Thursday, February 26, 2015

Soft Braid

This has been an amazingly busy month, but one without much bread baking. I did make the Bread Baking Babes bread and we just loved those sweet, buttery morsels, but I've been longing for something a lot more plain and basic. This bread is very loosely based on a recipe from the King Arthur Flour folks, but I've made so many changes that I'm not going to do a link.

I think you will enjoy this one as much as Sweetie and I did. We had it with dinner last night and it went really well with the clam chowderish soup I made. This morning I had some sliced and toasted with just a dab of butter and it was excellent. I think that the double rise of the starter, plus the nonfat dry milk help to make the flavor deeper than one might expect from a relatively quick yeast bread. The white whole wheat flour I used helps, too.

So, warm up your kitchen with some fresh baked bread. The fragrance alone will make you glad you did!

Braided Soft Bread
This single loaf is a nice braid with a soft crust and soft, tight crumb inside. It has good flavor and makes great toast.

 1/4 cup barely warm water
.25 oz rapid rise yeast
 1/2 teaspoon sugar
 1 cup all-purpose flour, divided

 all of the starter
 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
 1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
 2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
 2/3 cup lukewarm water

1) To make the starter: Put the warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle on the yeast and let hydrate for 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar and 1/2 cup of the flour. Let sit in a warm place for 1/2 hour. Stir in the second 1/2 cup flour. Again let sit in a warm place for 1/2  to 1 hour. The longer sitting time will add to the flavor of the bread, just a bit.

2) To make the dough: Whisk the plain and whole wheat flours together in a bowl. (I used white whole wheat flour instead of regular whole wheat flour.) Combine the starter with the remaining dough ingredients, and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, smooth dough. You may need slightly more or less than 2 cups flour.

3) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measure, or oiled dough rising container; cover, and let it rise for about 90 minutes, till it's just about doubled in bulk.

4) Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough log, and let the logs rest, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. This gives the gluten in the dough a chance to relax, which in turn will make the logs easier to roll.

5) Roll each log into a snake about 14-15 inches long. Snakes should be the same length. Place snakes next to each other on a parchment lined baking sheet and braid. Tuck ends under. Cover lightly with oiled plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and allow to rise till very puffy, about 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

10) The braid will need to bake for about 25 minutes. It will be lightly golden brown and, if you tap the bottom of the braid, it will sound hollow. Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack.

Makes one loaf.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Muddy Slice of Cake

This month the Cake Slice Bakers had some wonderful choices for the recipe to bake: King Cake for Mardi Gras, Mini Red Velvet cakes or a dramatic chocolate torte for Valentine's Day, or a Mississippi Mud Cake just for fun. You can see what I chose in the photo.

Because February has been waaaay too full of both fun and serious things, including a funeral which included flying to Virginia during one of the many freezes they have had this winter, a tea party, a bladder infection, a birthday bash at a great restaurant, a birthday steak cooked by Sweetie on the actual day, eye surgery, a visit by an old Peace Corps buddy of Charlie's, an Artist's night for Straight Shooter's photo show, and scholarship selection for three P.E.O. State Chapter scholarships which included flying to LA (not in that order) I am late in both making and posting my choice.

I decided to go with the fun Mississippi Mud Cake because I think it will be something that Sweetie enjoys and he has been a rock of support and love during this busy month. Because I don't have any marshmallows and I do have cream cheese, I decided to substitute a cream cheese-brown sugar-bourbon mixture for the marshmallows. It didn't brown up, but I think it goes with the Southern vibe as well as being very good with chocolate and pecans. I also used some espresso powder instead of vanilla because I like a little coffee flavor to up the chocolate flavor in baked goods.

I also made half a recipe and baked it in a square pan. The full recipe is perfect for a crowd, but that isn't going to happen. I'll give the recipe the way I made it. If you visit some of the other Cake Slice Bakers or go online to the Southern Living website you should find the full recipe.

This is one oooey, gooey chocolate marvel of a dessert. It's messy but delicious. Hard to not just go back and have a little more...then a little more. You know, that kind of deliciousness.

Mississippi Mud Cake 
from The Southern Cake Book, by Southern Living Magazine

1/2 cup butter
2 oz. semisweet chocolate (I used Scharfenberger)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped (I used closer to a cup)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons bourbon whiskey
Warm Chocolate Frosting (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 8 x 8-inch or 9 x 9-inch baking pan. Set aside.

