We’re making apple butter this week at Chez Bullhog. The house smells of October: sweet and cinnamony with bright apple overtures and a background of toffee. To complete the effect, a faint haze of smoke hangs in the air, tinged with the smell of home baked bread. That sweet smoke coming from the woodfired oven reminds me of the bonfires and leaf piles and rasping rakes of my youth.
First off, there’s something you’ve got to know. My son (whose main vegetable is apple butter) made me swear the other day that I wouldn’t put my dog-eared apple butter recipe up on the site. He’s that attached to it. However, I can in good faith let you in on a few secrets learned from 25 years of making the stuff:
- Always use a recipe with fresh apples and cider.
- Your kettle needs a heavy bottom. Even with one the apples will stick; the trick is to let them caramelize but not burn.
- Pulse the heat. At first, cook over medium heat for 10 minutes and turn heat off for 5. Later, as the sauce sticks more thickly, cook over low for 10 and off for 5.
- Cook for hours and hours, until the apples attain a mahogany color, before adding sugar and spices.
- To reduce ‘blurping’, in which the apple butter will spit hot apple at you, stir after each ‘off’ cycle.
- Don’t rely on a screen to cover the pot, as it will eventually fail to stop the ‘blurps’ and foul your stove. Keep a lid on and carefully drain the moisture from the bottom of the lid every time you remove it.
Meanwhile, the bread I’m baking during the apple butter process (3 batches so far) has taken 75 hours, in dribs and drabs of effort. I put it through several iterations, from a white yeasty dough on the first day for some naan, to a pizza crust on the second day and finally to a long-rising light rye bread – chewy and a bit sour – that incorporates some spelt. Three days of fermenting has resulted in a stellar bread that is earthy and rustic with a great crust. Here’s what to do.
75 hours start to finish
Okay, don’t be too freaked out by the timing here. What I’m going to show you is more of a process than a recipe – one that can be used for many different types of bread, and which will produce beautiful, crusty ‘artisan’ loaves with a slightly chewy crumb.
Day 1: Wet white dough.
This is basically a starter, but one that can be used after 8 hours to make a yeasty soft bread. I used half of the finished dough to make naan in the woodfired oven. If you’re not making bread today, just make half the quantity to continue.
Mix 30 ounces (about 6 cups) of unbleached all-purpose flour with 20 ounces (2 ½ cups) of warm water. Stir in 1¼ teaspoon active dry yeast, 2 teaspoons each of salt and sugar and a Tablespoon of canola oil. Pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead as best you can, using a dough scraper to turn the edges of this very wet dough.
Put into a large bowl, let rise at 75° for 4 hours, punch down and let rise again for 3 hours. Use half to make naan or ciabatta bread, and let the other half sit overnight in a cool (60°) environment.
Day 2: Pizza Dough.
Add 20 ounces (about 4 cups) of caputo flour, 10 ounces (about 2 cups) all purpose flour, 2 cups of warm water and 1 ½ teaspoons salt to yesterday’s dough. Knead well on a floured surface. Let rise all day in a cool environment (do not refrigerate). Make pizzas with half of this dough and let the other half sit overnight in a cool (60°) environment.
Day 3: Foster and improve the dough.
By this time, you’ll notice a slightly sour aroma around your very puffy dough. You want to foster this without allowing it to get too much ammonia flavor. On the morning of Day 3, work a cup of water and ¾ teaspoon salt into the dough with the handle of a wooden spoon, and then add 2-3 cups of all-purpose flour. Just enough to make a smooth and pliable doughball. Knead this dough on a floured counter for 10 minutes, put it back into the bowl and let rise until double in bulk, about 4 hours. Punch down for a second rise.
Sometime in the afternoon (for me it’s about the time the kids get home from school), in a second bread bowl or mixing bowl, combine 4 cups rye flour, 2 cups whole wheat or spelt flour, 1½ teaspoons salt and 2 cups of warm water to make a firm dough.
Take the two doughs out of their bowls and pile one on top of the other on a well-floured counter. Knead the two together until well incorporated.
By this time you will be dealing with about 7 pounds of dough, enough to make 4 loaves. If you have a container large enough to accommodate this dough once it rises, great! Otherwise divide it and put the halves into two bread bowls. Let rise in a cool place until late at night. Before you go to bed (or as late as midnight), punch down the dough. To make sure the dough doesn’t go crazy in the night, put the bowl(s) on a tray with some ice packs nestled around.
Day 4: Crusty Loaves.
Take ice away from the bowls early in the morning. Punch down the dough and let sit at room temperature for at least an hour. If you have one, start a good fire in your woodfired oven and keep it going for at least two hours. For conventional ovens, you’ll want to bake these loaves on quarry tiles or a pizza stone in an oven preheated for at least 30 minutes to 450°. (Lower to 375° after the first half hour of baking.)
Form the dough into 4 loaves (I aim for 28 ounces apiece), let rise for 1 ½ hours, turn onto peels and brush with water 2 times. Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes, turning 3 times, until the crust is rich and brown.
Let cool for an hour before digging in.
Final Note: Put on your fuzzy slippers and pull an easy chair over by the window. With slathers of luscious apple butter, and with a view of the leaves gently falling, this bread takes on a whole new dimension. Happy October!