Posts Tagged With: fall

Caramelized apple upside-down cake

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For some, pumpkin spice everything may be all the rage for those fall months when leaves spin slow to the ground and we shake out the coats and scarves so hastily hidden away with summer’s arrival.  But before flavored syrups and the facility of canned pumpkin, another fruit reigned over autumn: the apple.  A New England native, the apple is an automatic October symbol for me.  I think every elementary school student in the area has a field trip to a local orchard.  My town hosts at least five apple picking locations, each vying for some title of prowess – the best cider !  Apple cider doughnuts ! 10 different apple varieties !  Hay rides ! Pick your own ! It’s a glorious, fall-hued chaos that absolutely epitomizes the start of cooler weather, shorter days, and (perhaps most importantly) the baking season.

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Recently, apple pies were made and sold in the center of town and listening to everyone talk about the crust and the filling and the spices and the apples made me ALMOST want to eat pie.

But then I remembered.

I don’t really like apple pie (a phrase not to be uttered in a town that thrives on apple consumption).  In fact, I really just like apples straight up and down: plucked from the tree, polished on my pants, and devoured with an excellent crunch and the occasional spatter.

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So what to do with this bounty of fruit so often relegated to pie filling ?  Oddly enough, the answer came from France, and more precisely from my home-away-from-home in the heart of Bourgogne.  During one of many Dijon visits, my friend’s mother brought out a gâteau aux pommes.  A “simple, family recipe – nothing special” with caramelized apples and a buttery cake that melts in your mouth.  Simple ?  Nothing special ?  Au contraire !  It looks and tastes both classy and purely of apples, as the ingredients can’t hide behind the spices of cinnamon and nutmeg so often paired with American desserts.  This upside-down caramel apple cake relies on sweet apples, butter, and sugar to create a winning dessert that looks chic but is easy to craft.

When I asked Brigitte if I could use her recipe, she sent me a scanned, handwritten version that included instructions such as “carameliser le moule” – caramelize the cake pan.  How…how does one do that ?  How does one even make a caramel, exactly ? As such, I have gone through and provided my “Americanized” version of the quantities and instructions.  While somewhat capricious, I have yet to entirely ruin this cake (and it’s becoming somewhat ubiquitous in my repertoire of apple-based dishes).  Head to an orchard and pick (or pick up) some Macoun, Gala, or Fuji apples and try your hand at this French family “gâteau.”

Ingredients (for the cake):

3-4 medium apples (Use a firm fleshed variety – no McIntosh !)
1/2 stick butter (+ 1 tbsp for the pan)
1 cup flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons milk (more as needed)

For the caramel:

You can use a 1:3 ratio of water to sugar – I think I used 1/4 cup water to 3/4 cup sugar but any incarnation of this ratio is fine – if you have apples that are less sweet, use more sugar but you really only need enough to cover the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan.

Directions:

Peel and cut the apple into thin slices. Set aside – do not season with lemon thought you may be tempted to do so !  It is okay if they brown a little during the cake preparation process.

Liberally butter the interior of a 9 inch cake pan and set aside.  I place the pan on the stovetop over a warm eye to keep the caramel from hardening somewhat, but you do not need to do this.

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“Caramelize the cake pan” – yes, the infamous step. I interpret this as making caramel in a pan and pouring it into the cake mould.  Yes, we are going to make a wet caramel and no, don’t panic.

Put the sugar and the water in a pot on medium high heat.  Stir initially to incorporate the sugar into the water but once mixed, just leave it alone on the eye. Let it bubble until it turns a nice deep caramel color – you will see the sugary liquid change from clear, to a light brown, to an amber tone. Take it off the heat and carefully pour the hot caramel into your warm cake pan.  Be sure to cover the entire bottom of the pan (swirl as necessary).

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Arrange the apple slices in the caramel and be careful not to burn yourself !  The caramel may look pretty, but it is essentially molten sugar.  Your skin will not like it.  I like to place the apples in an attractive pattern but you do not need to take the time to do this – it’s your call.  Be sure to evenly place the apples around the mould.