Microwave butter and chocolate in a large microwave safe glass bowl on HIGH for 1 minute, stirring half way through the minute. I cut the butter and chocolate into small pieces before microwaving.

Whisk the sugar into the chocolate mixture. Whisk the eggs into the chocolate mixture until well blended. In a small bowl stir together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder (if using), and salt. Stir into the chocolate mixture until well blended. Add the vanilla if using.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes.

While the batter is baking, whip the cream cheese, brown sugar and whiskey together with a stand or hand held mixer until well blended and creamy.

When the batter has baked, leave the oven on. Remove the baking pan to a heat proof work area and dollop the cream cheese mixture over the brownie in the pan. Use the back of a spatula to draw the dollops together. Layer will be bumpy with uneven amounts in the layer. Return pan to oven and bake another 10 minutes. Mixture will not brown.

While cream cheese layer is baking, make the Warm Chocolate Frosting (see below). You should just about be done making it when the cake is ready to be removed from the oven.

After 10 minutes of baking, remove pan from oven and pour Warm Chocolate Frosting over it. Spread with a small spatula if necessary. Top with the toasted pecans. Let cool at least 10 minutes for the icing to harden up a bit. Enjoy!

Warm Chocolate Frosting

Melt 1/4 cup butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa. Whisk in 3 tablespoons milk. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Then gradually whisk in 1 cup confectioner's sugar, whisking all the time. Mixture will thicken slightly. Use at once, as soon as the cake comes out of the oven.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Buttery Anniversary To Us

Happy Anniversary to us! For the Bread Baking Babes 7th anniversary our Kitchen of the Month, Lien of Notitie van Lien, gave us the perfect recipe for celebrating. It's an old Celtic butter 'cake' from Brittany France called Kouign Amann and you are going to want to make this one. Better yet, join us by being a Buddy...details at the bottom, before the recipe.

It's a laminated dough, so you get lots of lovely layers. It's a butter loving recipe, so use the best butter you can. I used our standard, and pretty good, Clover unsalted butter, but if I make it again I'm going to spring for Kerrygold Irish butter or even something more ultra creamy than that. The taste of the butter and the taste of caramelized sugar are the main benefits here; you really taste the butter.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly, but then I hardly ever do. I used a lot less yeast than 5 grams...about 1 gram in fact. I put the liquid into the bowl and then added the dry ingredients slowly as the dough hook did its thing. When it was time to roll out the dough the second time, I sprinkled sugar on top of the butter block before putting it into the fridge. Not such a great idea because the sugar liquefied, which made for a mess when it was time to roll the dough out again. I forgot to sprinkle the final rolled out dough with sugar before cutting it, so sprinkled it on the buns once they were in the muffin tins. Last, but not least, I goofed and cut too many squares, so some of the muffin tin holes had more dough than others.

They all ended up being delicious. I love the crispy caramelized crusts on the sides and bottom, and adore the tender layers within. As I expected, Sweetie loved these a lot. They do take some time, but are so worth it.

Do stop by the other Babes sites to see what they did with this recipe. If you want to be a Buddy and get a cool badge for your blog, send an e-mail to Lien with a photo and short description of your baking experience making Kouign Amann. Get it to her by Feb 27th (short month) to be included in the round-up.

Thanks for choosing this great treat Lien!

Kouign Amann
Makes 12 pastries

Equipment and preparation: for this recipe you will need a 12-cup muffin tin and a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook.

1-2 hours preparation time
30 mins to 1 hour cooking time

300-340 g strong plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
5 g fast-action yeast
3/4 tsp salt
200 ml  warm water
25 g unsalted butter, melted
250 g cold unsalted butter, in a block
100 g caster sugar for sprinkling on the dough (the final fold just before rolling it out and after it’s been rolled out - not between the other layers), plus extra for sprinkling on top

1. Put the flour (start with 300 g) into the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the yeast to one side of the bowl and the salt to the other. Add the water and melted butter and mix on a slow speed for two minutes, then on a medium speed for six minutes. Add a little extra flour if the dough is too sticky. The dough should be soft but not sticky (so don’t add to much).

2. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Put into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for one hour.

3. Sandwich the butter between two sheets of greaseproof paper and bash with a rolling pin, then roll out to a 14 cm square. Place in the fridge to keep chilled.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 20 cm square. Place the butter in the centre of the dough diagonally, so that each side of butter faces a corner of the dough. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter to enclose like an envelope.

5. Roll the dough into a 45x15 cm rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough up over the middle, then fold the top third of the dough over. You will now have a sandwich of three layers of butter and three layers of dough. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. This completes one turn.

6. Repeat this process twice more, so you have completed a total of three turns, chilling the dough for 30 minutes between turns.

7. Roll the dough into a rectangle as before. Sprinkle the dough with the caster sugar and  fold into thirds again. Working quickly, roll the dough into a large 40x30 cm rectangle. Sprinkle the dough with caster sugar and cut the dough into 12 squares.

8. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin well with oil. Gather the dough squares up by their four corners and place in the muffin tins, pulling the four corners towards the centre of the muffin tin, so that it gathers up like a four-leaf clover.  Press these corners well together, they can open up when unattached to each other. Sprinkle with caster sugar and leave to rise (room temperature), covered with a clean tea towel, for 30 minutes until slightly puffed up.

9. Preheat oven to 220ºC. Bake the pastries for 30-40 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cover with foil halfway through if beginning to brown too much (and they will). Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a couple of minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Be careful not to burn  yourself on the caramelized sugar, but don’t leave them to cool for too long, or the caramelized sugar will harden and they will be stuck in the tin. Serve warm or cold. Warm is best!

If you don’t want to eat them all in want go (or just if you want to, but shouldn’t), bag and freeze them. Before you eat them: Defrost them and place them in a warm oven (180ºC) for about 4-6 minutes or until warm, they will crisp up again.

(slightly adapted from: Paul Hollywood – BBC “The Great British Bake Off”

Tea Party!

We has a small tea party yesterday, just three friends and myself. The fluffy fake chick was a gift, sort of an in joke. Many of the tea pots and cups, the sugar bowl and the sandwich plate were gifts and some have fond memories of my grandmother and Mom and a couple of friends who have died. Maybe that sounds morbid, but I like to think it honors them and it certainly brings a smile to my face as I use them, especially when the use comes with yummy treats and lots of laughter.

It was a particularly fun to use the lacy linens and pretty tea pots and cups and plates that are often on the shelf. Time to play in the kitchen has been at a premium. Fortunately two of the sweet treats I served were made ahead and the rest were purchased. The linzer tart I posted last was a big hit! I did make the little sandwiches in the morning, which was fun. I had never made egg salad, nor cucumber on pumpernickel tea sandwiches before, so there was a learning curve.

Things have been super busy and social around here, which limits baking time. Hope to do the Bread Baking Babes post and Cake Slice post within a few days of their usual posting dates. Best I can do this month.  XO, Elle

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Valentines Tart

Happy Valentine's Day dear reader. February is always a special month for me. It includes my birthday, the birthdays of some dear family and friends, today's holiday, often Mardi Gras and Chinese New Year, Lincoln and Washington's birthdays, the blooming time for almonds and some plums and for the California lilacs and some bulbs. That's a lot. It is also usually the time I start seeds for the spring and summer garden. This year I have seedlings already reaching for the sun in the sunspace for tomatoes, pumpkins, some squash, peas and cucumbers. The peas will get planted out soon as long as the weather looks like it will stay warm enough. The rest will stay inside and be re-potted to larger pots until things are warm enough overnight to allow them to thrive outside.

Yesterday I made a lovely Linzer tart with raspberry filling, which is perfect for Valentine's Day. I made one that is six inches across, plus a couple of small ones in pie tins for gifts, but the recipe is actually for one large on (9-10 inches across), and is a slight variation of the Linzer Cookies recipe that I posted the first year I was blogging...and that was a long time ago.

This is a sophisticated European style tart from Linz in Austria/Germany. My grandmother's family were from Linz, so I always think of her when I make this. A nut-enriched dough is used for the tart crust and it contains a bit of lemon zest, spices and a touch of cocoa (that slight variation I was talking about). The filling is fruit jam, often raspberry, but you can use apricot or plum if you prefer. The top usually has a lattice crust, but I went with cut outs that look like flowers instead. Less fussy and a bit more modern, but still pretty.

