I love homemade bread. That incredible aroma that fills the house and those thick, warm slices are just what I need when the weather is cold. My sundried tomato, olive and herb bread is a favorite, especially when making an Italian meal. These flavorful, loaded loaves are so delicious and look festive, making them a wonderful addition to a special meal. This recipe makes two large loaves, giving you the chance to enjoy one for yourself and freeze one for later, or you can treat someone else with a special homemade gift.

Belle’s Sundried Tomato, Olive and Herb Bread

2 cups warm water

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup oil (I use the oil from the sundried tomatoes)

¾ cup chopped sundried tomatoes (the jarred type in oil)

1/3 cup chopped black olives

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese (optional)

4-5 cups flour

In a large mixing bowl (I use my stand-up mixer) dissolve the sugar in the warm water, and then sprinkle the yeast evenly over the top. Let it sit until yeast resembles a creamy foam. Mix the salt and oil into the yeast. Mix in the tomatoes, olives, Italian seasoning and cheese. Then mix in the flour one cup at a time until you can touch it without the dough being wet. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until smooth. Shape it into a ball and put it into a greased bowl. Turn the dough to coat all sides. Cover with a dish towel and let it rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes and divide in half. Shape into loaves, place into two greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans, divide each loaf into three pieces and place on a large baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Roll the pieces into ropes and braid- tucking the ends under at both sides. Cover the bread with a dish towel and allow to rise again for about 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Check the bread after 20 minutes and cover lightly with foil if it is getting too brown.

Brenda Stanley is the mother of five children, including two sets of twins and a grandmother of eight. She is a cookbook author and novelist. For more recipes and information, visit her website, www.talesofthedinnerbelle.com.

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