apple cinnamon loaf

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Every time I come to this space, this virtual postage stamp of a home where I get to meet you, there’s a story. There’s always a story, a way in, a means to connect image and type. Yet, right now, I’ve got a lot going on. There are too many stories trying to make themselves heard, trying to rise above the din, and I need some space to think. While I typically spend the holidays with my best friend in Connecticut, I’ve elected to stay home, in the quiet, and sort all of this out. I’ve a tremendous amount of excitement going into 2014, and I want to make sure that I think about my path and architect it (as much as I can) with the kind of space and clarity I deserve.

Today, I’m simply going to leave you with something delicious as I start the process of plotting what’s next. Who knows, I might have a story tonight, but right now it’s all about me listening to the sound of my own breath.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
Makes 2 loaves
For the dough:
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup water (105 to 115 degrees F)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup cold water
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, as needed
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for the bowl and pans

For the apple filling:
2 large Granny Smith apples (about 1 1/2 pounds) peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes*
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

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DIRECTIONS
To make the dough sprinkle the yeast over the warm 1/3 cup water and stir. Wait 5 minutes for the yeast to dissolve. Pour into the mixer bowl. Add the milk, 1/3 cup cold water, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla and whisk to combine.

Fit the mixer with a paddle attachment and on low speed gradually add half of the flour, then the salt. One tablespoon at a time add the butter. Gradually add the remaining flour to form a rough dough. Replace the paddle attachment with a dough hook and knead on medium low speed adding more flour if needed until the dough cleans the bowl. Continue kneading until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes.

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Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to check the dough’s texture. The dough will be slightly sticky. Butter a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

When the dough has risen prepare the apple filling. Mix the cut apples, egg yolk, sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Butter two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and dust the sides with flour. Set aside.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll or stretch the dough into a 16-by-12-inch rectangle. Spread the filling over the dough and starting at the top begin to roll up the dough, jelly roll style.

Using a bench scraper or large knife, cut the dough into 1-inch-thick slices.

Now cut through the slices to make 1-to-1 1/2-inch pieces. It will look like quite a mess, but you’re doing the right thing. Using the bench scraper, scoop up the dough-apple mixture and divide equally among the prepared loaf pans (a kitchen scale comes in handy here), distributing as evenly as possible.

Choose a warm spot in your kitchen for proofing the loaves. Place the pans on a cookie sheet. Fill a glass with very hot water. Place the pan with the loaves inside a big plastic garbage bag, place the glass of hot water in the bag, inflate the bag by waving the opening up and down, then close tightly. This will mimic a professional proofing oven (you can also just set the pans in a warm place; this worked fine for me).

Let stand until the loaves have risen to the top of the pans (mine actually puffed up much higher than the edge of the pans), about 1 hour. The dough will look lumpy.

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the glass from the pan, then the pan from the bag. Bake on the center rack (on the cookie sheet) for 30 to 35 minutes. Cover the loaves loosely with foil and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and an instant read thermometer reads 210 degrees F. Of note, my loaf was done after 35 minutes, which can mean a whole slew of things, so I recommend you keep checking.

Transfer the loaf pans to a wire cooling rack and let stand for 5 minutes. Unmold the loaves onto the rack. Remove the parchment paper and turn the loaves right sides up and let cool completely.

What I noticed was that flavor was so much more pronounced and refined when I let the loaves rest overnight in ziploc bags. If you can stand it, allow your loaf to cool down, have it the next day and have it for French toast the following day.

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