For almost six years, every time I opened my magazine clippings cookbook to the bread section, there was a recipe staring at me that always took my breath away. You would think since this bread looked so amazing and always made me drool uncontrollably that I might have tried to make it a little sooner. Part of the problem was that I knew it looked too good. I had to have a recipient ready and waiting to receive at least half of the creation, lest I eat myself into a gluttonous torpor.
Last week, I had multiple recipients, which worked out great since I ended up making the bread twice, two days in a row. I made it just how the recipe was written the first time. The second time, I made a number of adjustments. It was delicious both ways, but I think my adjustments made it a little better for two reasons. The first is that it is now easier to make; I can't abide by recipes that have a bunch of cup plus tablespoon measurements (as in "3 TBS plus 2 1/4 cups of flour"... I mean, really!) and unnecessary steps. I think I also managed to make it just a little less sinful.
It happens to be the strangest dough I've come across as far as the process of its mixing. You start out mixing a fairly stiff dough with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. (I think you could also mix this dough by hand, but it'll give you a bit of a workout.) My mixer was thumping a bit. Then you mix in the butter, which softens the dough up a lot... too much, to be honest. As a result, you have to finish up the dough with a little more flour, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl nicely. Spritz a bowl with some oil, put in the dough, cover with some plastic wrap, and let it sit to rise for one to two hours.
This dough is so nice to work with once it has risen. It's soft and supple and the gluten doesn't fight very much, which I appreciate when I'm trying to roll out a large rectangle of dough. Roll the dough out until it is about 16 x 13 inches. Be sure to transfer the dough onto a piece of parchment at this point. You'll need that parchment to transfer the loaf to the baking sheet later. It also is a very useful for rolling out the dough to the right size. Now imagine the dough divided into three sections, like a tri-fold brochure. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, make slices toward the center all along each side. Shoot for about 1/2 inch wide slices.
Mix together the filling and then crumble it down the middle of the dough evenly.
Then start "weaving" the arms across the middle as shown in this picture.
At the ends, tuck and/or fold to form a neat finish. Transfer the loaf to the sheet pan using the parchment paper. Cover the loaf loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about an hour and a half.
Preheat the oven to 375° F. When the loaf is properly risen and the oven is hot, remove the plastic wrap and brush with an egg yolk wash. The egg wash helps the loaf bake to a beautiful golden color. Bake 15 minutes and then rotate the pan 180 degrees. Then bake another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before slicing and serving. Loaf stays tasty for three to four days when stored in an air tight container. It's almost too beautiful to eat! (Almost!).
Pecan Praline Weave
Yield: 1 16x5 inch loaf
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2005
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
3 TBS warm water
1/2 cup sour cream
4 TBS sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 TBS vanilla extract
3/4 tsp table salt
5 TBS softened butter
4 TBS all purpose flour
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
5 TBS softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk & 1 TBS water for egg wash
Mix the initial amount of flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. In a separate bowl, mix the wawter, sour cream, sugar, egg yolks, extract, and salt together. Add to the flour mixture at speed 2 (on a Kitchen-Aid). Mix for 3-4 minutes. The dough will be quite stiff at this point. Add the butter and mix for another 3-4 minutes. Now the dough will be so soft it will not hold together. Add the remaining 4 TBS of flour and mix until the dough comes back together. Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and pat together into a ball. Place in an oiled bowl and then cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm place to rise until it has doubled, between one and two hours.
Roll the dough out on a floured board until it is slightly wider than an 16x12 sheet of parchment.You can't roll the dough out on the parchment, but you will want to transfer it onto the parchment as soon as it is the right size. The parchment can help measure the dough's dimensions. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to slice parallel cuts one-half inch apart from the sides in toward the middle of the dough. Visually divide the dough into three columns and leave the middle column uncut. (See picture).
Mix together the remaining butter, pecans, and brown sugar. Spread out evenly in the middle section of the dough. Begin folding the side pieces over one side and then the other, "weaving" them into a chevron design. Tuck or fold the ends over/under to form a clean finish. Cover loosely with plastic and let rise another one to two hours, until the loaf is puffy. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Brush the loaf with egg wash and then bake 30 minutes, rotating 180° halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack before slicing. Bread keeps quite well for 3-4 days if kept in an air tight container.