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Once the apples are arranged, mix up the cake batter.  Soften your butter and whip it until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat for 1 minute.  Crack the egg into the batter, pour in the vanilla, and mix again until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour and the baking powder.  Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter batter and mix until smooth – add the milk to thin the batter to a spreadable consistency.  Depending on the day and the temperature of the butter, I add more or less milk to the batter – start with 2 tablespoons and continue as necessary.

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Pour the batter over the apples and use a spatula to smooth the top of the cake.  Be sure to cover all of the apples !

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Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 325F.  (Sometimes, I get impatient and increase the temperature to 350F…shh, don’t tell).

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Once the top of the cake is a nice golden brown, remove from the oven.  It is a dense cake – I usually touch the top to check for a little spring, but the cake is done when the middle is no longer jiggly.

Let the cake cool slightly – 10 to 15 minutes – before turning it out onto a plate.  This step is tricky – start by running a knife around the edges of the cake pan.  Then, place a plate over top of the cake pan.  Using oven mitts, in one movement flip the cake onto the plate.  Tap the bottom of the pan and slowly lift it up.  Don’t panic if a few apples have stuck to the pan – just put them back into place. As Julia Child (or perhaps Meryl Streep) said, “When you’re alone in the kitchen – who’s to see ?”

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Serve warm or cool as dessert, a tea cake, or even (in my house) as breakfast !  Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream for an extra touch. Bon appétit ! 🙂

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White Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

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With Labor Day on its way out the door and schoolchildren taking its place, classic snacks are on the brain.  Parents in this modern age are determined to nourish their offspring with “healthy snack” – you know, those that crunch like carrots and don’t contain trans fats, packaging, or any other frivolities.

I’m not saying throw away dreams of good calories and vitamins abound…but when I came home from school as the leaves turned brown, I wanted a cookie.  Yes, I was “that kid.”

The chocolate chip cookie dipped in milk is classic and (taking a hint from the many clothing advertisements cropping up this season…) classic never goes out of style. As such, I admit to having cookie brain lately…where at many moments during the day, I crave a cookie.  The presence or absence of a cookie wreaks havoc on emotions – just take a look at cookie monster ! Happiness and sadness hinge upon the presence of one, buttery morsel lying at the bottom of the jar.

Some kind of goodie clearly had to be made…so I landed upon a white chocolate chip pecan cookie. Soft and chewy with a little burst of spice from time to time, these treats are perfect for that 2pm lull when coffee calls and you seek an energy burst.  Or when you get home off the train and can’t yet imagine dinner. Even breakfast (if you throw caution to the wind !) justifies a nibble.

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Now, I’ll admit:  I like white chocolate BUT I use it to appease those who can’t sleep at night after having eaten “real” chocolate…as a result, I stirred in a handful of semi-sweet chips to the recipe at the end…as I don’t have any problem snoozing after cookie consumption.

Whether you suffer from cookie brain or not, this spin on the classic chocolate chip delight is sure to leave you (or your children) grinning.

Ingredients: 

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375F. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter until light and smooth.  You can do this with an electric mixer or by hand.

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Add the white and brown sugar, whipping until lightened in color and almost pillowy.  Add the eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition.  Don’t worry if your batter adopts a strange texture – this often happens if the eggs are not room temperature.  Their chilly, refrigerated state makes the butter cringe.  It is okay – adding the flour will make everyone get along. Toss in the two teaspoons of vanilla and give the mess a whirl.  Be sure to scrape down the sides from time to time – make sure all the butter is getting incorporated into the batter.

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In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  I enjoy the snickerdoodle-esque (quite the adjective) quality cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice bring to these cookies.  Makes me feel a little like Remy in Ratatouille.  It offsets the pecan nicely – very much a fall flavor.  If, however, you prefer the more standard flavor profile, you can skip them and no harm will come to the cookies.

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Slowly add the flour mixture in to the batter, being careful not to mix too quickly (or else flour will be everywhere in the kitchen – EVERYWHERE.  Like this). Once combined, stir in the pecans and the chocolate chips.  Taste.  Whatever anyone ever told you about not eating the batter is to be ignored.

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On a baking sheet (which you may or may not line with parchment paper – it’s up to you), drop the cookies by tablespoonful.  I like to shape them into rounds but it’s definitely not an exact science…they will spread out a bit so be sure to leave about an inch to two inches of space between each bit of dough.

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Bake for 10-15 minutes but be sure to use your nose: once you can smell the cookies, chances are good that they are done. I prefer soft bites but if you like crispy cookies, by all means cook them longer.

Once out of the oven, remove them from the baking sheet and let them cool on a wire rack…but remember – warm, just-out-of-the-oven cookies are the best, so you should probably eat one or two.  With some milk.  Just a “serving suggestion”. 🙂

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As for the rest, save them for snacking and relieving cookie brain symptoms !  Bon appétit !

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Plum Tart with Greek Yogurt

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Fall is in full swing and in this swanky apartment we’re eating…PLUMS !

I know, I know…plums ?  Aren’t you supposed to be making pumpkin-themed everything ?

Yes yes, plums !  Pumpkin is so passé* – everyone is devouring pumpkin goods.  Time to give those plums a little lovin’ !  Perhaps this post of positively pleasant “P” sounds presents a perfect place for plum pizzazz !

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In any case, it is true that plum season extends into early fall – October – and I am, for the first time, taking advantage of this fact.  I used to dislike plums.  Well, perhaps dislike isn’t the proper term.  Ignore may be a better one.  Plums were, in a word, strange. Why ?  Because they morph into prunes, that’s why.  I couldn’t bring myself to eat either fruit.  It was strange, therefore, when I walked into Trader Joe’s, saw a “basket” of plums looking for a home, felt spontaneous and snatched them up and POW a memory popped in my head:  for my birthday, while in France forever ago, my host dad, Pierre, made me a birthday dessert. Considering my host family and I were not particularly chummy, I was very touched by the gesture.  A beautiful, rustic plum tart sat in front of me, paired with a book about Dijon.  I can’t believe I’d buried that memory so deep, and it took a basket of unassuming plums to trigger it.

So then I had it.  The IDEA.  I would make a plum tart for my birthday…hence, here is my birthday “cake” thrown together with little time to spare before a 20s’-themed bash !  As you can tell, from the top picture, it was devoured in record time.  It’s a quick fix (if you buy your crust, and I did…I know, tsk tsk) that is pleasantly tart and lightly spiced.  This recipe uses a Greek yogurt “custard” topping, but I think, were I to remake it (and there are still a few dusty plums kicking around my cuisine…) I would skip the cream and make the tarte tout simplement avec des prunes.

I used the recipe from Mary Anna Esposita, the woman who taught me more about tomatoes via her great cooking show “Ciao Italia” than I think I needed to know as an 8 year-old.

Here’s the original recipe; the one noted below is with my adjustments.
Ingredients :
7 plums, cut into slices
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Sprinkle ginger
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup greek yogurt (plain)
3 tbsp additional sugar
Preheat the oven to 400F.  If you are making your own crust – you are fabulous and better than me this go around.  Prepare the crust and place it in a greased tart pan (or pie dish, or quiche pan – whatever you have will probably do).  I’d give the crust a little toast before placing the plums, but it is not required and the tart will not combust or fail to cook in time if you don’t.
Slice the plums into fairly thin sections – I made mine into little segments (like a fan, kind of) in order to make the tart look nice.  You are welcome to cut the plums in a less careful manner and throw them in the pan.  Taste will not be affected.  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  Right ?  Right.
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Arrange the plums in concentric circles (if desired) in the bottom of the pie pan.  I started in the “middle” and worked my way out.
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In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and the spices, stirring well to combine.
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Dust the plums with the sugar mixture – don’t be afraid to really bury them !  As the plums cook and release water, it will mix with the sugar combination to make this wonderful caramel-like substance at the bottom of the tart.  It’s delicious with ice cream.  Yummmmmm.  Top with the juice of the lemon – I just gave that citrus fruit a good squeeze directly overtop the plum and sugar combination.
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Place this in the oven until the plums are soft – about 10 minutes – then remove from the oven.  You are WELCOME to just eat this as your tart and not continue.  It looks so good, I have half a mind to try it like this with my remaining plums….
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In another bowl, whisk together the 3 tbsp of sugar, egg yolks, and yogurt.  Pour this mixture over the tart, being sure to work from the inside out and try to evenly distribute the custard.  Place the tart back into the oven and cook for about 10 more minutes or until the custard has set- you should be able to touch the top and pull a little of the custard out on your finger.  It’s sort of in a semi-solid state.
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Let the tart cool a little before serving to your hungry party guests !
Bon appétit ! 🙂
*I hold nothing against pumpkin goods…in fact, I’ve been cooking them a lot.  I just wanted to be DIFFERENT.
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Banana Bread

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What do little Italian men love most of all ?

Really though, what do you think ?

Perfume ?   Pasta ?  Wine…breadsticks…music…candlelight…Milan….

Well, no.  I hate to break it to you, but the real way to the heart of a wee italian man is with BANANA BREAD.  Yes, Petri, this one’s for you.

For the past month and a half (give or take), we’ve had the pleasure of hosting the famous Petri Dish in our apartment.  I arrived in late August, mentally preparing myself for a semester of ESTROGEN when POP !  Out of nowhere this charismatic, loud, and endearing italiano appeared on the scene, fully moved in (yes, toothbrush and all).  Skeptical at first (a who living in my what ?!), Petri quickly grew on me.  He is a walking party and always greets me with a “Hello Lizzzzzz, how are you ?” spoken as if my answer is actually important (Petri, if it isn’t important, don’t tell me.  I want to continue romanticising you).

It is slightly intimidating, living with an italian, because they cook so well.  Sometimes, I would come home from class and the apartment would smell divine – Petri was making homemade vegetable broth, a smell I associate with home.  (To my credit, I insisted on bay leaf usage.  This little american lends a hand every now and then).  I watched him make pasta, pasta, pasta, risotto, pasta, pasta and tiramisù.  Being the fellow chef in the kitchen, it was fun to have some cooking banter flying about this college setting.

At one point, Petri revealed his love (obsession ?) with banana bread, which surprised me.  Often, Europeans are “not convinced” of putting fruits/vegetables in quickbreads (carrots, zukes, sweet potato, banana, pumpkin…) as it just seems contrary to tradition.  Or something.

I decided that before he left, I’d make him banana bread.  I think it’s safe to say my bread passed muster.  Pietro, we’re going to miss you !  Here’s the recipe I used (and perhaps you’ll woo an italian, too) !

Petri’s Banana Bread

1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp cream (or buttermilk, or greek yogurt, or sour cream)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
Dash cinnamon/nutmeg/cloves.  Just a sprinkle.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease or line the bottom of a standard loaf pan with parchment paper.  Set aside.  I prepared two but only used one (not enough time to cook a double batch !)

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Peel the bananas and place them in a large bowl.  Mash with a fork (or a masher) until nice and squishy – it will look rather disturbing as a texture – you want the lumps no bigger than chickpeas.

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Add the sugar and the oil to the mashed bananas, whisking to combine.  I will admit, the batter for banana bread is probably the most disgusting thing you’ll ever see.  Persevere, because it tastes awesome when cooked.

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Add the eggs and vanilla, whisking again to incorporate.

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In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Stir together to combine – you wouldn’t want random patches of baking soda, would you ?  So give it a good stir.

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Add the flour mixture and the cream (or dairy product of choice…) and mix well – the batter shouldn’t have any flour clumps hiding about.

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Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 1h20 minutes – it takes a long time to cook, but you’ll know it’s almost done when the top splits.  Let cool 10 minutes before removing from the loaf pan.

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Feed to your favorite [italian] housemate(s) and buon appetito !  🙂

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Pumpkin and Rosemary Braided Bread

Autumn has finally descended upon my neck of the woods (so to speak) and with it, the arrival of “all things pumpkin” as the Internet (and Starbucks…and Trader Joe’s) tends to tout.  I will freely admit that I have a sweet spot for pumpkin – its flavors hint at nostalgia without the tears.  My roommate, after a Trader Joe’s run, returned home with pumpkin soup, pumpkin chai tea, pumpkin rooibus tea…and then there was me with my gigantic can of pumpkin purée.

