Apple Braid Bread with Salted Carmel Glaze

It's already October and all I can think about is baking. This really is the season for oven fresh nom noms and hugs. I love the crisp air, vibrant colors, big comfy sweaters, and pumpkins! Especially those tiny pumpykins. If finances permitted, I would keep buying them until they were spilling out the front door. Not very practical... but you get the idea.



Contrary to my usual screaming desire to make all that is pumpkin... quite a few apples recipes have caught my eye this year. If you're a pumpkin lover, you must make pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin poptarts. They truly are two of the best recipes I've come across.



 So how did apples suddenly come into play during pumpkin season?


It all started with this beautiful apple braid bread. I've always wanted to make braided bread... it looks so intricate and elegant, a trick of the trade best left to the pros.



Or so I thought. Much to my delight, it's super simple to make. If you can thread shoe laces, you can braid bread. Use this recipe as a secret weapon to win over your significant other's parents or get brownie points at the office. People will think you're a baking master.



The first time I made this bread- my kitchen sense was tingling. The instructions made no sense. Why add yeast if you're not going to even allow the bread to rise? Seriously- is this something you've seen in a recipe before because I certainly have not. I went against my better judgement and followed the directions to the letter.

 
The result was a beautiful... and hard loaf of bread. The filling was scrumptious but the outside left much to be desired. It was thin, hard, and chewy. My friends said hey- it's not bad. It certainly wasn't good either! It was eaten by pack of starving bboys after Crafty Bastards while playing Marvel vs Capcom. That really doesn't say much- they would eat cardboard at that point.

So the next day... I tried again. The ingredients are simple enough and there was an entire bag of apples that needed to be finished from the boy's mom.


This time, I did things my way and made a few modifications. Added some spices to the actual dough, raisins to the apple mix, customized the caramel glaze, and let the dough rise twice. This increases the cooking time (about 2 hours) but like any good risen bread- perfection takes some time. Plus- the loaf itself was twice as big! Hell yes.


The dough transformed into entirely different creation: soft, pull apart, and lightly spiced. Egg wash ensured the brown color and crispy first layer of bread. The raisins complemented the apple and added dimension to the cinnamon flavor. The caramel sauce was thickened with the addition of powdered sugar with the perfect sprinkling of sea salt. This sauce was made for this bread dude. 


This time. The bread was wrecked appropriately. The boy and I had a really hard time controlling ourselves. I was so impressed- I invited my mother over for a slice. She was my role model in the kitchen as a child- so the highest compliment is her approval. Her eyes lit up on the first bite and I felt my imaginary tail wiggle.



Make somebody's tail wiggle with this bread!

Apple Braid 
adapted from La Fuji Mama

Apple Filling

3 medium-size Honey Crisp apples
1/2 cup raisins
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. fresh nutmeg

Dough

2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (one packet) instant yeast
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp. Vegetable oil
1 egg white (egg wash)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Make the Apple Filling: Peel, core, and slice the apples into thin slices, then cut the slices in half. Toss the apple pieces with the sugar, raisins, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and lemon juice. Bake the apple filling in an 8-inch square baking pan (or 9-inch pie tin) for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. (Note: Do not turn the oven off at this point. You will be using it to bake the finished braid.)

While the apple filling is baking, begin preparing the bread dough. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and oil and mix the dough for 6 minutes using the dough hook of an electric stand mixer on medium-high speed. 

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Roll dough into a ball and place in bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in warm place for 40 minutes to 1 hour, until dough has doubled in size.

Spray a smooth clean surface with cooking spray and turn the dough out onto the surface. Knead the dough briefly to give it a smooth surface (this will only take several turns of the dough to accomplish). Spray a rolling pin with cooking spray and roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 12-inches by 16-inches in size. Lift onto a greased baking sheet.

Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut each side into strips about 1-inch wide down each side, leaving the center third of the dough uncut. Spread the apple filling down the middle third of the dough. Fold strips of dough into the center, crisscrossing the filling by alternating strips from each side. Lightly press ends to seal, and straighten out the braid with your hands, if necessary, to straighten. 

Wrap braid in plastic wrap and place in warm place for another 40 minutes to an hour to let the dough rise again. 

Beat egg white till foamy and brush with baster all over bread. This will give the bread a nice, brown color.

Bake the braid in the oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let the braid cool for several minutes.

Salted Caramel Glaze
adapted from David Lebovitz

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
1/2- 1 cup powdered sugar (how thick you want it)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Spread the sugar in an even layer in a small sauce pan. Set over moderate heat and cook without stirring, until the sugar near the edge just starts to liquefy.

Using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, begin gently stirring, encouraging the melted sugar around the edges toward the center and delicately stirring up any sugar melting on the bottom as well. The sugar will start to look pebbly as it cooks, but keep going; it will melt completely as it turns amber.
Continue to cook until the sugar turns deep brown and starts to smoke. (Don’t worry about any large chunks of caramel.) The darker you can cook the sugar without burning it, the better the final sauce will taste. It’s ready when it’s the color of a well-worn penny, and will smell a bit smoky.
Remove from the heat and quickly stir in about a quarter of the cream. The mixture will bubble up furiously, so you may wish to wear an oven mitt over your stirring hand. Continue to whisk in the cream, stirring as you go to make sure it’s smooth. Stir in the butter and salt. Serve warm. If you like your sauce a bit thinner or less rich, add 1/4 cup (60 ml) water.

Storage: The sauce can be made up to one month in advance and kept refrigerated. Rewarm the caramel in a small saucepan over low heat or in a microwave.
Pour over top of braid.