Thursday, December 31, 2015

Holiday Almond Cake with Clementine Syrup and a Chocolate Glaze

Last year, right before Christmas, I happened across a recipe that looked so good I made it right away even though my baking list for the holidays was already quite long.  I served it as part of my family's Christmas Eve buffet.  I loved it so much that I made a mental note to make it again for the following Christmas (this year)...and to share the recipe here.



Besides being absolutely delicious, the cake—a clementine scented almond cake, cloaked in a dark chocolate glaze—was everything it was advertised to be:  light in texture...and an excellent keeper.  Under normal circumstances, this last quality wouldn't be a priority....this cake is pretty hard to resist...but at Christmas—when there are so many sweet things to eat—it really is nice to have a cake on hand that slices into beautiful, thin slivers...and also stays moist and flavorful for at least a week.  With its citrus and almond flavors...and its longer shelf life, it really is a perfect holiday cake.


The source of the recipe is the book Jerusalem (by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi)...although I ran across it in an article on Christmas "puddings" at The Guardian.  Anytime I make a cake (or any kind of baked good) from a recipe that has come to me unchanged from another country, I always examine it carefully before attempting it in my kitchen.  Ingredients vary—sometimes quite a bit—from country to country and in baking the difference in the size of an egg, the protein content of the flour, etc., can make the difference between success and failure.  As I examined this recipe, I realized that the ingredient percentages were quite similar to a couple of cakes that are already in my regular repertoire:  Amor Polenta and my pistachio cake. 

Both of these cakes use cake flour, so I used cake flour instead of the British "plain flour" called for in the recipe.  Plain flour is not quite as low protein as cake flour...and plain flour is probably not bleached...but I still felt the cake flour (since it is what I use in the two other cakes) would give a better result than a straight substitution of my normal unbleached, all-purpose flour. 

The only other change I made was to the method.  It is a bit unusual in that the nut flour is creamed into the creamed sugar and butter before adding the eggs, but it is the same way I make the Amor Polenta and the pistachio cake.  Since it works well for these cakes, I was fairly certain it would to the same for this cake too.  And it did.



I realize the holidays are for the most part over...and that many people will be starting their diets tomorrow.   In light of these things, a holiday cake recipe might not be the best post at the moment....   But even if you are starting a diet, the best kind of diet allows you a treat once in a while.  I think this cake would make a pretty satisfying special treat.  Furthermore, clementines will continue to be in season and delicious for another month or so.  During that time I feel confident that there will be many occasions for which this cake would be perfect.  And if not, there's always next Christmas.  It will be here before we know it.




Almond Cake with Clementine Syrup & Chocolate Glaze

100 g. cake flour
1/2 t. salt
200 g. unsalted butter
300 g. granulated sugar
Zest of 4 clementines
Zest of 1 lemon
280 g. fine almond meal, lightly toasted (see notes)
1 t. vanilla
5 large eggs, room temperature

Juice of 4 clementines, strained
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
80 g. sugar

90 g. unsalted butter, diced
150 g. bittersweet chocolate, broken up
1/2 T. (10 g.) honey
1/2 T. brandy

55 to 60 gr. diced candied orange peel



Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter a 9 1/2-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper. Butter the parchment. Dust the pan with flour and set aside.

Sift the cake flour and salt onto a piece of parchment and set aside.

In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and zests and continue to beat until fluffy and white, about 5 minutes on medium-high speed.

Turning the speed down to low, add the vanilla and almond meal. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is again fluffy—another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly again on medium-high speed after each addition until the batter returns to fluffiness and scraping down the sides before each next addition.

Fold in the sifted dry ingredients. Turn into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. The cake is done when it is a deep golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

When the cake is almost done baking, in a small pan bring the citrus juices (you should have about 120ml...don't use any more than this) and another 80 grams of sugar to a boil.  Remove from the heat.

The moment the cake comes out of the oven, run a thin palette knife around the edge and release the sides.  Immediately brush the cake all over with the syrup, continuing until all the syrup is absorbed.  Leave the cake to cool completely. The cake may be served as is, or glazed with a chocolate icing.


To make the icing, melt the butter, chocolate and honey together in the microwave or over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth.  Stir in the brandy.  Pour the icing over the cooled cake, allowing it to dribble naturally down the sides...it may not cover the cake completely.  



