Knitted Winter Apple Bread

This pretty bread has a lovely apple filling, a bit like an apple strudel. It is not an easy bread to eat like you would usually eat a bread, as there is quite some filling. Allthough not very sweet, it is best served as you would apple pie, with a fork on a plate. You can serve it with whipped cream or powdered sugar if you like.

Ingredients:

  • 500gr strong bread flour
  • 10gr dried yeast
  • 10gr salt
  • 40gr sugar
  • 60gr butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 250gr milk (weigh it for accuracy), boiled and cooled to room temperature
  • 2 large eggs

For the filling:

  • 2 apples
  • 150gr dried cranberries
  • 1 orange, organic/unwaxed
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4th tsp nutmeg, grated
  • 1/4th tsp cloves, ground
  • 1 tbs dark muscovado sugar

Extra:

  • 1 egg
  • vegetable oil

Recipe:

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl (preferable one which fits a lid). Add the salt on one side and the yeast on the other. Make sure that the salt and yeast do not touch, as yeast is a living organism and salt will kill it which will result in a dense loaf. Mix the yeast in with some of the flour around it to spread it out some. Add the butter and sugar to the salt-side of the bowl.
Pour the room temperature milk in the bowl on the salt-side of the bowl, and mix with a wooden spoon into the flour on that side. Add the eggs and then combine everything in the bowl together with the wooden spoon. Turn the bowl out over a clean working surface. Do not add flour to the surface, you actually want the dough to stick as this will develop gluten quicker. Scrape out the bowl (and your spoon) with a dough scraper (or a very firm silicone spatula if you don’t have a dough scraper, although I can advice you to get one. They are cheap and very handy, I have more than 10 myself).

Now comes the fun part. You get to play with your food! Don’t tell your mother.
It’s a sticky dough with a high water content. Most recipe books will tell you that a wet dough like this needs a freestanding mixer but I always knead this by hand. It will get less and less sticky as the gluten develop.
There are several ways to knead dough, but for such a wet dough I like to slide my fingers under the dough on both sides, lift it up from the kitchen counter, stretch it in the air and slap it back on the kitchen counter, then folding the sides (what you hold in your hands) over the middle. In the beginning the proteins in the flour have not developed any gluten yet, so your dough with easily tear. However, the more you work it, the stretchier it will become and thus easier to work with. Don’t forget to occasionally scrape the parts stuck to the work surface off and add it back to the dough. Don’t worry about being tidy or mastering the technique, focus on keeping a bit of speed in it and you too will eventually find the method that works best for you.
If you keep up a nice speed you can work the dough to a good state in about 10 minutes. It will take a bit longer the first few times. Just remember that the dough should let go easily from your hands (so your hands will be relatively clean) and then add two minutes. When you stretch the dough thinly you should be able to see thin membranes that let the light through easily. Because this is a rich dough (which means it contains added fat and sugar) the gluten will develop a bit less than a regular white bread dough, but you should still get a good membrane.

When you have kneaded the dough enough, form it into a ball with your dough scraper (it will stick less than to your hands). Scrape under the ball over the work area, and pull this part of the dough over the top of the dough. You are folding the bottom and sides over the top. This will tighten the dough and will allow for a nice, even rise.
Place the ball of dough back in the mixing bowl (if you scraped it with the dough scraper it should be clean enough, else scrape it clean now or wash it with some water without any soap). Cover the bowl and set it on a warm spot (not too warm, 30°C is a good aim, too warm and the dough will rise too fast and easily collapse, and with very high temperatures – above 65°C – you will even kill the yeast) until the dough has doubled in size. I purposely do not specify a time, as rising time depends greatly on temperature of the dough and surrounding space.

While the dough is rising you can focus on the filling. Peel the apples, core them and cut the flesh into pieces. Mix the apple pieces with the juice of the lemon, the zest of the orange, the dried cranberries, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves (so all the ingredients for the filling except the sugar, as sugar pulls moisture out of the apple so you will at that as late as possible).

Once your dough has risen, take it out of the bowl and place it on a lightly oiled work surface. The oil shall prevent it from sticking without drying out the dough. Do not use too much oil as it will keep the loaf from forming later. Spread the dough out to form a large oval, a bit shorter than your longest baking tin and approximately 30cm wide on the widest point. Place the dough on a large piece of baking paper.
Spread the apple filling over the length of the dough, leaving about a third of the dough free on each side of the filling (so you place it on approximately a third of the dough) and 2cm on the top and bottom. Spread the sugar over the filling.
Cut the dough on the sides into strips of 2cm, still attached at the middle near the filling.
Fold the top part down over the filling and cross the strips downwards. Do the same at the bottom, sealing the filling in on top and bottom. Now criss-cross the side strips in an angle over the filling, alternating between left and right and working from top to bottom. Make sure the strips reach all the way to the other side of the filling, as this seals in the filling.

Place the loaf with the baking paper on a baking tray, preferably with a floured cloth around it (rubbing flour into it will keep it from sticking). This will give the bread a bit of support when rising. Cover loosely with plastic and make sure the plastic does not touch the dough.
Leave the bread to rise again until doubled. In the mean time heat your oven to 200°C.

Stir the egg with a fork. When your dough has risen, smear the top of the loaf with some of the egg wash.
Place the dough in the hot oven. Spray a bit of water over the loaf and on the bottom of the oven to create steam, which will allow your loaf to rise better. Lower the temperature to 180°C and bake the loaf 30min. Does your loaf brown too quickly, lower the temperature to 160°C.

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