Saturday, May 17, 2008

Apple Spiral Pecan Bread, Could Be Rushed


About 60 seconds after the last fork is placed on the table and the last morsel of dinner consumed, my grandfather turns to my mother and says, "Ok, Linda, let's go the living room". About 10 minutes after we all relocate to the living room and easy conversation finally settles down to stay, my grandfather turns to my grandmother and says, "Okay, Nance', let's go home". When they walk in the door of their home, the newspaper comes out, the TV turns on, but before long, my grandfather turns to their pet parrot and says, "Okay, Pepper, it's time for bed". Pepper usually agrees.


It turns out that I am my grandfather's granddaughter. We're both on the move. We both look for the next step 3 paces before the last one. We think ahead, and when the goal is known - why wait? I've gotten to be very good at rushing: rushing out of obligation, rushing out of necessity, rushing out of the basis of my personality. I hurry in the morning to get dressed, multitasking as best as I can. I fry the eggs while tamping the coffee down; I pour the orange juice while the butter melts on the toast. I make lunch for Greg and I with my own breakfast in hand. I run around at work to write busy emails and perform speedy experiments, and then I scramble to make dinner once I get home. I rush my way to the end of every day. Dinner's done? Time for cleaning/movie/work/dog park - let's go! My willingness to move with purposeful speed is not just due to the fact that I like things done quickly -- I'm usually impatient to see what's next.


There are a few particular things that I choose to never rush about, notably, my walk to work - I could ride a bike - and the time I spend with Greg  - why rush that? These days, I maintain my weekends as a necessary sanctuary of slow pace - I've learned that I burn out otherwise. There are also a few things that will not be rushed, no matter how much I wish them too: Greg (in any capacity), getting Tori to pee (when it's 10pm and raining), and letting ciabatta rise.

Bread will not be rushed: yeast, it turns out, is a fickle and moderate creature that will often refuse to conform to my scheduling needs. Good flavor from wheat takes some time and consistent attention that my week seems too rushed to afford, yet somehow I fit it in. My patience is always rewarded with a satisfying, buttery bite. Bread will do that for a person.


Equally fortunate, I found a bread recipe whose flavor and crumb don't depend on perfect timing. This is a fantastic and flexible recipe (originally from Peter Reinhart, who else) that I have adapted several times. I am very pleased with the result. Making this bread in an evening is - honestly - pretty easy. Reinhart has a habit of providing pages worth of detail in every recipe, but I've posted my modification here with as simple of instructions as I can manage. The nice thing about this bread is that a precise rise is not necessary for good flavor (since it is enriched with eggs, buttermilk and other tasty things). This recipe is not picky in the slightest. The enrichment also helps the bread from going stale, though I doubt - with sticky apple butter and pecans nestled in these slices - a loaf will last you very long. With a little bit of butter and a dash of salt on top, I can't stop eating it. Compared to a regular cinnamon role, this bread is low fat with practically no added sugar, and I love how the bit of whole wheat flour plays off the spicy, moist apple butter and rich nutty pecans. I've made  three loaves in a week (one that was plain sandwich bread, below) and I'll be sure to make more soon.



Apple Spiral Pecan Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Simply omit the apple butter and spiraling step to make a normal loaf of sandwich bread.

At first I thought I wanted Walnuts in this bread -- but since Greg is allergic, we went with Pecans and I don't regret it for a moment. However, I think it should be pretty clear that you could substitute whatever you wish for the spiral part. Some ideas: chopped apricots, figs, plum jelly, preserves of any sort, fresh fruit or applesauce, honey, walnuts, pecans, pistachio, or hazelnuts. Taste your filling of choice before using it - the filling should be delicious just on its own, and if it's not, add extra salt, sugar or spices until you are satisfied. The apple butter I used her is all natural: just apples simmered away with a touch of cinnamon and cloves.

I could imagine this going savory with pine nuts, garlic and cheese. Take this idea and run with it...


Stir together in a large bowl:

2 c flour*

1 1/2 tsp active yeast

3/4 tsp salt

Crack an egg into a small dish and whisk it lightly with a fork. Pour on top of the flour:

Scant 1 c buttermilk **

About half the whisked egg

If using whole wheat flour, add an additional:

1-2 tbsp honey (optional)

If using an electric mixer, fit with the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 3-4 minutes, until everything comes together as a uniform dough. If doing things by hand, mix with a large spoon or your hands for 5 minutes. Drizzle in more buttermilk or water if the dough looks dry; sprinkle in extra flour if it looks too moist. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom; alternately, it should be moist and stick just a little bit to your finger when touched. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, and then continue kneading for another 10 minutes or so. If you peel off a small bit of dough and stretch it between your fingers, it should be see-through.

Lift the dough off the counter or out of the bowl and drizzle some olive or vegetable oil in the bowl. Form the dough into a loose ball and role around in the oil to coat. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for as long as it takes for the dough to double in size (~1-2 hours, depending on temperature; you could always turn the oven on for 2-3 minutes, turn it off, and let the dough rise in there).

Sprinkle a clean counter with excess flour. Turn the dough onto the counter and stretch, roll and tug at the dough with your fingers until the it is ~8x16 inches in size. Spread the surface of the dough with:

~3/4 cup apple butter

And sprinkle on:

~1/2 cup roasted pecan pieces

Roll the dough up the long way so that the resulting log is about 8" long. Place in a lightly oiled loaf pan, seam-side up (can't you just see that apple butter bubbling out of the top of the loaf?). Brush the rest of the egg over the loaf, and sprinkle with a little brown sugar or cinnamon if desired. Set loaf pan in a warm place and allow to double in height (again, 1-2 hours). Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. When the loaf has doubled, bake for ~45 minutes. It should spring back nicely when you tap the top. Remove from the oven and cool completely before slicing.


(I haven't tried it yet, but I bet this apple/pecan/whole wheat combo would be perfect with slices of good cheese...)


*I used 50/50 whole wheat and bread flours; all purpose would be fine. The bread flour will yield a better crumb. You can also add a tablespoon or two of gluten to the flour if you wish, which will make for a chewier bite.

**Substitute milk, or milk with something sour (a bit of unflavored yogurt, sour cream or the like). The Reinhart recipe included 1 tbsp vegetable oil or shortening as an additional enrichment; I chose to omit the oil.


brett said...

I just got back from a 1.5 hour bike ride, I'm starving, and I am SO UNSUBSCRIBING FROM THIS BLOG!

Well, maybe not. But your food, it taunts me.

Rachael said...

my food taunts you to try making it! :D Though I'll admit it took me more than a few loafs to feel comfortable about bread, it's probably a lot easier than you think... a little humid heat in the oven seems to be the trick to a good rise

P.S. I'm jealous of your 1.5 hour bike ride. Every time I think about biking, the pot-hole-filled, blind-cornered, too-narrow, car-crowded 8 mile bike to the farmington canal trail comes to mind... and then getting thrown off my bike by a 40 mph vehicle comes to mind as well : / I know, excuses, excuses, but I'm still jealous of what I imagine are some mighty nice biking spots up by you

Tim said...

I know what you mean about having to conform to the timetable of a bunch of yeast, it's the reason I do so little baking. That said, this bread looks great, maybe I'll have to break my own habits and make it!