It took me a year to adapt to Denver’s frigid winter temperatures. After living in Austin, Texas, for three years, I was sorely underprepared for the biting cold that rolls off the Rockies or slides across the Great Plains for several months out of the year. But like other parts of acclimating to a new state and city, slowly I came to appreciate how the cold and snowy winters help make the summers a little less prone to drought and the scary wildfires that race across the landscape and encroach on western cities at the height of summer.
I may have lived much of my life near temperate coasts, but I officially live in the high desert now. As much as I love long runs along the Gulf of Mexico in the middle of winter, that’s not in my cards at the moment. And I’m okay with that. Colorado has its own austere beauty that I relish every time I hit the city trails or head up to the foothills to get my run on. If the weather is just too brutally cold in the winter to get outside, I focus on indoor treadmill and weights conditioning.
You can probably imagine what an unnerving experience it’s been to slip into a pair of running shorts and thin t-shirt and head for the great outdoors for spring-like runs. On the one hand, I love the sun-kissed landscape and mild breeze propelling along the trail. On the other hand, the lack of snow in our area this year leaves me with an unsettled feeling that this summer’s wildfires might be even worse than in 2012. Fortunately, we have snow in the forecast this week, and while it’s far from a blizzard, I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll have a late snow season in Denver and the Rockies.
While I spent a fair amount of time outdoors this weekend, I made some time to get to some 2013 baking. You might have noticed that after the winter holidays, I took a break from making sweet treats. One of my goals this year to provide a more balanced array of foods: more vegetable-laden recipes accented with the occasional sweet treat. Below you’ll find a recipe for a sweet pastry bread that I eyed on the Domesticated Feminist’s website. While I adapted it to work with a braided bread recipe I featured on the blog last spring, the unique flavor combination of chocolate and toasted coconut remains the showpiece of the recipe.
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup (1 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) sour cream or yogurt
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, 1 beaten for dough, 1 beaten with 1 teaspoon water for brushing bread
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup dark chocolate, chopped (chocolate chips are fine too)
¾ cup pecans, chopped
about ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
About a handful of dark chocolate
3 tsps hot condensed milk
handful of shredded coconut
handful of pecans
1. In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Stir well to combine, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof for 10 to 15 minutes.
1. Whisk together sour cream, butter, egg, sugar and vanilla in a large, wide bowl. Stir in sponge.
2. Add the flour and mix. (Less than a minute after combining these ingredients, I “floured” my hands and formed the dough into a shaggy ball.) Turn ball of dough and any incorporated scraps onto a counter and knead until a smooth, soft dough forms, about 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until quite puffy and nearly doubled. (My dough needed to sit for two hours before it nearly doubled.)
4. While the dough rises, you can make the filling.
5. Toss your pecans and coconut on a baking sheet, and bake at 275 degrees F. After 5 minutes, mix the coconut and pecans in the pan to more evenly toast. Place back in oven, and check every few minutes. Once the coconut is golden brown, remove from pan and allow to cool.
Preparing bread (Check out Smitten Kitchen’s website for photos if you have trouble visualizing this part of the process.)
1. Gently deflate the dough and roll it out on a very well floured counter to a 10″ x 15″ rectangle.
2. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper. (I agree with Smitten Kitchen that parchment paper is key to preventing a dough disaster.)
3. With the side of your hand, lightly press two lines down the dough lengthwise, dividing it into three equal columns.
4. Spread the toasted pecans and coconut down the center section and top with chocolate chunks, leaving the top and bottom two inches free of filling. Drizzle the condensed milk over the filling.
5. To form the mock braid, cut crosswise strips one inch apart down the length of the outer columns of you dough (the parts without filling). Make sure you have an equal amount of 1-inch strips down the right and left sides. Be careful not to cut your parchment paper.
6. To “braid”, begin by folding top flap down and bottom flap up over the filling. Lift the top dough strip and gently bring it diagonally across the filling. Repeat on the right side, and continue down the entire braid, alternating strips (like so) until you are out. You can tuck the last couple that hand off decoratively under the end of the braid.
8. Carefully transfer the dough and the parchment paper to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and set it aside to rise for 45 to 50 minutes, until quite puffy.
9. During the last twenty minutes of the rise, preheat the oven to 375°F.
10. When ready, brush the loaves with egg wash.
11. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown. My braid was baked in less than 20 minutes, but I’m convinced my oven needs to be recalibrated.
12. While the braid is baking, prepare the topping: heat up the 3 tsps of milk and stir in a handful (or more) of dark chocolate. When they chocolate has melted and reached a thick, sauce-like consistency, set it aside and let it cool slightly.
13. When the braid is done, give a generous drizzle of the chocolate overtop. While the chocolate is still warm, top it with the toasted coconut and pecans. Serve warm. (This warms up well).
14. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.