Yeasted Bourbon Ball Bread

Week Fifty: Bourbon Week

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I’ll be honest; it didn’t feel like much of a challenge to turn a Bourbon ball candy into a quick bread.  It basically went like this: find a good base recipe, add pecans, chocolate, and Bourbon.  Voila!  Bread!

But to turn a Bourbon ball into a yeast bread?  That’s a little trickier.  What sort of dough should be used, all white flour?  Some whole wheat flour?  A rich dough?  A sweet dough?  A lean and hard-crusted dough?  So much to choose from!

Though a Bourbon ball is a tiny sphere of intense and rich sweetness, I decided on something a bit less sugary.  To really focus on the excellent flavor combination of the inspiration, I chose to use a barely-sweetened dough, slightly enriched with eggs, buttermilk, and olive oil.  It’s just lean enough to let the Bourbon, pecans, and chocolate shine, but not so lean that it can’t stand up to those sweeter flavors.

The crust here is a fantastic shade of mahogany, shiny from the use of an egg wash.  Inside, the crumb is close and moderately irregular, and tastes almost like a partly-whole-wheat bread (though it’s made entirely of white flour), due to the pecan “dust” that invariably forms when you chop them.  The Bourbon creates a smoky backdrop, earthy and robust behind the dark chocolate and buttery pecans.

Though this bread tastes excellent when sliced and toasted, the chocolate does have a tendency to melt and fall out like a fugitive on the lam; and let me tell you, melted chocolate is no fun to smell every time you heat up your toaster.  If you’d like to toast it, I firmly suggest placing it on a flat pan in an oven or toaster oven.

Otherwise, this half-savory bread is exactly what I was hoping for.  It’s a fitting tribute to that beloved candy, and is a bread that I’ll certainly make again.  It was an unexpectedly wonderful pair with certain cheeses, i.e. quality ricotta, but a tangy goat cheese or a subtle brie would also be good choices.  Maybe that sounds odd to you, cheese and chocolate, but I assure you, it’s delightful.  And if you really have some of this bread lying around, it would make one heck of a bread pudding.  Though if you actually have any lying around, call me up; I’ll come help you eat it.

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Yeasted Bourbon Ball Bread
Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart
Makes 2 loaves

14 ounces (about 3 cups) unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1/4 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup (approximately) water, at room temperature
5 ounces (about 1 scant cup) chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate
4 ounces (about 1 cup) pecans, toasted and chopped
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.  Add the eggs, buttermilk, olive oil, and bourbon.  Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until a dough starts to form.  Gradually add enough of the water to make a soft ball of dough and moisten all the flour (you may need more or less than the whole 1/3 cup).

2.  Increase the speed to medium-low, and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and slightly tacky, but not sticky.  If it seems too sticky or too firm, add additional water or flour as needed to correct the consistency.

3.  Reduce the speed to low and add the pecans, kneading until fully incorporated.  Add the chocolate chips, and knead until evenly distributed throughout.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly-oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, about 2 hours.

4.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and press gently to deflate.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  Press each piece into an oval shape, and roll up into a fat loaf shape, pressing to seal the seam.  Transfer seam-side down to the prepared baking sheet.

5.  Immediately brush each loaf with the egg wash, refrigerating the remainder to use later.  Proof the loaves, uncovered, at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, about 90 minutes.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 325º F, and place a rack in the middle position.

6.  Brush the loaves a second time with the egg wash, taking care not to deflate the dough.  Using a sharp serrated knife or razor blade, make one decisive slash lengthwise down the center of each loaf, letting only the weight of the blade press into the dough.

7.  Bake at 325º F for 45 to 50 minutes, or until deeply golden brown, rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even browning.  The center of each loaf should register around 185º to 190º F when fully baked.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

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