You serve wedges of this tart and a sprinkle of powdered sugar is appropriate to dust them with for presentation. I don't think anything else is needed, but a very traditional side would be softly whipped cream. Hope you enjoy your Valentine's day and share your love...and this tart. It may sound complicated, but is actually pretty easy to make using the food processor.

Linzer Tart
a variation of Linzer Cookies recipe from Maida Heatter, 
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies

1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon powdered cloves
1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, chilled
2 1/2 oz. (1/2 cup) finely ground almonds/almond flour
1 egg
1 cup thick red or black raspberry preserves, seedless if possible

1) Adjust oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat to 375 degrees F.

2) Sift together 1 1/2 cups of the flour (reserve remaining 2 tablespoons), baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa, salt into a large mixing bowl.

3) Put granulated sugar and lemon zest into a small bowl and rub the zest into the sugar to mix. Add the brown sugar and almonds/almond flour stir to mix well.

4) Place the flour mixture and almond mixture into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to mix.

5) Slice the butter into pieces. Distribute around bowl of food processor and pulse to cut butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is fine and crumbly.

6) In a small bowl stir the egg lightly with a fork just to mix. Add the egg to the work bowl dough and process  until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Dough will clump together. Remove and reserve 3/4 cup of the dough.

7) Place the remaining dough in an unbuttered 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and set aside.

8) Replace the reserved 3/4 cup of dough in the work bowl. Add the reserved 2 tablespoons flour. Pulse until the flour is all incorporated. Form the dough into a flattened disc and place between two large pieces of wax paper. With a rolling pin, roll over the wax paper to roll the dough into a 9-inch round, (or as close to a circle as you can manage). Slide a cookie sheet under the paper and transfer the dough to the freezer for a few minutes.

9) Flour your fingertips and press the dough that is in the pan to even it out on the bottom of the tart pan. In a small bowl, stir the preserves slightly just to soften. Spread them evenly over the layer of dough in the pan, keeping the preserves 1/4 to 1/3 inch away from the edges.

10) Remove the chilled dough from the freezer. (At this point you can decide to cut out topping dough in shapes like I did, or do the usual lattice, as described here.)
Remove and replace one piece of waxed paper just to loosen it. Turn the dough and both pieces of wax paper over. Then remove and do not replace the other piece of paper. With a serrated knife, cut the dough into 1/2 inch wide strips; you will have 18 strips, each 1/2 inch wide and 9 or so inches long. Place half of the strips over the preserves, placing them 1./2 inch apart and parallel. Work carefully as dough strips are delicate. If they break, put the pieces in line and press ends together gently. Turn the pan and place the remaining 9 strips crosswise over the first ones, again placing them 1/2 inch apart. This forms a lattice top. If the strips become too soft to work with, rechill as necessary. (If you like you can brush finished top crust pieces with an egg wash of one egg mixed with one teaspoon water, but that is optional. Some people also add sliced almonds on top of the egg wash.)

10) Bake for 30 minutes in preheated 375 degree F. oven or until the top is a rich golden brown.

11) Cool completely in the pan, then push up from bottom to release the tart. Cut it into wedges to serve. Can be sprinkled lightly with confectioners' sugar if desired. 

Sunday, February 08, 2015


Every year at Christmas time one of the gifts we look forward to are the cherries from Michigan. One of my sisters lives near Traverse City, Michigan, which is cherry country with a capital C. She often sends us dried cherries and they usually are eaten before the tree gets taken down. Last year I hid some for baking because they are excellent in baked goods. Yesterday I had to use some from the store since the Michigan cherries are all gone, but I was thinking of her as I baked this slab pie and wishing she was here to have a slice. I also wished I had Michigan cherries, but had to settle for Montmorency cherries canned in a jar (from Wisconsin I think).

This pie is a variation of one I found in XX. The original recipe was for apple pie, but Sweetie isn't a huge fan of apples, plus I had a yen for cherries. This would make an excellent Valentine's Day dessert. It looks like it feeds a crowd, but is really about six slices long. I'm pretty sure that you could cut it into 4 huge slices if you needed to. We shared it with our dinner partners last night and it served the four of us with medium slices, plus a couple left over for their breakfast. We were treated to an excellent Middle Eastern feast by the KitchenThink kitchen designer whom we love, so it was great that she loved this slab cherry pie, too.

