Autumn’s Last Stand: Salted Apple Bread with Brown Butter & Hazelnuts

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Oh Autumn, you are ever fair and fleeting; I am not inclined to give you up after such a brief encounter. Even here in California, where the seasons quietly and seamlessly blend into one another, you are trying your hardest to chill the air and flaunt your stunning colors… And so, I shall prolong your loveliness just a little– at least in the kitchen. I’m just not ready for holiday cookies and gingerbread yet!

In light of this, I’m still happily entertaining recipes with Fall fruits and spices. I know that it is now officially Christmas season, and apples are soooo November, but I couldn’t resist– and I’m so glad I didn’t! I really have a thing for Ovenly now– this is the third recipe I’ve made from their new cookbook, and each one has been a rousing success. (I also still actively daydream about the delicious treats I had at their Brooklyn bakery in October…) I am absolutely enamored with the Brooklyn Blackout Cake, and I recently made their Stumptown Shorties, both of which are among my favorites EVER. I love their use of sweet and salty elements, and the twists that they put on homey flavors. No exception is this recipe for Salted Apple Bread. Just as the Ovenly ladies were inspired to make this when befallen by an excess of apples, I too found myself with several extra after Thanksgiving, so this was just perfect.

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This bread is the epitome of Fall baking, what with the apples, warm spices, and maple syrup. Your house will smell *amazing* while it bakes. The recipe also calls for hazelnut oil, but I couldn’t justify buying the small $13.99 bottle, which I probably wouldn’t use again in the near future. They suggest substituting canola oil if not using hazelnut oil; however, I thought that hazelnuts would add a really lovely layer of flavor to the bread, so I added ½ cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts.

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I made this waaaaay more complicated and time-consuming than it needed to be. Despite the long list of ingredients, it’s actually quite easy to prepare. I had already melted the butter for the bread batter in the microwave, and it occurred to me as I was melting butter for the breadcrumb topping in a skillet that it would be even more delicious to use the most exalted form of butter in existence– brown butter. So I browned the small amount of butter and dumped in the breadcrumbs and salt, but they were so brown that I thought they’d burn for sure in the oven, so I decided to start over with the breadcrumbs and not brown the butter for the topping. But… how amazing would it be to use brown butter in the bread itself?! So I poured the microwaved butter into the skillet to brown it, but I thought it looked funny, so I started over with another stick of butter… which looked exactly the same once it was melted. (In other words, I wasted a stick of nice Irish butter for nothing.) But okay, my butter was at last browned. Then I realized that I hadn’t yet cut up the apple chunks, so I quickly did that while frying the second batch of breadcrumbs. I finally had everything ready and mixed all the wet ingredients, then added the dry ingredients and the apples. I thought the batter looked a little thick, but hey, there are oats and apples in there, so it’s bound to be chunky… Aaaand then I realized in horror that after all the fuss with the butter, I had forgotten to whisk it into the wet ingredients! I quickly stirred it into the batter and it easily disappeared, leaving only the beautiful brown butter bits and an intoxicating nutty, buttery aroma. The batter was now much looser like, well, a batter.

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I sprinkled the breadcrumbs and found that I really needed only about half of what the recipe called for– a significant amount ended up on the bottom of the oven, as they kept falling off while the bread rose during baking! The prescribed baking time is 50-55 minutes, but mine took 65 minutes for the center “craters” to cook through, and that was just barely. Meanwhile, the edges got a little toasty. I think I’ll try it at 350°F next time for about 75 minutes. But don’t get me wrong– every last crumb was savored. 🙂

I unmolded the loaf after about 20 minutes and cut into it when it was still quite warm– I couldn’t help it! The bread is chunky, shaggy, craggy, and hearty– very difficult to cut into intact slices. I’m not sure if this is just how it is, or if the added nuts gave it a more crumbly texture. But no matter, it was wicked delicious with so many harmonious flavors– you can really taste the apples, cinnamon and spices, hazelnuts, and salt in the breadcrumb topping. The crumbs also give the bread a nice crunch.

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Mixing in the melted butter at the end proved not to be a problem, so this must be a pretty resilient bread recipe. (I am not a particularly experienced bread baker, and those of you who are, might be like, “Yeah, and…?” Perhaps this mistake is not a big deal in the world of quick bread, but I was surely relieved that I didn’t ruin my bread!)

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Salted Apple Bread with Brown Butter & Hazelnuts
Adapted from Ovenly by Agatha Kulaga & Erin Patinkin
Yields 1 loaf

The original recipe does not call for brown butter, so feel free to skip this step, but I highly recommend it, as the nutty butter compliments errrything in here. Also, you can leave out the hazelnuts and use hazelnut oil instead of canola (same quantity), or omit the hazelnut component altogether, but again, it works really well.

I’ve halved the topping quantity, but feel free to double the ingredients below if you wish to make the full recipe. I ended up brushing off a lot of them (leaving just a nice covering on the surface) because they made a huge mess every time I touched or cut the loaf!

For the bread batter:

  • Softened unsalted butter or nonstick cooking spray + flour, for preparing the loaf pan
  • ½ cup (1 stick/4 ounces) unsalted butter (I used a higher-fat Irish butter)
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B (the darker, the better)
  • ¼ cup canola oil or hazelnut oil (omit chopped hazelnuts if using hazelnut oil)
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or ¼ teaspoon ground)
  • ½ cup toasted, finely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 ½ cups (7 ounces) peeled, cored, and diced (¼- to ½-inch pieces) Granny Smith apples

For the topping:

  • ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup Panko breadcrumbs (homemade are fine as well)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat an oven to 375°F and position a rack in the middle. Grease a 9×5″ loaf pan with melted butter or nonstick cooking spray, then dust thoroughly with flour and knock out the excess.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and keep cooking until the sputtering dies down and browned bits form on the bottom of the pan, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on it towards the end, as it can quickly go from toasty to burnt. Remove from the heat when the butter has reached a chestnut shade of brown, and pour into a small bowl to cool slightly. (Your kitchen will smell amazing…)

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Meanwhile, I recommend making the breadcrumb topping, as the brown butter will take several minutes. In a separate skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Mix the breadcrumbs and salt in a small bowl, and add them to the melted butter. Stir everything around to evenly moisten the crumbs. Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the crumbs are golden. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

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Whisk the milk, sugar, eggs, maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and brown butter (don’t forget the butter!) in a large bowl until homogenous.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk the all-purpose and pastry flours, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cloves, and nutmeg until well combined. Whisk in the chopped hazelnuts. (The mixture will smell like apple cider mulling spices!)

Add the flour/spice/hazelnut mixture into the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until only a few flour streaks remain. Fold in the apple chunks just until everything is evenly distributed and the flour traces are gone.

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Scrape the batter into the loaf pan (it will reach almost to the rim) and cover the top evenly with the salted breadcrumbs.

The book says to bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. As is often the case when baking quick bread loaves, the center will split, and that raw batter takes longer to cook; mine took 65 minutes, and the edges were a little more done than I’d like. (You can try reducing the temperature to 350°F for about 70-75 minutes, but I haven’t tested it yet…)

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Let the bread cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Brush off excess bread crumbs if desired. Turn out the loaf to cool completely on a wire cooling rack. (Or if you’re like me, cut into it when it’s still warm.)

Enjoy this last bit of Fall baking! 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.

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