Apple Walnut Pull-Apart Bread

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I love working with yeast.

It seems a lot of you have a little bit of yeast-fear…and I totally get it. The idea of wasted ingredients and failed baking endeavors is always a bummer. Nothing gets under my bakers-skin like a failed mess of a recipe that either ends up being thrown angrily into the trash whilst swearing, or, ends up languishing in the refrigerator for weeks until I begrudgingly toss it into the trash–though with less anger, yet more resentment. It’s no fun.

I mean, I know yeast can be scary–sometimes it dead before you even begin, sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Will it rise, deflate and fall flat, come out dense and heavy and flavorless?

The thing is, working with yeast–as scary as it may seem–is incredibly rewarding. It’s where science and domesticity converge to create something amazing. For me, there is nothing like working with a smooth, elastic ball of dough…and not to get too weird, but I absolutely LOVE the way it feels in my hands (thats’s why you don’t see any bread-machine recipes here…not that there is anything wrong with a bread machine, promise!).

I just have to feel the dough–plus, it’s the best way, over time, to figure out exactly what you are looking for. At this point, I know exactly how sticky I want an unrisen dough to feel–and that, friends, feels like a major accomplishment. So, if my “I-wanna-touch-all-the-bread-dough-in-the-lands” didn’t freak you out, and maybe you want to do a little more yeasted baking, I have a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

Is it ALIVE?! Your yeast can die on you. If it’s been lounging in the pantry for who-knows-how-long, it could be inactive. Meaning, all your efforts are completely wasted ’cause those little dudes are D-E-A-D. You can avoid all that heartache by sprinkling a pinch of yeast into a cup of warm water–if it doesn’t start to foam, ever, it’s done-zo.

Bulk up–buying yeast in bulk is super economical  If you like to bake yeasted goodies, it’s definitely the way to go. I buy yeast in bulk–like, Costco style. I keep it in a screw-cap jar in the refirgerator where it will last for daaaaaays. Like, well over a year. You can also freeze yeast and possibly even extend its life further.

Feed your yeast. If your recipe calls for some sugar–granulated, honey, etc.–add some to the liquid while you proof. It will feed the yeast and get it started a bit faster. Add your salt to the dry mix, don’t add it to the yeast as it will inhibit it from doing it’s thing and it may just die on you.

Perfect isn’t everything. Maybe you’re looking for the perfect artisan-whatever-bread. It’s probably not going to happen the first time. I worked as a baker, mostly cookies and cakes, but the bread baker was a pro. He’d been doing it for almost as long as I’ve been alive and would still phone his consultants and take classes. It’s a learning process and the more you do it the better you’ll get. Really though, few things beat warm, homemade bread–even if it is imperfect.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is, if you are a bit of a yeast-a-phobe–don’t be too scared. It’s only bread, don’t let it defeat you because it is SO worth the effort–even if only every once in a while. Plus, everyone you share your baking-spoils with will think you’re like a baking champion or something…which is totally worth mowing through the self-doubt and yeast-fear.

Apple Walnut Pull-Apart Bread

Adapted from this recipe. 

Yields , 9x5inch loaf

I added some whole wheat flour to this version, though it can certainly be made with just all-purpose. This bread is the very best the day it is made, still warm and slightly gooey. Make it when there are people around for sharing, as you might find yourself in a bread-coma, otherwise. The apples and walnuts make for a messy filling, if they fall out from between the layers, just tuck any stray bits in between the folds of dough after you have placed them into the pan. I streamlined the original steps in the recipe to make it a bit easier to pull together. 

Dough:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 envelope)

1/3 cup whole milk

4 Tablespoons (2 oz.) butter, unsalted

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs, room temp, beaten lightly

Filling:

1 large apple, peeled and diced small (I used a Honeycrisp)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

pinch of salt

4 Tablespoons (2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted

Icing:

3 Tablespoons butter, browned

1 cup powdered sugar

milk to thin

To make the dough, heat milk with butter in a small saucepan just until butter has melted. Add the water and sugar, set aside to cool for a minute–you want it to be just warm, not hot or the yeast will die. Once it has cooled (to about 120*F), stir in the yeast and set aside until foamy–about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flours and salt. Stir the beaten egg and vanilla into the yeast mixture and using the dough hook, or your strength and a sturdy spoon or bowl scraper, mix the wet into the dry until a dough forms. Knead–either with the mixer or by hand–until you get a fairly sticky and tacky, but well mixed dough.

