Saturday, October 6, 2012
The inclination to make some sort of baked good that's braided, twisted, or otherwise twirled this way and that, hits me at least once a year and it struck again this week.
Isn't it funny how the shape of a food can influence one's perception of how good it might taste, how exotic its origin, or how challenging it might be to prepare? There's something special about curvy food. We become literally entangled in its aura.
The way it meanders hither and yon, curling and whirling wherever the recipe takes it. The presence of figure-8 curves lends a certain spontaneity, a sense of adventure, a bit of mystery that normal food doesn't possess.
Heck, what say we just go completely off the rails here and declare it's all a metaphor for life?
About this recipe . . .
Adapted from a King Arthur Flour formula (I seem to be in a King Arthur phase lately, don't I?), this apple-cinnamon bread likes to masquerade as something complicated. But don't be fooled, because this dough is much less labor intensive and far less rich than a laminated dough, the kind that has tons of butter rolled into it--think Danish-pastry or puff-pastry.
I decided to add some chopped dried cherries (yes, from Michigan, in case you were wondering) to the apple filling. I think the cherries were a nice addition in terms of flavor and color; I also increased the cinnamon, and used a little fresh-ground nutmeg. You might consider using dried cranberries or raisins if you don't have cherries. I used about four small Gala apples that happened to be very sweet and crispy, but use whatever apple variety you prefer.
This bread isn't scary to make (I did it by hand; no mixer needed unless you want to use one), though it does take some time from start to finish, what with about four hours of rising time in total (I started it at about 9 a.m. yesterday morning, proceeded in a halfway-leisurely fashion, and took it out of the oven around 2:15 p.m.). Once baked, it is best when very fresh. Since it makes two large loaves, I immediately froze the second one shortly after it was cooled and the drizzled glaze had had a chance to dry. Sliced up, you'll get many servings out of this recipe.
Apple-Cinnamon Sweet Bread with Dried Cherries
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Yield: Two large loaves (approximately 16 slices per loaf)
Ingredients for the dough:
3 and 1/4 cups pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour (I used pastry flour.)
1/4 cup dried potato flakes (mashed-potato flakes) or potato flour (I used Hungry Jack brand dehydrated potato flakes.)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk (I used 2 percent, and warmed it to room temperature.)
Ingredients for the filling:
1/2 granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (Or, KAF suggests you use Instant ClearJel; I used flour.)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup apple that's been peeled and grated (I needed four small Gala apples.)
3 tablespoons dried cherries, chopped small
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Ingredients for the glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons cream, half and half, or milk (I used half and half.)
To make the dough:
In a large bowl, whisk together thoroughly all of the dry ingredients, making sure there are no clumps.
Add in the butter, vanilla, lightly beaten egg, and milk. Stir with a spoon or fork until the dough looks quite shaggy. Let the dough sit in the bowl, uncovered, for half an hour (per KAF, this will give the flour time to absorb liquid, thus making the dough easier to knead).
Onto a well-floured surface, dump out your dough. Flour your hands liberally, and knead the dough for about ten minutes. If your dough feels too dry, sprinkle it with drops of water; too wet, use more flour on your kneading surface.
The dough, once ready, should be springy, smooth, and elastic. Place it into a large, clean bowl, that's been oiled or sprayed with vegetable spray (I used the latter). Cover the top of the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap that's also been sprayed, and then cover that lightly with a thin dish towel.
Let the dough rise in a draft-free spot until just about doubled; this may take 90 minutes to 2 hours. (The longer the rise, the better the final flavor of the baked bread, so longer is often better.)
While the dough is rising, prepare the filling.
To make the filling:
In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Put the grated apple and chopped dried cherries into a medium bowl and toss them with the lemon juice; sprinkle the dry ingredients over the fruit and stir thoroughly. Set aside.
To roll out, fill, and shape the dough:
Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Deflate the dough gently by folding it over a couple of times. Cut it in half. Dust your surface again, lightly, with flour. Working on one piece at a time, roll the first half of dough into a rectangle that's 10" by 12".
Spoon half of the filling onto the rectangle and spread it all around, leaving an uncovered border of about 1/2" around the edge.
Beginning with the longest side of the dough, roll the dough up into a log.
Seal the long seam tightly by pinching it closed with your fingertips, and seal the ends as well. Now do the exact same thing with the second piece of dough.
Use a sharp pastry wheel (aka pizza cutter/wheel) or chef's knife to slit each log from top to bottom, length-wise.
Now, do this for each split log (so you end up with two loaves): Place two lengths of dough filled-side up, side by side on a piece of parchment set over a baking sheet (I forgot to put my first log, the guy on the left, onto parchment and had to transfer it after it was twisted--yikes!). Keeping the filling-side up, twist the two lengths together, working from the center out to each end. Pinch the dough at the ends together so they won't come apart while baking.
Cover the two loaves loosely with sprayed plastic wrap, and cover that lightly with a dish towel.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the loaves rise again until almost doubled, up to 2 hours.
Bake the loaves in the middle of your oven for approximately 30 to 35 minutes. They should be lightly golden on top and darker golden on the bottom. Peek at them after about 20 minutes, and cover the loaves lightly with foil if they appear to be browning too fast.
Let the baked loaves cool on a rack and glaze them when they're no longer warm.
To make the glaze:
In a medium bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and milk/cream until the glaze is the consistency you prefer. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled loaves. (If you like, sprinkle a few pinches of sanding sugar over that to add a little sparkle, while the glaze is still kind of wet.) Once the glaze has dried, you may wrap the loaves now if you are going to freeze them.
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