I spent a good portion of this week taking apart a couple of wooden pallets (which is bloody hard work!), sanding the boards down and staining and painting them to make a couple of new photography backdrops. The process wasn’t helped by the fact that my belt sander died a death whilst sanding the very first board so I was forced to do the rest using a detail sander, which wasn’t quite up to the job. It took me hours and I didn’t manage to get them quite as smooth as I would have liked. However, I am happy with the ones that I have painted so I needed to bake something to try them out!
I had some marzipan left over from Christmas baking that needed to be used up, and a big punnet of plums and was in the mood to do some bread baking, so a spiced plum and marzipan braided bread loaf was the result! One of my favourite ways to bake is to simply see what I’ve got in the cupboard and try to come up with something without having to go out and buy ingredients. (I do keep quite a well stocked cupboard and always make sure I have the baking basics – flour, sugar, butter and eggs).
Plum and almond is a classic pairing and a match made in heaven, combined with the warm spices and soft, buttery, vanilla scented dough it is truly delicious. The smell while it was baking was gorgeous and it is utterly moreish, I’m not going to lie, I have eaten at least a third of the loaf so far today…
It is a fairly simple recipe to make, and can be done over the course of two days if you prefer – the dough and compote can be made one day and refrigerated overnight once the dough has risen a bit, and then assembled, left to prove and baked in the morning; so it’s a good loaf to bake for a weekend breakfast. You could make it even simpler by using a good quality jam instead of the compote – it doesn’t have to be plum jam, cherry would work particularly well.
I’ve got a fair bit of work left to do to make a dark wood photography backdrop, but I am very happy with how my photos turned out on this white one and it is a definite improvement!
(Please note: although I have provided a conversion from grams to US cup measurements I cannot guarantee the accuracy as I do not bake using cups, I thoroughly recommend investing in a digital metric scale, it is far more accurate.)
- 50g (scant 1/4 cup) unsalted butter
- 130ml (1/2 cup + 1 tbsp) full fat milk
- 300g (2 + 1/2 cups) strong white bread flour
- 7g (2 tsp) fast action yeast
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 50g (1/4 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- about 300g (10.5 oz) plums
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 3 cloves
- 2 allspice berries
- 1-2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
- 200g (7 oz) marzipan
- 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
- demerara or pearl sugar for sprinkling
To make the dough, gently heat the butter and milk together in a small pan until the butter is just melted, set aside to cool until lukewarm. Place the bread flour in a large bowl, add the yeast to one side and the salt and sugar to the other. Crack in the egg and add the cooled milk mixture and vanilla extract, mix it all together until it forms a shaggy dough then turn out onto an un-floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. The dough will be sticky at first but resist the temptation to add extra flour, it will become smooth after a minute or two of kneading (you may need to scrape it off the surface with a dough scraper). Of course you can knead it in a stand mixer if you have one.
Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover, and set aside to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours. Once risen, you can place the dough in the fridge overnight and continue the bake in the morning if you wish.
While the dough is rising make the compote. Chop the plums into quarters if they are small, or eights if they are large, remove the stones and place the chopped plums in a small pan with the spices, a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of water. Bring up to a simmer and cook until the plums have broken down into a puree. Mix the cornflour with about a teaspoon of cold water, add to the plum mixture and cook for another minute or so until thickened. Remove from the heat, taste, add another tablespoon of sugar if needed and set aside until cool. The compote can be made the day before baking and stored in the fridge.
If you refrigerated the dough overnight, take it out of the fridge and leave it for about half an hour to come up to room temperature. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into an approximately 10×15 inch rectangle. Transfer the rectangle onto a piece of baking parchment and place on a baking tray. Roll the marzipan out into a sausage then flatten it, it should measure about 12×2.5 inches, place the marzipan along the centre of the rectangle of dough, there should be about an extra 1.5 inches of dough at either end.
Spread the cooled plum compote (remove the spices first) on top of the marzipan, you may not need to use all of it. Cut the dough surrounding the filling into diagonal strips about 1 1/2 inches wide making sure to leave a border of uncut dough around the filling, there should be the same number of strips on either side. Fold both ends up, then cross the cut strips of dough over the filling, alternating sides so that it looks like its been braided.
Loosely cover the dough with cling film and leave it to rise in a warm place until it is puffy and springs back slowly when you press it gently with a finger – about 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. When the dough is ready to bake, gently brush it all over with beaten egg and sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and cooked through, cover with tin foil after 15 minutes or so to stop it from turning too dark. Gently slide the baked loaf on to a wire rack (it is delicate when warm) and leave to cool before slicing.