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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Spiced Pecan Twist

Sunday morning -- start it with this spicy, twisted sweet bread.  It's soft and crispy, sweet and fragrant.  It has a consistency much more like a scone than a bread.  In fact, it's pulled together just like a scone, differing only in the shaping. As a loaf, however, the result is less crispy crust and more fluffy interior.

This is quite sweet, with sugar in the dough, the filling, and the glazes.  Personally, I don't see the point of both an apricot jam glaze AND a lemon glaze,  and I'm not sure either is necessary since the dough receives an egg wash.  I recommend the apricot for a less sweet touch, but in that case it should probably be eaten the same day as the jam is sticky and will soften the crust.  The lemon glaze adds a nice citrusy flavor, but no need to drape it on.   You could also easily reduce the sugar in the dough, if desired.

This was a little tricky to make -- there were no photos and the directions were a bit scant.  She offers that you can make one large loaf or two smaller ones, but then gives directions for only one variation without telling you which that is.  I had halved the recipe, and as it was had the dough rolled out into about a 14" square before I checked the measurements:  25 cm, which is just under 10".  Oops.  And of course, I didn't know if that was for the full recipe or only half.  Considering the small size of the recommended square (which would have left my dough fairly thick), I determined her continued directions must be for the half-size loaf.

I didn't want to gather up the dough and re-roll it to the proper size, so I charged ahead and waited to see how it would work out.  My finished log was only about 2" in diameter, but once sliced and twisted I was able to sort of squish it up a bit to about 10" long.  This gave the dough room to rise, but might have caused the layers to blur a bit more during baking than if the twist had been tighter.  (Another disadvantage to the lemon glaze is that it obscures the pretty layers.)

I used the original recipe as a guideline for the total quantity of spices, but used a 2:2:1:2 mix of cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and Chinese 5-spice (which is somewhat anisey, though mine was old and low in flavor.)  I also used about half whole wheat flour in the dough.

This bread is quite rich with all the butter and sugar, so plan your accompaniments accordingly.  Simple scrambled eggs and dark coffee would go nicely.

For the filling:
42g plain flour
25g dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
1/8 teaspoon salt
20g butter, soft
1/2 cup pecans, broken pieces
1 egg white

For the dough:
190g plain flour
100g whole wheat flour
30g caster sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
35g butter
1 egg yolk
100ml milk

For the egg wash (optional):
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water

For the apricot glaze (optional):
1 tablespoon apricot jam

For the lemon icing (optional):
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tablespoon butter, melted
Hot water, added a teaspoon at a time until you get the desired consistency

For the filling, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, and spices in a small bowl; blend in the butter. Add the egg white a little at a time.  (If you are not using the egg wash, reserve a small amount of this egg white, about 1/2 teaspoon, to secure your log roll.) Stir well until you have a smooth, creamy paste and set aside.

Sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until you have a soft crumb texture. Whisk the egg yolk and milk together and pour slowly into the dry ingredients, mixing all the time. Your dough should be smooth, light and very soft. Heavily flour your work surface and tip the dough onto it. Sprinkle with a little more flour and very gently knead for a few seconds, pulling the edges of the dough towards you, working in a circular motion until you have a neat ball of soft dough. Roll out your dough to about a 10" square. Spread the filling over the dough with a palette knife, leaving one inch untouched along the far edge. Sprinkle the pecans evenly over the filling.

Starting away from the clean edge, roll up the dough into a log. Beat your egg for the egg wash (or use your reserved egg white) and brush the clean edge. Secure the roll closed with the egg wash strip underneath the roll. With a sharp knife, cut through the center of the roll lengthwise, leaving one inch at the top still adjoined. Rotate the halves outward to expose the layers, then wrap them loosely around each other about two times to form a twisted strand. Secure the end by pressing lightly with your fingers.  If using, brush all over with the egg wash. Move to a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes at 375F.

Make the lemon icing by whisking together the confectioner's sugar, melted butter, lemon zest and a little hot water until you have the desired consistency. Leave to one side.

Once the bread has come out of the oven, dollop the apricot jam in a few spots and allow it to soften, then brush thinly over the hot loaf.  Allow to cool on a wire rack. When cooled, drizzle the icing decoratively over the loaf.

Conclusion:  This was somewhat fussy, but worth the effort for a special breakfast or brunch.  Be cautious with the sugar layering -- it can overpower the flavors of the bread without necessarily adding to the whole.  Next time I would probably limit the topping to a light, decorative drizzle and call it good, but all options are provided here.

Original recipe:  Cinnamon and Pecan Twist Bread via Food Network UK

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