Allow the icing to set.  Garnish with diced candied peel, if you like. 



Serve in thin wedges.  (Slice the cake with a thin sharp knife that has been run under hot water and wiped clean...the hot knife will then slice cleanly through the set chocolate glaze.) 

Serves 12.

Note: If you like, you may toast the almond meal.  To toast nut flour, spread in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 350° oven until golden and fragrant—about five minutes. Cool before using. Watch carefully—it will darken and burn quickly.





Thursday, December 24, 2015

Checkerboard Shortbread Cookies

Before Christmas is past I wanted to squeeze in at least one new recipe for cookies.  If you follow me on Facebook, you know that over the past week or so I have been running a parade of all of the Christmas cookies I have posted in previous years...but I wanted to share a new one too.  I love Christmas cookies. 


Classically Checkerboard cookies are made with French Sablé dough.  (When I learned to make them in cooking school, we called them Sablé Hollandais.)  Sablé dough is a basic short dough made with flour, butter, sugar and egg yolk.  It produces a tender, simple cookie that is very similar to American sugar cookie cut outs.  It is also used as a short crust pastry...and often called a "sugar cookie crust".  Many of the sweet tarts I have posted feature sablé dough.  Because it doesn't spread when baked, it makes beautiful Checkerboard cookies.



Several years ago I ran across a couple of recipes for Checkerboard cookies that used shortbread dough instead of sablé.  Shortbread—basically the British cousin of sablé—contains no egg.  I actually like the resulting cookie better than the sablé version.   The shortbread cookies seem to spread even less than the sablé cookies.  Furthermore, shortbread produces a crisper cookie than the sablé dough...which I like.  Also, the resulting cookie seems to have better keeping qualities, which makes them an even better choice for the Christmas cookie tin...if you are going to take the time to make these cookies, it's nice to know they will keep well for a while.

When you roll out the dough for these cookies, don't forget that they really are all about precision.  Use a ruler to measure not only the thickness of the dough, but also the width of the strips that will be used to build the "cookie logs".  All the dough must be rolled out to exactly the same thickness, and all the strips of dough must be cut to the exact same width.  If you take the time to insure these things, you will have beautiful and uniform cookies.  The process is not difficult...just detailed.  Once the logs of dough (you will be making two) are formed, the cookies are then very fast and easy to slice and bake.   


Checkerboard cookies are unfortunately not particularly conducive to last minute baking (although they would make a fun activity for next week while everyone is still on vacation....)  As I mentioned, they require a bit of patience and definite attention to detail.  But frankly, that's probably one of the reasons I like them so much.  Looking at their neat lines and uniform design all laid out in rows on the baking sheets....and then stacked in the cookie tin...just makes me happy.  If you too happen to have that particular gene that finds beauty and tranquility in uniformity and precision, these cookies will have the same effect on you.  Spending part of an afternoon making them just might go a long way towards creating some pleasing order in your world in the midst of what is sometimes a bit of a chaotic season. 

Merry Christmas.



Checkerboard Shortbread Cookies

Vanilla Dough:
170 g. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but cool
75 g. (6 T) sugar
3/8 t. pure almond extract
3/8  t. salt
210 g. (1 3/4 c.) all-purpose flour


Chocolate Dough:
170 g. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but cool
75 g. (6 T) sugar
1 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
3/8  t. salt
210 g. (1 3/4 c.) all-purpose flour
24 g. (4 1/2 T.) Dutch-process cocoa powder


Finishing ingredients: 
1 large egg, beaten and strained (to make sure the stray bits of the chalazae are removed and that the egg wash is perfectly smooth)
sugar for sprinkling (optional)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, briefly cream the butter and sugar (just to combine).  Beat in the almond extract, and salt. Add the flour and mix on low speed until the dough forms clumps.  Scrape the clumps of dough onto a piece of plastic wrap



 and using the plastic wrap, press the dough into a flat square.  Chill until firm.

Using the same mixing bowl (no need to wash it), make the chocolate dough exactly as the vanilla dough, adding the cocoa with the flour.  Form into a square.  


If necessary, wrap and chill until firm, but still malleable.  If the dough has been chilled until hard, allow it to soften briefly before rolling out.

