Friday, October 17, 2008

An old school race track

Even in the most idyllic of places the troubles of the world are becoming closer and more real. According to the news, we hardly know where to turn when everything we have been promised would never happen does, and everything we hoped for may not. In the end, the human heart always heads for home, does it not? In good times and bad.

It seems to me home can be a million things. If it is a place of comfort, warmth, and memories formed over things made by our own hands rather than bought from someone else, maybe we can add to the things we associate with home the feeling of triumph in completing something we thought we could not. Something to warm the noses, hearts, and bellies of those around us.

In my Grandmother's day, this was called race track bread. Though, it eludes me whether that refers to the circle of bread itself or the circles of filling in the inside. It does not really matter to me, what does is that we break this bread together, and that our other circles go unbroken.

Pistachio Race Track Bread
Serves 12
loosely adapted from Beard on Bread, by James Beard

After the bread has a first rise and is formed, you can place it in the refrigerator and bake it off the next morning, just be up early enough to give it a second rise. This method is described in the photos at bottom.

Mr. Beard recipe was a tad dry and sleepy for my tastes. I have added the brown sugar and golden raisins because I felt it really needed tasty additions, especially since he deemed this a "coffee cake". I was trying not to get too far from his original though I do humbly think adding cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg and clove to the brown sugar would be very nice. Also, I would not at all mind a glaze though, I am aware I cannot glaze every breakfast item I make here at Blushing Hostess... so please note, here is one without.

Cooking spray for greasing the rising bowl
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 or 4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 egg, beaten for egg wash

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, place yeast, sugar, and warm water. Stir to combine and dissolve yeast. Allow to sit for ten minutes. The mixture should foam. If it does not foam, discard mixture and begin again. Add the warm milk, softened butter, remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and salt.

kosher salt, and 1/2 cup of sugar. Mix until evenly combined. Add the flour, one cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. If, when you have added three cups of flour, you have a silky, substantial dough which rides the paddle, do not add the fourth cup of flour. If the mixture is still sticky to the touch and shiny with wetness, add another half cup of flour and mix again, reassess, add small amounts of flour as needed thereafter.

Switch to the dough hook attachment and turn the machine on low. Allow it to knead the dough for ten minutes. Transfer the dough to the greased rising bowl. Cover and place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place to rise until double in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down with your fist. Allow to rest for a few minutes. Transfer the dough to a floured board and with a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a large rectangle. Brush the surface of the dough thoroughly with melted butter, leaving a 1/2inch border around the outside. Sprinkle evenly with light brown sugar. Evenly coat with the chopped pistachios, then do the same with the golden raisins. Working from the long side of the dough, lift up the edge and begin to roll the dough up gently like a jelly roll. Be sure the seam is under the roll when finished.

Transfer the dough to the greased baking sheet and bring the two ends together to form a circle. Pinch the two ends together to attach. With a knife, make 2 inch slits every 3/4 inch all the way around the circle. At each one, open the slit gently with your knife.

Let rise in a warm draft free place until double in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Or cover and place in the refrigerator over night. Remove from the fridge in the morning, allow to rise until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top with egg wash and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden.

Let's do this together, no reason to avoid bread. It is not hard at all and it doesn't need to look bakery perfect: it needs to look made by you:

Into the bowl of your stand mixer goes the yeast, warm water, and 1 tbls. granulated sugar. Whisk or mix to help the yeast dissolve. Now walk away from it for 10 minutes.
When you come back, if all is well, it is foamy and fluffy with bubbles. If it is not, you have to pitch the whole thing and begin again because your yeast is no longer active or your water is hot, and not warm - warm is key, 110-115 degrees.

Add the softened butter, warm milk, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and salt. Now mix to combine.

Add the flour one up at a time, scraping down bowl after each addition.

Continue to mix with the paddle attachment until the dough rides the paddle. Now change to the dough hook.

Knead on medium-low with the dough hook for 10 minutes.

Transfer to your big greased rising bowl. I like to spray the top of the dough lightly with canola spray also to prevent it from sticking to the plastic wrap cover. Also, I allow the oven to heat to 170 degrees, then shut the oven off and wait 10 minutes. Now you can use it for rising, be sure the door remains shut to prevent drafts. Allow it to rise until it is doubled in bulk.

So, it was doubled.

Punch it down with your fist to take the air out (theoretically). Dust your hands with a little flour and transfer the dough to a lightly floured board.

Knead it by hand for a couple of passes to get it into a neat ball. Now roll it out into a bog rectangle. You will want it to be about 18 inches on the long side.

Now brush the dough with the melted butter. Scatter the light brown sugar over pretty evenly. Repeat with the chopped pistachios and golden raisins.

Now roll it up from the long side, tucking it in carefully. When finished, be sure the seam is on the underside.

Transfer the dough to your greased sheet an bring the two ends together. Doesn't have to look like a professional did it, let it have some character.

Cut slits in you bread, even larger than these would be fine too and open the slits gently on both sides with your knife to show the filling. Yum. Now cover and either let it rise again until doubled in bulk and bake at 375 degrees until golden. Or place it in the frig overnight. When you get up, take the sheet from the fridge and let it sit on the counter while the oven heats and cools from 170 degrees. Once the rising oven is set again, place the sheet inside and allow it to rise until doubled, about 1.5 hours. Remove the dough from the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, brush the top of the dough with the egg wash. Place in the oven and bake until golden, 30 or 35 minutes.


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