How do you try out a new recipe? Do you follow it to the letter, or are you a tinkerer? For years, I didn’t cook often enough to feel confident deviating from the written word; the recipe was law unto the kitchen. But after being forced to improvise when I was living in a rented apartment in the Balkans without cookbooks or measuring cups, I got used to following my own instincts over the stovetop. It helps that I was mainly cooking for myself, and I kept the bar pretty low; Valerian or anyone else daring enough to join me generally wasn’t familiar with what I was trying to do, and didn’t know any better if something came out wrong.
And now? Now I can’t just follow a recipe – I have to tinker with it, either because I have to (lack of required ingredients/tools/skill) or because I want to (impulsive! Picky!).
I can’t remember how I came across this post about Isabelle’s braided hazelnut bread, but when I saw the photo, I immediately wanted to give it a try. So I did. Immediately. I barely looked at the actual recipe, because what really caught my eye was the beautiful effect with the layers of dough and filling. I threw together a slightly-sweet dough, easy-peasy, and we even had some leftover walnut and poppyseed fillings stashed in the freezer.
And then… problems. Getting the baking time right took a little experimentation – the first time I made it, the oven was too hot and the top got a lot browner than I wanted. Even baking at 350° seemed a little hot on the second time around. I got the best results with a cooler oven, then raising the temperature to get the top edges just nicely browned without drying out the center. I ran out of the frozen filling and had to make my own,even. Oddly, no one complained about having a lot of not-quite-perfect pastry-ish bread to sample.
The technique for getting the fancy layers is simple, but you have to be careful as you twist the floppy, juicy strands. Once you’ve rolled up the dough into a nice compact log:
I recommend transferring it to the baking pan before cutting the center splice:
Then gently cross the two strands over each other to create the twist:
So, will you give this recipe a try? Or just improvise? Because you know, you’ve got to have a slice of this beauty.
adapted from Our Kitchen
Any of the fillings we’ve posted earlier would be great in this bread, I think, but the walnut one I used here was luscious.
Makes one fairly large loaf
- ¾ cup milk
- 1½ tsp instant yeast
- ¾ tsp salt
- 3 tbs vegetable oil
- 2 tbs sugar
- 2¼ cups flour
- Filling of your choice: try one from here, or use jam, or cheese for a savory option. You’ll need about a cup of whatever you’re using.
- glaze: ¼ cup powdered sugar whisked together with the juice of one lemon
- Make a sponge: warm the milk to just below boiling, then set aside to cool to lukewarm. In the meantime, in the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the yeast and half a cup of flour. Stir in the milk and leave until puffy, about 15 minutes.
- Stir in the salt, sugar, and oil, then begin adding the flour. You may not need the last quarter-cup; the dough should be rather soft, but not sticky. Using the bread hook attachment on your mixer, or with your hands, knead until silky and smooth.
- Place in a greased bowl, cover and allow to rise until doubled, about 2 hours. You can also leave it in the fridge overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F/180° C, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly-floured surface. With your hands, gently pat it into a rectangle – this will help it keep its shape as you roll it out. Roll the dough out as thin as you can, turning several times to be sure it isn’t sticking to the work surface; you should end up with a rectangle about 18×24″ (30×45 cm). If you’re having trouble getting it to an even thinness, let it rest for a minute or two then roll some more.
- Spread the dough with your choice of filling, leaving about a 1″ lip along the edge.
- Roll up the dough along the short edge, finishing with the seam on top. Press gently to seal, then move the roll to the baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut all the way through the roll lengthwise, leaving about 2″ (5 cm) at one end uncut.
- Handling the dough very gently, and keeping the cut edge up, lay one strand of the bread over the other, alternating so you have a twist shape. Tuck the end under for a neater appearance.
- Bake for 20 minutes; raise the oven temperature to 375° (180°C) and bake for an additional 7-10 minutes or until the top begins to brown.
- Allow to cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before brushing the glaze over the top. If you can, wait another few minutes before you slice and serve.