To form the cookie logs you must roll each color of dough out into a neat square that is of as uniform a thickness as possible.  The dough is easily rolled out between sheets of plastic wrap or on a lightly floured surface.  After rolling the squares, you must then cut them into strips of uniform width.  Precision is essential. Use a ruler, mark both ends of each strip before cutting, and use a sharp knife.  If at any point the dough becomes too soft to work with neatly, place it in the refrigerator until it firms up.

Roll each color of dough into a 7- by 9-inch rectangle (at the least) that is a uniform thickness of 3/8 inch. 





 (I usually chill it briefly at this point.)  Using a sharp knife and a ruler, slice each rectangle into nine 3/4-inch by about 9-inch strips. (It is unlikely that the strips will be exactly 9 inches long, but it is not necessary to trim the strips to exactly 9-inches as you can trim the cookie logs when you slice the cookies.)  
Mark both ends of each square at 3/4-inch intervals before slicing.
Cover the work surface with plastic wrap. Lay one strip of dough down on the plastic wrap and brush one long side lightly with egg wash.  Take a strip of dough of the opposite color and lay it so that it is touching the egg washed surface of the first strip.  Repeat with one more strip always alternating the color of the dough for each consecutive strip. 


Brush the top of the three strips with a light film of egg wash and build the second layer on top of the first, repeating the process that was used to make the first layer—this time starting with the opposite color (placing dark over light and light over dark).  Repeat to form a third layer.


As you work, be very careful to place the strips precisely—they are difficult to move once placed.


Wrap the finished log in plastic wrap and chill until firm enough to slice—at least a half hour.  The dough may also be refrigerated for several days or frozen for several weeks.

Preheat oven to 325°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap the logs and using a thin, sharp knife, slice each log into 1/4-inch-thick slices;


place the cookies about an inch apart on the baking sheet.  (If the logs are too hard to slice easily, let sit at room temperature until soft enough to slice cleanly.) 


Bake until the cookies are set and the light colored portion is just beginning to turn a very pale golden on the edges—about 15 minutes. 


Remove baking sheet from oven, and let cookies cool 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  Makes 6 dozen checkerboard cookies.

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart and Hallmark Magazine December/January 2009)


Marble slice and bake cookies:  Take the scraps of trimmed dough and press them together, kneading and twisting once or twice to create a marbled dark and light dough (the less you knead/twist, the more pronounced the marbling will be).  Form the dough into a cylinder that is about 1 1/2-inches in diameter.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill.  When ready to bake, slice 1/4-inch thick and bake as for checkerboards.



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Honey & Sea Salt Caramels

When it comes to Christmas sweets and baked goods, I'm mostly a cookies, cakes and breads kind of girl.  I know a lot of people think of fudge at Christmastime, but for some reason I've never been much of a fan.  As far as candies go, there is only a short list that I like to make and give each year.  Two of these I posted during the early days of my blog—Salted Mixed Nut Brittle and Chocolate Almond Toffee.  In recent years, I have been making caramels.  Not just any old caramels, but delicious soft and chewy, honey-scented and crunchy sea salt-sprinkled, caramels. 



These caramels are my combination of a couple of recipes—Honey Cream Caramels from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy and Honey Caramels from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich.  The two recipes don't differ that much in terms of their ingredients.  In fact, the ingredient list for my caramels is almost identical to the one by Murphy.  It is the method that really differentiates these two recipes....and I'm using the method that Medrich uses.  These different methods are a perfect example of a great divide in the world of caramel making. 


The Sweet Melissa recipe uses what I would call a "one step" process:  all of the ingredients (sugar, corn syrup, honey, cream and butter) are placed in a pan together and cooked to the firm ball stage.  Medrich's recipe uses two steps:  the sugars and syrups (honey and corn syrup) are cooked first to the temperature at which sugar caramelizes.  At this point the cream and butter are added.  The mixture is then cooked some more until it reaches the firm ball stage.  Since the mixture reaches the firm ball stage at around 250° F...and sugar caramelizes at 320° F...it seems to me that the one step method (where the temperature never reaches the carameliztion point) doesn't technically produce something that can be called a "caramel".  Obviously not everyone agrees with me...and you will find many recipes for caramels that employ this method.  However, I have made these caramels using both methods and feel pretty confident in saying that the two step method produces a superior caramel...at least, with this recipe.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that honey begins to caramelize at a much lower temperature than granulated sugar (230°, to be exact).  Of course both the methods I have described reach this temperature.  So in fact, for honey caramels, there is some degree of caramelization that is occurring even if you are only using the one step method.  Even so, I prefer the deeper caramelization that is achieved by taking the sugar syrup to the caramelization point of granulated sugar (320°F).


I will concede that the process of making...then cutting...then wrapping...caramels could be seen as a bit of a tedious process.  But I don't see it that way at all.  Rather, I see it as an opportunity to make a truly fine homemade gift for the people I love.  And for the caramels that I keep for myself, the memory of the time and effort that went into the project helps me to savor each one...as opposed to just mindlessly consuming one after the other.  As further incentive, the cutting and wrapping process provide a window of time when I can put a favorite Christmas movie in the DVD player and actually sit down for a while as I work.  Since I am on my feet for most of the day every day, this is a welcome moment during my holiday season.  I find that the process fits my schedule best if I make the caramels and pan them up on one day, let them cool overnight and then cut and wrap them on the following day.


There are a few things that will make the task of cutting and wrapping easier.  First, use a sharp, thin knife to cut the caramel.  Wipe the blade frequently with paper towel moistened sparingly with vegetable oil.  If any caramel becomes stuck to the knife, scrape and wipe it off completely before the next cut.  If you have successfully taken the caramels to 250°, the cut caramels will hold their shape long enough so that you can cut them all and then wrap them all.  If you have undershot the mark at all (and produced a softer caramel), it is possible that they will begin to slump and spread as soon as they are cut.  If this is the case, it will work best to cut and wrap them in small batches.  Make sure that the freshly cut caramels don't touch one another.  They will stick to each other and you'll have to cut them apart. 



Finally, I have always cut my own squares of waxed paper wrappers.  I like to make small caramels and am able to cut the papers to the exact size that I want this way.  But I admit this is the part of the process that I enjoy the least.  If you don’t want to cut your own, you can purchase pre-cut candy papers from a bakery supply house or an on-line purveyor like Amazon.



If you have never made candy of any kind before, making caramels is probably not where you should start.  The process requires that you pay close attention to all the small details of the candy making process...temperature, making sure all the sugar crystals are dissolved, etc.  Furthermore, it really is best if you have an experiential knowledge (for safety's sake) of the volatility of hot sugar syrups.  Of the three candies I have posted thus far, I would say that the mixed nut brittle is a good beginner recipe.  Brittle is a simple "one step" process, and in that particular post I have discussed in detail the importance of making sure all of the sugar crystals have been dissolved.  Toffee is a good second recipe.  It is slightly more detailed...and slightly more persnickety...than brittle, and in that post, I talk a little bit about safety in candy making.  Making all three of these...first brittle, then toffee, then caramels...would be a great short course in candy making...and would of course produce lots of delicious treats for you and your friends and family...just in time for the holiday. 



Honey & Sea Salt Caramels

Fleur de sel, or other coarse, flaky salt (to taste)
2 c. heavy cream (464 g)
1/4 c. water (56 g)
1 c. light corn syrup (328 g)
1/3 c. honey (112 g)
2 1/3 c. sugar (467 g)
1 T. unsalted butter
1/2 t. table salt or fine sea salt
1 t. pure vanilla extract


Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square, straight-sided metal baking pan with two long sheets of criss-crossed parchment. Spray lightly with spray release (“Pam”), or brush lightly with vegetable oil—use a paper towel to blot away any excess spray or oil.  Sprinkle sparingly with fleur de sel or other coarse sea salt, if you like.  Set aside.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until steaming hot.  Remove the pan from the heat and cover to keep the cream hot.

Combine the water, corn syrup, honey, and sugar in a heavy 3-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a long-handled wooden spoon, until the sugar is dissolved and is beginning to simmer.  Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush.  Attach the candy thermometer to the saucepan, increase the heat to moderately high, and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is caramelized to your preference...  



I think 320° to 325° is optimal for the best flavor and color.  It will take about 10 minutes to reach this point.  If you prefer a lighter caramel, you can stop at 305°.  Don’t go beyond 330°. 

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter.  Gradually stir in the hot cream.  Be careful, it will bubble up and steam dramatically.  Return the pan to medium to medium-high heat (regulate the heat so that the caramel cooks at a vigorous boil.) and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the temperature reaches 250°F—about 15 minutes.



Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt and the vanilla. Pour the caramel into the lined pan.  Sprinkle the surface with more fleur de sel.  Let set until firm—at least 4 to 5 hours…overnight if you have time. 

Loosen the edges with a lightly oiled knife.  Lift the caramel from the pan using the overhang of parchment.  Cut the caramels with a thin and sharp oiled knife into any shape or size you desire. Wrap each caramel individually in waxed paper. 


I prefer small caramels, so I cut the large square of caramel into 16 half inch strips and then cut each strip into 9 one inch lengths.  A 3- by 3 1/2-inch rectangle of waxed paper is the perfect size for wrapping these small caramels.  This size will yield 144 (12 dozen) small caramels.   

(Recipe adapted from  The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy and Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich )


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Braided Loaf filled with Dried Fruits & Nuts

I love the dried and candied fruit filled baked goods of the late fall and winter months.  Not only are they delicious and seasonal (fresh fruits having diminished in supply by the time December rolls around), but from Britain's Christmas cake...to Italy's Panettone...to Germany's Stollen (just to name a few), they are part of a rich European tradition of holiday baking.   



Unfortunately, this style of baked good is not very much in favor in the U.S.  I am at a loss as to why this is the case....but nevertheless, it seems to be true.  One of my favorite holiday classes—all about desserts that feature these ingredients—has always been a bit of a hard sell.  This year, that particular class was canceled altogether due to lack of interest.  And yet, any time I sneak a dessert or bread of this style into a class filled with other things, it is often the hit of the class. 

If you count yourself among those who have shied away from these kinds of breads and desserts, today's post is for you.  It is a great introduction to the world of dried fruit-filled yeast breads.  This particular loaf is not nearly as heavy or rich as some of the traditional European loaves.  Additionally, for those who are especially wary of candied fruits (which in the U.S. are awful most of the time), this is made with only dried fruits.  The dough is slightly less sweet and rich than a typical cinnamon roll dough and it bakes into a beautiful braid that is tender and light.   What's not to love?



As it happens this loaf wasn't a part of the class that was canceled. That particular class was mostly a dessert class, and this loaf is definitely not a dessert.  It is a variation of a Peter Reinhart bread that in its original form (filled with dried cranberries and walnuts) was created for a place on the Thanksgiving dinner table.  While I imagine that it is delicious in that role, I think it is best served at breakfast or brunch.  In its "day old" form, it makes fantastic toast.



The flavors of my loaf are patterned after a favorite bread sold at Whole Foods (called a "Harvest" loaf).  That loaf features dried apricots, dried tart cherries and toasted hazelnuts.  I have added Medjool dates to the mix...but any favorite selection of fruits and nuts would work. I think pistachios would be particularly nice for Christmas.  If you don't like nuts—or will be feeding someone with a nut allergy—simply replace them with an equal weight of dried fruit (golden raisins would be nice addition to the other fruits).  

If you have never made a braided loaf before, it is not difficult.  Make sure that your ropes of dough are all the same length and diameter.  



When you form the braid, don't make it too tight.  Pinch the ends well, or the braid will start to come apart at the ends as it proofs and bakes.  



Finally, make sure the loaf is fully proofed, or doubled, before you bake it (it will look swollen and puffy and when lightly pressed with a fingertip, the indentation will remain).  For many breads you can get away with putting them into the oven when they are not yet fully doubled, as the action of the oven will aid in boosting that last little bit of expansion.  In some breads this extra oven spring is desirable, but not in a braid.  Braided loaves that experience a large amount of oven spring look stretched and torn after baking.  The bread will still taste fine if this happens...but it will not be as beautiful.

Once you've tried this bread, you may want to try other dried (and candied) fruit and nut filled baked goods.  If so, there are so many to choose from right here (I really do love them).  You could move on to the Brandied Fruit & Almond Tea Bread...basically a fruit and nut filled pound cake that could be considered a fruit cake "light". 


If your tastes run more to chocolate, there is Deborah Madison's Date, Dried Cherry & Chocolate Torte (basically chocolate fruitcake...).


