Shadowproof

Sunday Food – Cherry Walnut Kolache

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Happy Sunday Bread Heads!

It is great to be back after a two week hiatus where the packing boxes nearly got the better of me and Liz!

We when we got here to Damascus, we found that our moving truck would completely block the parking lot/road around the townhouses. Since we got here late in the day and were wrecked from driving we could not unload that night and we could not leave the truck out front. We found a very nice general store owner who let us park the truck behind her store over night. So this week’s baking is going to her.

We are going to be making Kolache. This is a braided and knotted bread from the Ukraine. As is the case with traditional breads there are a million variations. Mine is rich variant made with whole milk and egg yolks and features walnuts and dried cherries. It is a really good looking bread and lovely to eat.

This recipe makes two loaves so you’ll have one to eat and one to share. That is if you can force yourself to give it away. But enough small talk! Let’s bake!

Cherry Walnut Kolache

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter at room temperature
4 egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 ½ cups hot (120-130 degrees) whole milk
7 ½ cups bread flour
2 packages (4 ½ teaspoons) yeast
½ cup dried cherries (sour is better, but any kind will do)
½ cup whole walnuts
Egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon milk)

Baking Pans – Two sheet pans covered in parchment paper or dusted with corn meal

Method:

First thing to do is plump the cherries. In general I like to do this with rum, but you can do it with any booze you like or even with water.

Place the cherries in a small sauce pan and cover with your plumping liquid (this time I used Grand Mariner, since I had it around the house) and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. When the liquid starts to simmer turn the heat off, and leave the pan on the burner to cool.

In your large mixing bowl or the work bowl of your stand mixer, combine the butter, egg yolks, sugar, salt lemon zest and juice. Cream together for about 5 minutes until it is light and fluffy.

While the butter is creaming heat your milk. You can either do it in the microwave, where it will take about 4 minutes (in a microwave safe container please!) or on the stove in a medium sauce pan.

When the milk is hot (120 -130 degrees) turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides. Add the milk, 2 cups of flour and the yeast. Stir for 2 minutes until completely combined.

Add the rest of the flour a ½ cup at a time, mixing it in completely before adding the next ½ cup.

The dough that forms will hold together well but be very soft (all that butter and milk). If you are using a stand mixer switch to the dough hook. This is a lot of flour in a soft dough so it has a tendency to climb the hook. Give the flat shield part of the dough hook a quick spray with some cooking spray to keep it nice and slippery. Knead for 10 minutes at a low setting. Drain the cherries and work them in to the dough for 2 minutes.

If you are doing this by hand, turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface. As I said this is a really soft dough, but it already has 7 ½ cups of flour in it so don’t try to make it stiffer, it won’t work with all the butter. Just work it in a strong push-turn-fold method. If is sticks to the work surface give it some more flour, but not a whole lot. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it becomes elastic and smooth. Drain the cherries and work them into the dough by kneading for 2 minutes.

Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover tightly. Allow it to sit at room temperature until it doubles in volume, about 40 minutes.

When the dough has risen turn it out onto a well floured work surface. What we are looking for is six equal ball of dough to make the two braids. You can either divide it into two halves and then divide each half into third or you can weigh the whole dough and cut into six equal weight dough balls. Let them rest under a clean tea towel for 4 minutes.

To form the loaves take one of the dough balls and roll it under your palms until you have a rope 24” long and about 2” thick. Take your time with this, it is not a race. Just roll the dough back and forth on the work surface and move your hands further and further apart as you do. If the middle is giving you trouble, try moving one hand forward while you move the other hand backwards, then go the other way with both hands.

Repeat this until you have the three lengths of rope the same size. Set them close together and braid starting from the middle. Pinch the ends together tightly to seal them.

Place the dough braid on one of the prepared pans and work it into a circle, and place the rest of the end in the middle. It will look fairly ugly right now, but don’t panic. It still has to rise and bake. Pat the sides to get it back into a circular form.

Repeat the step above with the other three dough balls. Cover the loaves with clean tea towels and allow to rise until they double in volume, about 40 minutes.

Set a rack in the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Preheat it for at least 20 minutes to 350 degrees.

When the loaves are risen, remove the towels and brush with the egg wash. Then gently press the walnuts into the top of the dough.

Slip the sheet pans into the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then switch the pan on the top rack to the bottom and place the other pan on the top rack, this will assure even cooking. Bake for another 25 minutes.

When the loaves are done they will be golden brown. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool on the pans, on wire racks, for 10 minutes. If you used parchment paper just use it to pull the loaves off the pans and onto the racks.

If you used corn meal, use a metal spatula to gently loosen the loaves from the sheet pans (the egg wash will have baked the edges to the pans), and move them to the wire racks to finish cooling.

After they are cool they are ready to eat! Lovely bread, studded with cherries and walnuts, with just a hint of lemon. It makes some of the best toast in the world!

So now, Bread Heads, you have a great loaf to give as a thank you or a welcome to the neighborhood or to just munch on yourself!

The flour is yours.

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