100g butter, melted (buy a 250g pack and use the rest in the garlic butter)
a drizzle of oil, for greasing
2 tbsp fine polenta or cornmeal
150g pack mozzarella (about 20 balls)
For the tomato dipping sauce
small knob of butter
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp golden caster sugar
For the garlic butter
4 garlic cloves, crushed
small bunch parsley, finely chopped (leave a little leftover to garnish, if you like)
Tip the flour into a large bowl or the bowl of a freestanding mixer. Add the yeast and sugar to one side of the bowl and 1 tsp fine salt to the other. Mix together, then add the melted butter and 275ml warm water. Mix to a dough, then knead for 10 mins by hand (or 5 mins in a freestanding mixer) until the dough feels stretchy and soft. Clean out the bowl, then lightly grease with a little oil. Turn the dough over in the oiled bowl until it’s well coated. Cover with cling film or a tea towel and set aside somewhere warm until the dough has doubled in size. Alternatively, put the dough in the fridge and leave to rise slowly for 2 days (bring it to room temperature before continuing to step 2).
Line your largest baking sheet with parchment and dust with polenta or cornmeal. Drain the mozzarella and dry the balls on some kitchen paper. Tip the dough onto your work surface and punch out the air bubbles. To make a Christmas tree shape, you’ll need 23 balls. Tear off lumps of dough, ensuring each one is roughly the same size (if you want to be exact, weigh the dough, divide the weight by 23, then weigh each ball of dough as you break them off).
Shape each piece of dough into a disc and place a ball of mozzarella in the middle. Pull up the sides of the dough to encase the cheese, pinching the dough together to seal. Roll into a ball and place on the baking sheet, sealed side down, in a tree shape. Leave a little space between each ball, as they will grow when proving. You’re likely to have 2 or 3 balls without mozzarella, so use these pieces of dough for the trunk – for anyone who doesn’t like cheese. Cover the tray with a sheet of oiled cling film and set aside for 30 mins until almost doubled in size.
While the dough proves, make the tomato dipping sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the garlic and sizzle for 30 secs until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, oregano, vinegar, sugar and some seasoning. Bubble for 30 mins until the sauce is thick. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
When the dough is ready, uncover the baking sheet and bake for 20-25 mins until golden brown. Meanwhile, make the garlic butter. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the garlic and sizzle for 1-2 mins until the garlic is a shade darker (but not brown). When the bread is cooked, transfer it to a platter. Stir most of the parsley into the garlic butter and use a pastry brush to brush it all over the bread. Leave it to soak in, then brush on more. Sprinkle over a little extra parsley to garnish, if you like. Reheat the tomato sauce and serve it alongside the bread with any remaining garlic butter.