We all learn something new everyday. You could discover that the walk to your mailbox is exactly 26 paces or that Oxy Clean will remove the worst red wine stain from your favorite white pants (long story). No, it's not always something mind-bogglingly enlightening, but that doesn't mean that your fun fact won't ever come in handy. Tuck that little nugget away for now. You never know when there will be a lull in the conversation.
Here is what I learned this week, thanks in part to this glorious recipe:
1. Don't purchase Honeycrisp apples at Smith's grocery store, at least not early in the season. Like I said above, they're not all gems. The chance that this little smidgen of wisdom will apply to you is slim, but if I can get through to at least one Smith's-shopping-apple-buyer out there, well, my work is done.
I am crazy about Honeycrisps. From their hybrid tart-sweet taste to the crunchy sound they make when bitten, they are the perfect variety of apple. The Smith's produce guys are clearly onto me. They know that I cannot pass up a neatly stacked display of shiny Honeycrisps, especially one that is positioned front and center as I walk through the sliding glass doors.
Here's the problem: Three Honeycrisp apples should not cost over $7.50. These were not magic apples. They were not Chanel apples. They weren't even organic apples. Yes, they were each roughly the size of a softball, but still, no excuse. Am I missing something here? Enlighten me, please.
I shall now purchase Honeycrisps elsewhere or suffer with some other varietal.
2. Some recipes are the culinary equivalent of "The Ugly Ducking." Let me explain. I've experienced this a few times. Have you ever been working through a recipe, following it diligently step by step (except for maybe a few insignificant alterations), when at some point you stop and think: There is no way that this thing is going to turn out right.? Perhaps one of the components tastes odd. Maybe your creation looks like an ugly explosion on the counter top. Maybe you should just throw it away and start over.
Or maybe not.
I initially learned this lesson several years ago when I first attempted a traditional Swiss buttercream. For the majority of the mixing process, the stuff in the bowl looks nothing like buttercream. It's a clumpy curdled concoction just tempting you to throw in some confectioner's sugar (a big no-no in classic buttercreams) to smooth it out. But, after I pulled up a chair and allowed the mixer to do its thing for several minutes, the lumps magically transformed into a swan -- a beautiful silky buttercream.
The same applied with this recipe. As I assembled the final loaf per recipe instructions, I thought: The recipe writer clearly never tested this. These stacks of dough are such a droopy mess. But since I had almost gotten to the end of the recipe instructions, I decided to proceed the best that I could.
Thank God for that decision. If you do make this, just trust me and forge ahead, even if the situation on your counter top says otherwise. The results are worth it.
3. Don't bake anything irresistible, especially Spiced Apple Pull Apart Bread, when Eric is out of town. This was a stupid move on my part, knowing my will-power (or lack thereof in this case.) Cookies I can resist. Cake too. Ice cream--usually. But bread? Especially warm, super-squishy, slightly sweet bread swirled with spices and dotted with tart apples? Not a chance. In fact, I'm amazed that there is any left as I type this (boy, it looks good sitting there on the counter all but itself...) I tried to keep my sampling to a reasonable minimum--a slice with breakfast and one with dinner, but those slices were probably just a tad on the thick side. I couldn't even toss any to the dogs since Fenway is on a diet and it's impossible to slip some food to Cameron without Fenway noticing.
This is the bread that I made. I can't take credit for the entire recipe, as I initially saw a version of it in the King Arthur Catalog that arrived a few weeks ago. I typically just flip through the catalog without tearing out any recipes, mostly because they tend to require one or more ingredients specific to K.A. This one spoke to me though, as good bread usually does. So, I made some changes based on my personal preferences and what I have in the pantry (these are listed below.)
I encourage you to give this recipe a try. With the amount of baking that I do, it is rare that I add a new recipe to my regular arsenal, but this one is going in there. It's perfect for breakfast, brunch or a treat before bedtime, and it would make a killer french toast.
Here is a list of the ways that I changed the original recipe from the King Arthur catalog:
- Instead of "thinly slicing" the apples for the filling, I opted to chop them. I felt like slices might be too large. As I mention above, I used Honeycrisp apples, but any sturdy tart apple would work well (i.e. Granny Smith.)
- I added the allspice and the cardamom instead of just using cinnamon. The more spices, the better!
- During both rising stages, the King Arthur directions stated that the bread should double in size in about 1 hour. In both cases, it took more like 1-1/2 to 2 hours in a warm space. My yeast might have been the problem here, but allot for extra time, just in case.
- When forming the loaf, K.A. directed to stack all six strips of dough on top of each other. This would have been a huge mess, so I created two stacks of three strips instead (still messy, but better.)
- Finally, K.A. listed one of their thickening products called Clear Jel in the ingredients. I don't have this, so I used 2 tablespoons cornstarch instead -- worked beautifully!
Spiced Apple Pull Apart Bread
Makes 1 large loaf
2 tablespoons butter
3 medium apples (I used Honeycrisps), peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Dough
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (1-ounce) package rapid rise or instant yeast (equal to 2-1/4 teaspoons)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup warm whole milk
1/4 cup warm water
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Prepare the filling: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the apples; saute 1 minutes, until warmed through. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, salt and cornstarch to the pan; toss to combine. Cook the mixture until apples are softened and the sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in vanilla then set mixture aside to cool completely.
Prepare the dough: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a medium bowl, whisk together butter, milk, water, eggs and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing on medium speed until well combined. Continue to mix, adding more water or flour in small amounts if necessary, until a smooth soft dough forms, 3 to 4 minutes more.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a large lightly buttered bowl. Cover the bowl and set aside in a warm, draft-free area until the dough has doubled in size, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Generously butter a large loaf pan (I used a 10" X 5").
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll it to a 12" by 20" rectangle. Spread the cooled apple filling evenly over the surface of the dough.
Cut the dough crosswise into six even strips (about 3-1/2" by 12" each). Carefully stack the strips on top of each other in two stacks so that you have two stacks of three strips each (this part is kind of messy.) Cut each stack into four even pieces. Turn the pieces on edge and carefully place them in the loaf pan, one in front of the other, from one end of the pan to the other, squeezing tightly to fit.
Cover the pan and allow the loaf to rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
Bake the loaf for 30 minutes. Tent the top of the loaf with foil, then bake for 15 to 25 minutes more, until deep golden brown. Allow the pan to cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then carefully turn it out of the pan to cool completely.