Bread of the Month: Reaching for a star

lead_bread01I’ve been thinking a lot about stars lately, in part, because of the season, but even earlier in the year than that because I noticed a very bright star in the sky that I’ve come to look for every morning.

Sometimes this star is companioned by a crisp slice of crescent moon; sometimes it is solo, but always it is so clear and reassuring to me in the dark mornings when I am up and pondering, my solitary time for myself.

I kicked myself for awhile for not noticing this star (which I believe is Sirius, the Dog Star) earlier, then realized that it was only important that I was noticing it now and not missing it anymore. I had years of my life where I was unable to see stars…for a period because I lived in the urban wilds of Los Angeles County where any stars above were obscured by the overload of man-made light below.

Then there were the years where it would not have mattered if I was in a sparsely populated desert or in a land of blinding light. The stars were out of reach of my troubled eyesight. My vision was threatened and much was lost to me for a long time. So I gave up looking.

But a few years back, I looked up and was startled. Where I live, which is as close to living rural as I’ve been since I left Kansas, the night sky was attainable. To my amazement, I could make out the Big Dipper, twinkling above me. I could see the whole thing. It had been years. To be humbled in this way is such a great gift. To rise daily and have the privilege of seeing a single star is a gift.

There is that expression, “reaching for the stars,” and I’ve been thinking about that, too. I’ve been thinking about the folks who reach beyond what most people say are their limits. They see far and high for themselves. As much as I give up, feel defeated, feel less, I consider myself one who reaches, even if the darkness and feeble vision has me reaching through a blackness I’ve tried to navigate and shed.

Someone I know left recently, suddenly. He was one who reached for the stars. He reached so high and so often that I believe he perplexed (and continues to) many who knew him. His reach toward the stars was exhausting at the pace he kept, but if looked at properly, he was a reminder of reaching far, and that the reach itself was important. And he inspired the question some may not feel so comfortable with — why do I not reach? Why do I not reach more? Why ask why, when, as this lost star in our lives had seemed to live his life in this question: Why not?

This loss, among many things that had been building lately — running around too much, trying to do too much, exhaustion, seeing ahead mainly loss and not much else, sent me into a depleted state. It was a funk, that even I — the self-proclaimed oven maven AWS — could not bake her way out of. The holiday push to keep the oven fires burning only made me feel worse. