Dessert, Food From Friends

2 envelopes instant yeast
5 cups bread flour
1 cup warm water
3 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling the pan and for topping
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
3 large baking apples, preferably Braeburns (about 41/2 heaping cups cut-up apples)

In a large bowl, whisk together yeast and 1 cup of the flour, then whisk in warm water until smooth. Let stand uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes or until it begins to ferment and puff up slightly.

Whisk eggs, oil, salt and sugar into puffed yeast mixture until eggs are well incorporated and salt and sugar have dissolved. With your hands or a wooden spoon, stir in remaining 4 cups flour all at once. When mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto work surface and knead until it is smooth and firm, no more than 10 minutes. If dough is too firm to knead easily, add a tablespoon or two of water to it; if it seems too wet, add a few tablespoons of flour. Dough should feel smooth, soft and only slightly sticky.

Soak a mixing bowl in hot water to clean it and warm it. Place dough in the warmed clean bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let ferment for 1 hour, or until just slightly puffed.

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut each quarter in half lengthwise, then cut each slice crosswise into three pieces. You should end up with large squarish chunks. Measure 4 1/2 heaping cups of chunks and transfer to a covered container. (Braeburns do not brown excessively, but if you are using another variety and are concerned about overbrowning, toss apples with a few drops of lemon juice.)

Sprinkle dough and work surface with flour and pull dough out of the bowl. Cut dough into two equal pieces and keep one piece covered while you work with the other. Roll out dough into a 16-inch square about 1/8 in. thick. Scatter 1 heaping cup of apples over the centre third of the dough. Fold up the bottom third to cover them. Press dough into apples to seal it around them.

Scatter another heaping cup over the folded-over apple-filled portion of dough. Fold the top of dough over it to create a very stuffed letter fold. Press down on dough to push out any air pockets and to seal dough around apples.

Roll dough up from a short side into a chunky cylinder, push dough into bowl with smooth side up, and cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with the other piece of dough and put it in a second covered bowl. Let dough ferment for about another hour, or until slightly risen and very soft.

Oil two 8-inch round cake pans, or 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pans. Using as much dusting flour as you need, pat each dough half into a rough round or log shape. Try to keep dough’s smooth skin intact over the top. You won’t be able to deflate the dough much at this point because of the apples. Slip dough into pans, smooth side up, and cover well with plastic wrap. (The shaped loaves can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.) Let the loaves proof until they have risen over the edges of their pans, about 30 minutes (or up to 1 1/2 hours if loaves have been refrigerated.)

Immediately after shaping the breads (or 30 minutes before baking if refrigerated), arrange an oven rack in the lower third position, remove any racks above it, and preheat oven to 350°F.

When loaves have risen and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush each one with a generous tablespoon of oil, then sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of sugar to form a sugary-oily crust. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until very well browned. After the first 40 minutes, switch the pans from front to back so that the breads brown evenly. When loaves are done, remove them from the oven, unmould and let cool on a rack. Makes two 9-inch round loaves or two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaves.

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