Did you look at this photo and think: damn, that's impossibly gorgeous or I could never bake that confidently or her kitchen must be a calm oasis, full of striped aprons and spotless countertops and copper cookware?
Maybe you're onto me, and you thought none of those things. But I do think this particular recipe looks like a lot to tackle, and you might feel like you need to be an organized, expert baker to attempt it. Not so!
Prior to the moment of zen pictured above, when my beautifully twisted loaves were calmly rising, I was in crisis mode. My hands were coated in a sugary mess of apple filling and my counter was covered in empty butter wrappers and apple peels and lemon rinds. Of course, I chose to wear a black shirt to bake bread, so I was sporting floury fingerprints from neck to waist.
My phone sat on the counter, with my mother on speaker. She had baked this same recipe a few days before, so I panic-dialed her (as I like to do in moments of stress, sorry Ma), jabbing at the screen with my aforementioned sugary fingers. My mother is one of the most capable bakers I know, having a practiced feel for dough and extremely good common sense in the kitchen. We discussed where the recipe could go wrong: too much liquid in the filling, too much flour in the dough, and so on.
Here are a few lessons you should learn from both of our mistakes with this recipe:
1. You must squeeze the liquid from your apples! The filling will be far too watery if you don't, and it won't adhere properly to your dough.
2. Before adding the egg and milk to your dry ingredients, whisk them together separately. This will help distribute the liquid better.
3. Weigh your flour. It's really crucial to get the amount of flour right when you're baking bread. If you don't have a scale, just be very careful not to over-measure. The proper way to measure flour is to spoon it into your measuring cup and sweep the top flat with a finger or a knife. Don't pack it down at all!
4. Use more filling than you think you should. This is the best part of the bread (duh), so it's no time to be stingy about things.
5. After you roll up the log of dough lengthwise, you pinch the seam together and then slice down the log. Before slicing the log in half, turn the seam to the side (so it is neither directly on the top or the bottom of the log). This helps to make your layers more even.
6. I tried an apple-less filling (sort of a riff on a cinnamon roll filling), but it didn't work as well and ended up leaking out of the bread, so stick with the apples. They help to keep the filling together.
7. Call your mother more. She will make you laugh about things that otherwise make you want to weep, like too-sticky bread dough and messy kitchens and any general feelings of ineptitude.
Cinnamon Apple Twist Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
For the dough
13 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour (3 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 ounces potato starch flour (1/4 cup)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast or instant yeast (1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
For the filling
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 medium apples, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon Instant Clearjel or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, potato flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and egg. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients along with the softened butter and vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.
Once it has rested, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for 5-10 minutes (until smooth and elastic). Place the dough in a large greased bowl (covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel) and let it rise for until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. In a warmer room, it will take less time.
While the dough rises, make the filling. Peel and grate the apples, then squeeze all the liquid you can out of the grated apples. Add the apples to a bowl and mix in the sugars, Clearjel or flour, cinnamon, lemon juice, and butter. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Once risen, gently press the dough down to deflate it. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into two equal pieces. Roll one piece out into a 10-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Spread half of the filling in a thin layer over the dough. Roll the dough lengthwise into a long log. Pinch the seam together firmly to seal the dough. Turn the seam to one side (not on the top or bottom of the log of dough) and, using a sharp serrated knife, slice the tube in half lengthwise.
Take the two halves of the sliced dough log and press the two ends together firmly. Braid the two pieces together (by twisting them around each theory) and seal the other two ends together.
Repeat with the second half of the dough.
Transfer both twisted loaves to a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove and let cool on the baking sheet.