Grease a large bowl (the one you mixed in is perfect), place the dough inside and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

While the dough rises, melt the butter for the filling, pour into a small dish and set aside. Brown the butter for the icing in a skillet–heat butter over medium until the solids turn deep brown and smell like nuts and toffee. Pour browned butter into a bowl and set aside. Add the diced apples to the skillet and sauté with a pinch of salt, until softened slightly–3-5 minutes. Set the apples aside to cool. In a small bowl mix together the sugar and cinnamon for the filling, set aside.

Deflate the dough (at this point you can recover and place in the refrigerator overnight and continue the next day).

On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough into roughly a 12 X 20 inch rectangle (erring on the side of smaller is okay here as the finished dough will rises considerably, filling in any gaps). Using a pastry brush spread all of the melted butter over the dough. Cut the dough North to South in strips (12X4 in pieces). Spread 1/5 of the cinnamon-sugar mixture onto a rectangle of dough followed by the apples and walnuts, stack another rectangle on top and repeat. You can reshape and maniupulate the dough as needed to make a nice stack.

Preheat the oven to 350F and place rack in the center. Lightly grease a 9X5 loaf pan.

Slice the stack through the five layers into 6 equal sections, about 2X4 inches. Fit the layered strip into the loaf pan, cut side down…as if it were a loaf of pre-sliced bread. Cover the pan in plastic and allow to rise another 45-50 minutes until nearly doubled in size. If you poke the dough and the indentation stays it is ready to bake.

Bake until the top is golden and brown and the insides are done (you can test this with a thermometer, it should read between 189-190*F). Check it after 30 minutes or so…this loaf took about 45 minutes to bake–if it starts to brown too much before the interior is done, tent the top with foil and continue baking.

Make the icing by stirring together the browned butter and powdered sugar, adding milk to thin to desired consistency.

Turn the baked bread out onto a cooling rack while it is still warm and glaze.

 

 

 

Ricotta + Hazelnut Brownies

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I don’t know about you, but I like to do a whole lot-a-nada on the weekends.

There is always some eating, maybe a little antiquing, maybe a lazy walk with the dogs, definitely some couch napping, and sometimes a cooking/baking project if I’m feeling ambitious.

I’m not saying that brownies are ambitious, because they totally aren’t. Brownies are easy and chocolatey and that is why we like ‘em.

Making your own ricotta isn’t even ambitious, it just sounds that way.

If you make these brownies the people you share them with might think you’re some sort of kitchen wizard. The kind that spends all weekend conjuring up baked goods just for their enjoyment.

Thing is…

You don’t have to be a wizard to make these.

Not at all…I sure don’t know any spells.

Even if you make the ricotta from scratch.

But, you can let people believe you labored away over your cauldron all weekend.

They don’t need to know that you in fact, did not, and that maybe you napped on the couch with the TV on mute, cuddled up with your dog.

That you are in fact, NOT an alum of Hogwart’s, you just wish you were.

..and that you definitely weren’t talking horcruxes with your friend in a vintage shop or finding potato mashers so gigantic they could only be fit for Hagrid.

They don’t need to know that you’re just a total geek and a half.

No one needs to know that.

All they need to know is that you’re a whiz in the kitchen because you made them these crazy brownies.

Let them believe it.

You are a whiz.

Ricotta + Hazelnut Brownies

Again, I used Tracy’s recipe for ricotta. It’s just so dang easy guys! Make it, it will change your view on ricotta forever.

The brownies were adapted from Saveur.

Filling:

4 oz. ricotta, softened to room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

a pinch of salt

1 egg

2 teaspoons fresh orange juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup finely ground, toasted hazelnuts

Brownie:

1 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped

4 Tablespoons butter

3/4 cup flour

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup coarsely chopped, toasted hazelnuts

For the filling, beat together ricotta with sugar + salt until combined and smooth. Add egg, orange juice, and vanilla and beat until combined well. Fold in hazelnuts and cover with plastic. Set in refrigerator while you make the brownie batter.

Preheat oven to 350F

Grease an 8×8 pan and line with parchment, leaving an overhang on two sides. Set aside.

Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and melt chocolate and butter. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Set aside.

In a medium bowl sift together flour, cocoa, and salt. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until smooth, pale yellow, and thick. About 2 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture to combine. Beat in vanilla. Fold in flour/cocoa mixture to combine. Fold in hazelnuts.

Spread half of the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. Drop spoonfuls of ricotta mixture over the batter. Try to spread it out, this didn’t really work for me, so I just spread it as best as I could. Spread the remaining batter over the top and using a toothpick, marble the brownie batter with the ricotta mixture. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few sticky crumbs. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack before cutting. You can cut these small because they are RICH and delightful.