Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Roasted Apple and Mahleb Sourdough

Cold air, the steadfast messenger of fall has sneaked in. It’s still brief and fearful of the sun, lingering around in the morning and at dusk, but soon its strength will grow. I love fall, it’s an exciting time for cooks, nevertheless, the first days of the new season always bring a drop of sadness. The thought of departing summer somehow does it to me and things around just accentuate the feeling: the floral perfume lingering on summer dresses I am yet to move upstairs, espadrilles forgotten in the hallway, the smoky sweetness of the waning summer produce. Scents and flavors make me sad, so I turn to scents and flavors to chase the feeling aways.

Therefore, this bread. 

“Mom, it’s better than the apple pie,” said my daughter when I gave her a slice. 
“Well, maybe not,” she continued having thought a bit, “because nothing is better than the apple pie, but it does come close.” 

Apples have their way with sourdough. One of my favorite breads is roasted apples, sweet onions, and aged cheddar sourdough (you can find it here in the recipe archives). It’s a bread you would want on your Thanksgiving table, so rich that every bite feels like a deep exploration into senses. Another recipe, which I have not published yet, is the classic cinnamon apple raisin. It’s our bread for indulgent breakfasts. A slice with sweet butter and a cup of chai will make sourdough angels sing. This roasted apple and mahleb sourdough is a recent addition, as I am experimenting with new flavors and pairings. Just like apples and cinnamon are a match made in heaven, so are apples and mahleb, but in an entirely new way. Cinnamon and apples are like deep fall, like suede, like amber, like an artist palette of deep ochres; mahleb and apples are like early fall, like velvet, like ivory, like a watercolor of leaves about to turn yellow. Mahleb is an enchanting spice. It’s been cultivated and used in baked goods in the Middle East and the Mediterranean since antiquity, and for a good reason. When baked, ground mahleb cherrystones open an apothecary of amazing flavors; there is a hint of cherries, a whisper of almonds, and suggestion of rose; the first note is fruity and floral, with the aftermath of vanilla and a woodsy cherry pit finish. Mahleb is a mystery ingredient that draws in a palette of luxurious aromas, without being noticed at all. Even though it’s known as baking spice, mahleb can do some real magic to savory dishes; think of tagines, stews, and rubs for pork, turkey, and lamb. But more on that in another post.

Baker’s Notes

on mahleb: A bit more info if you are new to this spice. Mahleb is a kernel of the black or mahaleb cherry (Prunus mahaleb). You can buy it ground or whole. Ground mahleb turns rancid fairly quickly because of high oil content, so ideally you should get whole kernels, store them in the freezer, and grind into a powder before baking. Whole kernels release some bitterness when chewed, but when baked, it all goes away. 

choice of apples: If you can’t get hold of Pink Ladies, use Honeycrip, Joangold, Braeburn, or any other tart-sweet apple that holds its shape well when baked. 

choice of flour: This loaf is a mixture of strong white bread flour and “high extraction” type-85 (T85) flour. T85 is somewhere between whole wheat and white; it’s strong like white flour and flavorful due to increased bran and germ content. White bread flour gives strength, T85 gives strength, elasticity, and flavor, so you will have a loaf with beautiful open crumb. If you do not have T85 handy, a mix of 70% white flour bread flour and 30% whole wheat flour as a good replacement.

Total formula

225 g (60%)  King Arthur organic bread flour
128 g (34%)  Central Milling organic T85 malted flour
 23 g (6%)   Central Milling organic dark rye flour
323 g (86%)  water
 75 g (20%)  levain at 100% hydration
  8 g (2%)   kosher salt
 68 g (18%)  roasted apple dice (from 2 medium Pink Lady apples)
  3 g (0.8%) ground mahleb

Dough temperature: 80°F

Location: New York City (low elevation)

My baking schedule:

 7:45 am  prepare levain
10:00 am  prepare apples
10:30 am  autolyse
 1:30 pm  mix in levain
 2:00 pm  mix in salt and mahleb
 2:45 pm  stretch and fold + 2 coil folds
 3:30 pm  stretch and fold
 4:30 pm  stretch and fold
 5:30 pm  laminate, add apples
 7:00 pm  shape and retard

-- next day –

12:30 pm  bake

Total bulk time: 5h 30min

#1 Prepare levain (7:45 am)
In a small bowl, mix 10 g strong starter, 26 g white bread flour, 4 g dark rye flour, and 30 g water. Transfer the levain to a clean glass container and cover loosely with a lid or plastic wrap. Wait until the levain has almost tripled in volume. In my kitchen at 78°F it takes about 6 to 7 hours. 

#2 Prepare apples (10:00 am)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Peel and core the apples and slice them into 1/2-inch dice. Oil a baking sheet lightly to prevent the apples from sticking. Place the apples on the sheet in one layer. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until apples are deep golden and still plump. Cover and set aside.

#3 Autolyse (10:30 pm)
In a mixing bowl, combine the flours and water. Mix until no dry bits remain. Cover and leave for three hours.

#4 Mix in levain (13:30 pm)

Add the levain to the autolyse. Using your fingers, pinch in the levain, then apply gentle scoops, stretching the dough up and folding it into itself, for about 4 minutes, until the levain is fully incorporated. Cover and leave for 30 minutes.

#5 Mix in salt and mahlep (2:00 pm)
Add the salt and mahleb to the dough. Pinch in slowly with your fingers, then apply gentle scoops, stretching the dough up and folding it into itself, for about 5 minutes. Keep doing this until the salt is fully incorporated and the dough feels silky, and then give it one minute more. Gather the dough into a round and transfer to a bulk fermentation container. Cover and leave for 45 minutes.

#6 Stretch and fold + optional coil folds (2.45 pm)
Perform one set of stretch and folds. This dough is quite elastic and it may allow you to work on it more. If you notice that the dough is not pushing back, perform one or more additional coil folds.

#7 Coil folds (3:30 pm, 4:30 pm)
Perform two sets of stretches and folds separated by an hour. After the second stretch and fold, let the dough rest for an hour.

#8 Laminate and add apples(5:30 pm)
When I am working with bulky inclusions, I like to develop the strength in the dough first, and add inclusions at the end via lamination. Lightly wet the work surface. With wet hands, release the dough from the bottom of the bulk container on all sides and place it onto the work surface. By pulling the dough from the middle and not the sides, stretch it into a large square as much as the dough allows you without tearing it. Reserve about 20% of apple dice. Spread one third of the remaining apple dice over the middle third of the dough, fold over one side, apply the second third of apple dice on top of the folded area, fold over and apply the remaining third of apple dice You will end up with a stripe of dough. Now spread half of the reserved apple dice over the middle third of the stripe, fold over one side, apply the remaining apple dice on top of the folded area, and complete the fold, resulting in a neat square packet. This way of applying inclusions helps maintain even distribution of ingredients in the final loaf. Place the dough in the container, cover, and leave until the end of the bulk.

#9 Shape and retard (7:00 pm)
Lightly flour the work surface and the top of the dough. Flip the dough onto the work surface, so that the dusted top is now facing the surface. Shape the dough and place it into the banneton, seam side up. Transfer the banneton to the refrigerator to proof overnight. I usually keep the temperature in my refrigerator at 35°F-36°F to prevent any further rise in the dough.

#10 Bake (12:30 am)
One hour before baking, place your baking vessel in the oven and preheat the oven to 500°F. When ready to bake, remove the banneton from the fridge. Flip the loaf onto a parchment paper. Lightly spray the bread with water – this helps develop a nice crust and makes scoring easier. Wet the bread lame too, score the bread, and transfer it to the baking surface. Spray a little bit of water around the bread and cover. Bake for 15 minutes, covered. Reduce temperature to 450°F  and continue to bake for another 15 minutes covered. Remove the lid, reduce oven temperature to 420°F and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least two hours before slicing.

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