This week is another one of those crazy weeks. But that's okay. I've realized that baking yummy treats makes long days so much more bearable. Yesterday afternoon's three-hour break was spent working on my first loaf of bread!
Bread-baking has always been a little daunting to me (even though according to my guy, it's fairly simple). He regularly bakes gorgeous loaves of sourdough, brioche, and multi-grain seed bread. There is nothing more comforting than opening the doors of your home to the aroma of freshly-baked bread. It pretty much commands you to put on your pjs, curl up on the couch with your feet up, and binge-watch a whole season of something on Netflix.
I wanted to bake something pretty for my first attempt, so I opted for a braided bread with filling. It was definitely not as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be. Turned out beautifully. You can fill it with anything you want. I went with apple butter, walnuts, and cinnamon. I'm sure it would be delicious with raisins, figs, and any other dried fruit or preserve. I can't wait to try a savory version of this braided bread (stay tuned) - perhaps with some sort of cheeeeeese?
Ingredients: [DOUGH] 3 1/2 cups flour 1/3 cup sugar 2 teaspoons active dry yeast 1 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon 3 tablespoons softened butter 3 tablespoons unsweetened apple sauce 2 eggs 1 1/4 cups warm almond milk
[FILLING] 2 tablespoons softened butter 3 1/2 tablespoons apple butter 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
[EGG WASH/GARNISH] 1 egg 2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine + whisk together flour, salt, yeast, and cinnamon in a medium-sized mixing bowl. In a different bowl, whisk together softened butter, sugar, and apple sauce. Fold dry ingredients into butter/sugar bowl and mix until evenly incorporated. Whisk in both eggs. Pour in warm almond milk and mix in until batter is smooth. Gently knead the dough with your hands for 3-5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, and set aside.
For the filling: combine everything into a small mixing bowl. Mix until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Back to your dough. Sprinkle a handful of additional flour onto a smooth surface (a large cutting board or countertop should do just fine!). Lay the dough onto the floured surface. It's important to keep sprinkling flour throughout these next few steps, so that a minimal amount of dough sticks to you, your rolling pin, or your surface! Using your palms, press the dough and flatten out the best that you can. Use a rolling pin (sprinkle some flour on it first) to flatten the dough further, until the batter is about an inch thick. You want to aim for some semblance of a rectangle/oval. Flour! Transfer your dough to a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or a silpat. Important: You won't be able to move the dough after you've braided it without damaging it.. so move it over to your cooking surface now!
Imagine that your dough's surface area is divided length-wise into thirds. Spread the apple butter filling mixture evenly along the middle third. Be generous with the filling. Using a bench scraper, cut the outer thirds of the dough into 1 - 1 1/2 inch wide strips. Take the first strip (I started on the right!) and lay it diagonally over the filling. Then, take the corresponding first strip on the left and cross it diagonally OVER the first strip. Continue this process, until you have braided your pieces all the way to the bottom of your dough. Take the last piece, flatten it out between your fingers, and tuck it under your loaf. Pinch the very top of your loaf, flatten slightly and tuck under. At this point, you will probably be so enamored by your beautiful craftsmanship that you won't be able to do anything further. That's totally fine. Leave it alone for 30-35 mins, allowing it to rise. Whether you choose to stare at it adoringly during this time is completely up to you.
Whisk the remaining egg & a teaspoon of water in a small bowl. Brush the egg wash onto the top and sides of the loaf. Coat evenly. Take a few pinches of turbinado sugar and sprinkle liberally. Into the oven for 30-35 minutes, until the top is a golden brown. Let the loaf cool for approx 15-20 minutes before you dig in!
This is perfect for an inexperienced bread-baker. So go ahead and have fun with this one! Give a loaf to your friends. They'll be impressed. If you try it at home, let me know if you substitute other fillings. Enjoy with a strong cup of coffee!