The question is, however, what can you do with pumpkin puree that is new and exciting ?  I’ve made the muffins, I’m made the quickbread, and the pie has a place on a Thanksgiving table.

So began the hunt for a new way to use pumpkin.  I knew I wanted something more on the savory side…like…a dinner roll !  A yeast bread !  Hm !

I found a great recipe from the King Arthur Flour webpage- a simple google search will bring you there (I may have misplaced the link…).  I modified it slightly – the recipe here is halved but makes LOTS of bread (I snuck two medium loaves from these quantities) and I added honey, rosemary, and salt to the mix.  An experiment, the work paid off (nibble nibble nibble) because it tastes just sweet enough to be paired with honey butter or even a marmalade OR a savory dish with chicken or a sauce.  Oo.  Asiago cheese would probably pair well with this concoction as well.  The possibilities are endless !

A wonderfully soft texture and a rich color to boot, this recipe is worth the time and will certainly have a spot on my Thanksgiving table…or my kitchen table.  🙂

For the dough :

1/4 cup warm water
1 package (1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm milk
1 large eggs, beaten
1 cups puréed pumpkin, either fresh or canned
1 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2 cups (approximately) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
A few shakes of ground ginger
3 pinches rosemary

For the glaze :

1 egg yolk,
Some water
Some honey
Some rosemary
Some salt

In a large bowl, combine the 2 1/2 cups flour, brown sugar, yeast, ginger and rosemary.

Stir to combine well.  Add the warm water and begin to stir.  In another bowl, combine the pumpkin, oil, eggs, and milk.

Be sure to allow the pumpkin and eggs to reach room temperature before combining with the other wet ingredients.  Also, the milk should be warmed – yeast likes a warm environment because it stimulates their life cycle/reactions.  And we want those little yeasties to have a party in our bread dough !

Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add about 1/2 cups more of flour (or more) until the dough is tough enough to knead.  Mine looked like this and it worked out well.


Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead, adding flour as necessary, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.  This took me about 10 minutes for me, but knead until you can mold it into a ball without difficulty OR extremely messy fingers.

When you are kneading bread, you are creating gluten networks between the starch molecules.  This changes the texture and facilitates the trapping of the gas released by the little yeasties.  Food.  It’s snazzy.

Place dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a towel (or a plastic bag), letting it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.  If it rises for longer, it won’t be an issue.  But an hour is certainly enough time to get a fantastic reaction out of the dough.

When ready, turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Divide dough in half – I did not because I didn’t think I would have such a huge loaf of bread so I have two uneven loaves SO do yourself a favor and split it up). This bread can easily be shaped into loaves or dinner roles…but I thought a braid would be more elegant given the rich color of the dough.

Braiding is actually simple (though it looks tough).  Start by spreading the dough out into a large rectangular shape (photos to follow).  Using a sharp knife, make 4 long cuts in the dough – you are essentially creating a giant jellyfish, with the bit you are cutting turning into tentacles.  (Please excuse the metaphor.  I’m an English minor).  When you make the cuts, LEAVE THE TOP CONNECTED.  You’ll see what I mean in the photos.  Reshape the tentacles so that they are even and then braid them !  Braiding with five is easy – just pull the outside layer from the left to the inside, then the outermost RIGHT side layer to the inside, then left to the inside and right to the inside blablabla until BAM !  You have a giant braid on your hands.  For the last part, just twist them and tuck them under the end of the braid. (The photos are with four strands because I didn’t have an assistant when I did five…)  Pow.  Like magic, you have a snazzy looking loaf of bread.

Lay the bread on a well-oiled baking sheet.  Mix together the egg and water and brush over the top of the bread.  Drizzle honey over the top of the braid, followed by a sprinkling of rosemary and some sea salt crystals.

Let rise for about 45 minutes or until nice and puffy.  Place in the oven and let cook for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  The bread will NOT sound hollow when cooked, as it is very soft, but I just used my nose.  You can also use a thermometer to test the “doneness” of the bread (I believe it’s 190F….might want to check on that as I possess not such a thermometer.)

Serve nice and hot with melted butter…or place on your table (with a TARDIS !) and let your roommates devour it.  🙂

Bon appétit !

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