The challenge for me with this recipe was to make a filling to replace the apple filling. I used another recipe in the book, for regular cherry pie, but added extra thickener and used fewer cherries. Because I was using canned cherries, I also included some dried tart cherries which I marinated in Amaretto liquor since almonds and cherries are a great combo. I also added about a teaspoon grated Meyer lemon zest to the Meyer lemon juice for some zing since canned cherries can be a bit bland. It all worked out well. The filling was thick enough for a slab pie, it was flavorful and had just a bit of tang. I know I'll make it again soon.

The crust was the one called for in the book, a all-butter pie crust that you can make in the food processor. It is very similar to the Martha Stewart one, but was even better and very flaky. I did increase the ice water to 1/4 cup. The mixture still looked like crumbs at that point, but it did hold together when squeezed. When I wrapped it up in plastic, I kneaded it together just a bit, then shaped it into a rectangle. Not sure if it is important, but I chilled the flour in the freezer and put the small cubes of butter there, too. The water was very cold. I think that having such cold ingredients and not overworking the dough helped with making it flaky.

Another change was that I painted the edges that became sealed together with the egg wash before folding the dough over. The recipe called for water, but I had the egg wash ready to go, so I used it. The filling that came out did so from a vet not the edges, so it worked to keep those edges really sealed. I also left the salt out of the egg wash. There was so much sparkling sugar on top that it really wasn't missed.

Cherry Slab Pie
a variation of Apple Slab Pie in The Culinary Institute of America's Pies and Tarts book

Makes on 5 x 15 inch slab pie
(about 6 servings)

One All-Butter Pie Dough (recipe below) formed into in rectangular disc
3-4 cups canned or frozen tart cherries, drained...reserve 1/4 cup juice
1/2 cup dried tart cherries in a small bowl with enough Amaretto to cover tehm
1/3 cup cornstarch (I used 1/2 cup tapioca starch, which worked well)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (I used Meyer lemons)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, grated fine
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Egg Wash of 1 egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water
Sanding sugar (or granulated sugar) for the top of the pie

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Make sure the pie dough is chilling in the fridge. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the reserved 1/4 cup cherry juice, the cornstarch or tapioca starch and whisk together with a small whisk or a fork. Set aside.

Drain the dried cherries. The liquid can be used for other purposes (like sipping)

In a medium saucepan, combine the drained cherries, lemon juice and zest, sugar, salt and drained dried cherries. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, and simmer, stirring, for 10 minutes to reduce some of the liquid. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Return the pan to the stove top and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stirring constantly, cook for 3-5 minutes, until clear and thickened. Mixture will thicken more as it cools. That is fine. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for 30 - 45 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature.

Dust a 13" x 18" sheet of parchment paper lightly with flour. On it roll out the chilled dough to 1/8 inch thick. Using a pastry wheel, trim the dough to 10 inches by 15 inches. If dough is at all soft refrigerate by placing the parchment on a baking sheet and putting the whole thing in the fridge.
On chilled rectangle of dough, spread the cherry filling on one half, along the long side, leaving a 1/2 inch border on three sides. If needed, press gently on filling with a spatula to eliminate any air gaps.

Use the egg wash and a pastry brush to brush the wash on all edges of the pastry, about 1/2 inch in. Using the parchment paper to help, fold half the dough over the other half. Press down on the edges to seal and further seal and crimp by pressing down with the tines of a fork.

Carefully turn the pie over onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the top with egg wash. Sprinkle liberally with sanding sugar or granulated sugar. Use a paring knife to cut 6 or 7 vents in the top at 2 - 3 inch intervals.

Bake in the preheated oven until the filling is bubbly and top is golden, about 45 - 50 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Let cool for 2 - 3 hours. The filling will continue to thicken and set as the pie cools.

To serve, cut wedges down the pie, with the point of the wedge facing in one direction for one slice and in the opposite direction for the next slice.

Refrigerate any leftovers.

