can also knead it with a stand mixer using the dough hook attachment for about 7 minutes until it forms a ball.

4.)   Place the dough back in a lightly oiled large bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap – let it rise for 90 minutes.

5.)   Punch down the bread and let it rise again for 45 minutes.

While your dough is in the long rising stages, you can start on the filling for the bread – see Step 6.

6.)   Wash the bell peppers, cut them in half, remove the seeds and membranes, cut them into ¼ inch slices, and toss them with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the peppers until soft – about 10-15 minutes. Allow them to cool to room temperature before proceeding to the next steps.

7.)   When your dough is ready, divide it in half. Take one of the two sections of dough, and roll it out in a rectangle like you’re making a pizza.

8.)   Place half of the peppers evenly over the dough. Sprinkle it with half of the cheddar cheese, and then sprinkle half of the pecorino on top.

9.)   Roll the dough up long-ways – tuck and fold the ends of both sides in. NOTE: Leave a couple of inches at the end of the dough to avoid the filling bursting out.

10.)   Follow the process above for the second loaf of bread.

11.)  Let the loaves rise on parchment lined cookie sheets for 20 minutes, brush them with olive oil, then slice the loaves with razor blade three times.

12.)  Bake the loaves for 30 minutes in a 400° oven – the bread should be a golden brown color when done.

NOTE: If you’re not going to serve the bread right away, store in the fridge or freezer. Heat it up in a 300° oven for 15-20 minutes to toast up the crust and melt the filling before serving.


  1. Oh man I miss this bread so much! I think it's great you guys figured it out. I'm going to try it as soon as I have the guts to attempt it. I made linguini and clams tonight with clams I bought at the liquor store next door. The guy said refrigeration wasn't necessary since they were still closed in their shells. I think I'm going to order out for the next few days.

  2. Hey Chris - so glad you read this, I was just about to email the link to you. It came out so darn good, we had it with spaghetti last night.

    I entered the recipe in a bread contest - wish me luck!

    PS: Yes, you should be careful of unrefrigerated clams from liquor stores! If you can't get fresh ones, Snow's canned clams work just fine!

  3. Looks so good I can smell it. Good luck with the contest. Maybe you can see a crop circle.

    PS: Unrefrigerated clams from a liquor store???

  4. Thanks Dad!

    Yeah, you need to talk to your son about where he buys his shellfish.

  5. Great job! Your Grandfather would be so proud!

  6. mmmm great tasting bread; your grandmother continued to bake it when your grandfather was no longer able to do so; a wonderful tribute to your grandfather; good luck with the contest Elizabeth; keep me posted.

  7. Thanks Lisa! It's amazing how the smell and taste of food can actually transport you back in time =)

  8. Time machines also help transport you back. Im going to order some Uranium ore and get working: http://www.amazon.com/Images-SI-Inc-Uranium-Ore/dp/B000796XXM/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1295555988&sr=8-5

  9. @Alan - Let me know if you need to borrow my flux capacitor! Great post Elizabeth! My god, this bread looks good! I might try it...I miss it!

  10. Thanks Tom - seriously, it's like an edible version of our 4th of July BBQs in Hollister!

  11. This is the yummiest! I think you guys need to make it again and bring it to work!

  12. Thanks Devon - I've been hoarding it at home, but it will make it's way back to the office again. Besides, we need to work something out for that fancy sea salt you brough us back from Hawaii!