If you want to sample more of an old world mincemeat-style tart (lightened up a bit for modern American tastes) you could make my Brandied Apple, Raisin & Date Slab Pie


Then, returning to yeast breads, there is my Holiday Wreath Coffee Cake—scented with cardamom and orange and filled with dried cranberries and pistachios.  I make this one every year for our Christmas breakfast....and this one would be a very easy sell among the dried fruit and nut-wary crowd since the fruits and nuts are ground finely prior to coiling them into the dough.


And of course, you can always take basic baked goods and dress them up for the holidays by adding some candied peel and spices...as in my Spiced Cranberry-Orange Coffee Cake...which is just a simple and delicious sour cream coffee cake with additions.


If you can't find good candied peel, it is easy to make.  And it makes a wonderful addition to a holiday sweets platter as well.


Lastly, it would be a most unusual Christmas season at my house if I didn't make at least one batch of my cream scones using candied orange peel for some of the "mix-ins".  My favorite is candied orange peel with dried cranberries and white chocolate.  But candied orange with golden raisins and toasted pecans is pretty great too.... 


   
Dried Fruit & Nut Braided Bread

2 1/4 t. active dry yeast (1 envelope)
55 g. (1/4 c.) warm water
383 g. (3 c.) bread flour, divided
40 g. (3 T.) sugar
1 t. salt
121 g. (1/2 c.) milk
40 g. (3 T.) unsalted butter
2 eggs, room temperature
9 oz. mixed dried fruits (see notes)
3 oz. coarsely chopped, skinned hazelnuts (see notes)



In a large mixing bowl soften the yeast in the warm water.  Place 320 g. (2 1/2 c.) of the bread flour, the sugar and the salt in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Warm the milk and the butter in a small saucepan just until the butter melts.  If the mixture exceeds 115°, let cool before proceeding. 

Add the warmed milk/butter, the eggs and the dry ingredients to the softened yeast and mix with a wooden spoon or stiff rubber spatula to form a soft dough.  If the dough is unmanageably sticky, add more of the flour to bring it together…but only as much as necessary.  Too much flour will create a stiff dough and will produce a dry loaf of bread.   

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (5 to 7 minutes), incorporating only as much of the remaining flour as is needed to keep the dough from sticking unmanageably to the counter.  After 5 to 7 minutes the dough will feel slightly tacky…but not sticky, and it should feel soft and pliable—not stiff and resistant.  (If the dough is too stiff, knead in small amounts of water until it softens.)  



Add the dried fruits and nuts and gently knead until all of the nuts and fruit are incorporated and evenly distributed.  




Place the dough in a buttered bowl.  Turn the dough to coat with butter



 and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk (about 2 hours). 



Gently deflate the dough.  (At this point, you may proceed with forming, proofing and baking, or, alternatively, cover again and place in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, deflate again before proceeding.)   Divide into three portions of equal weight and roll each portion out into a strand that is about 18 inches long.  Make sure all of the strands are of equal length and diameter.  Braid the three strands together and pinch the ends to form a neat loaf.  Transfer the braid to a parchment lined baking sheet and brush all the exposed surfaces with egg wash.  Cover loosely with lightly buttered or oiled plastic wrap and let rise until fully doubled (it will look swollen and puffy and when lightly pressed with a fingertip, the indentation will remain)—about 1 1/2 hours. 




Carefully brush with a second coat of egg wash.  



Transfer the pan to the middle rack of a preheated 325° oven and bake until the loaf is a deep golden brown, feels very firm, and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom—about 40 to 50 minutes (rotate the baking pan from back to front after 20 minutes of baking).  The internal temperature at the center of the loaf should register between 185° and 190°. 

Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and let cool for at least an hour before slicing. 

This loaf is delicious as part of a brunch spread.  It makes excellent toast.  It is also good with cheese.   Slightly stale slices would make good French Toast…or a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.  Peter Reinhart makes his bread with dried cranberries and walnuts and serves it as part of his Thanksgiving spread.

Notes:
  • You may use any mix of dried fruits that you prefer. I like equal quantities of pitted, chopped Medjool dates, chopped dried apricots and tart cherries. 
  • Chopped toasted walnuts, pecans or pistachios would all be delicious, too. 
  • You may omit the nuts entirely and replace them with another 3 oz. of dried fruit. 
  • The double egg wash in this recipe produces a loaf with a deeply, burnished brown finish. If you would like a loaf that is not so dark, just egg wash once, right before baking. 
(Adapted from The BreadBaker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)