All-Butter Pie Dough
from same book as above

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, put into the freezer for 1 hour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 oz - 1 stick, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen
1/4 cup ice cold water, more if needed

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade, combine the cold flour, salt and sugar. Process for a few seconds to combine.

With the processor off, add half the frozen butter. Pulse for 3 - 5 seconds, or until the butter looks like small peas. With the processor off, add the remaining butter and pulse for 4 - 5 seconds, or until the mixture is well mixed and butter pieces are various sizes from small to pea sized or larger.

With the processor off, sprinkle half of the ice-cold water over the mixture. Pulse for 3 - 5 seconds, or until just combined. With processor off, add half of the remaining water. Again pulse for 3-5 seconds. Check the dough by pressing it to the side of the work bowl. If it does not hold together, add the rest of the water and pulse for 3 - 5 seconds, and check again. The dough should just hold together when pressed to the side of the bowl. It will be very dry looking and should not form a ball or mass of dough in the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape the dough into a disc, kneading gently just a bit if needed to make the dough cohesive. Shape disc into a rectangle and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or, preferably, overnight.

Use straight from the fridge to roll out.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Apricots and Almonds

Fragrances are often a memory trigger, especially food aromas. From now on, warm apricots and almonds will remind me of the trip to bury my Mom. I knew that we would be getting in late and might want something easy for breakfast, so I baked an apricot almond bread to take with us. I could smell it in the car on our way to the airport, even though it was inside my carry-on bag. I even ate some of it, pulled roughly from the end of the loaf and eaten with my airplane coffee when I felt the need of a snack. It was wonderful. The morning after we arrived I had a slice, toasted, with some coffee before getting ready to get out the door. It was comforting and the heat from the toaster brought out the fragrance of apricot even stronger.

It was an emotion filled time. I grieved over the loss of not only my Mom, but of the place she held in the family and how her home was the true home place for so many. We had no choice but to begin taking things out of the house, which was a jolt, even though expected. One day before 2015 winds down someone else will buy it and the house will start the next chapter in its life. It is the place of my childhood, filled with mental snapshots of long ago excitement and disappointments, birthdays and Christmases, books and baking, puzzles and plantings. Time to bid childhood places good bye, too. I hope that someone with a young family moves in. It's a good house for a family. My family grew together there and we held together these past few days, too, sharing photos and memories, exchanging hugs and stories, supporting each other as we buried Mom with Dad as the air was filled with drizzle which mingled with my tears. On either side of me, solid with love, was my Sweetie and my wonderful daughter. Even in my sadness I know that I'm truly blessed.

Hope you try this bread and hope it evokes good memories for you the next time you smell almonds and apricots.

Apricot Almond Braid
a variation on the Autumn Festival Bread in The Festive Bread Book by Kathy Cutler

This is a rich and elegant bread, flecked with dried apricots and sliced almonds. It has a texture similar to a brioche and is wonderful toasted.

Makes 1 loaf

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water (105 – 115 degrees F)
2 ¼ - 3 cups unbleached bread flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup diced dried apricots
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup warm milk (105 – 115 degrees F)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sliced almonds

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Combine 1 ½ cups flour, salt, nutmeg, diced dried apricots and sugar in mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Mix together the warm milk, egg and almond extract. Add the milk mixture, yeast mixture and butter to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly.

Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth, about 10 minutes.

Place in greased bowl, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in warm place until double in bulk – about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Flatten dough and sprinkle half of the sliced almonds over it. Roll up like a jelly roll, then fold the two ends towards the center. Flatten dough again. Again sprinkle on the sliced almonds, using them up. Again roll up like a jelly roll and fold the two ends towards the center. Knead dough about ten turns to fully incorporate the sliced almonds. Divide the dough into thirds. Make three ropes. Braid on a greased, parchment covered, or silicon mat covered baking sheet. Be sure to tuck the ends under.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until double – about 30 -45 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and return the loaf to the oven. Bake an additional 30 – 35 minutes or until done. Check at 20 minutes and cover lightly with aluminum foil if loaf looks like it is getting too dark or the nuts are burning.

Cool on a wire rack. If desired, drizzle with Confectioners Sugar Icing and sprinkle on some additional sliced almonds for decoration.

Confectioners Sugar Icing: Mix together 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and 1-2 tablespoons milk.