Although this is not a true sourdough bread, the tangy starter gives it a delicious zip. The starter needs to be made a day ahead. This recipe won “Best of Show,” and with good reason&emdash;it is both gorgeous and delicious. Vickie Medlin, Dallas, Texas–State Fair of Texas, Dallas, Texas
To make the starter, combine all the ingredients thoroughly. The mixture will be thick. Cover and let sit at least 24 hours before using. After using, replenish by adding equal amounts of warm water and flour plus 1 teaspoon sugar.
To make the bread, in a large bowl dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of the warm water. Let stand until dissolved. Stir in the starter, oil, milk, remaining ½ cup water, honey, salt, and egg. Add 2 cups of the flour and mix thoroughly. Knead in enough of the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, to produce a smooth, not sticky, dough. Rub the top of the dough with oil, place in a bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in bulk.
To make the filling, while the bread is rising, heat the butter in a skillet and saute the onion and garlic lightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese, poppy seeds, and paprika. Cool. When the dough has risen, punch it down and let it rest for 10 minutes. Roll out into an 18x12-inch rectangle and spread with the filling. Cut into 3 lengthwise strips. Carefully pinch together the edges of each strip to make 3 stuffed ropes of dough. On a greased baking sheet, loosely braid the ropes together and tuck the ends underneath. Cover and let rise for 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the dough with the egg-water mixture and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.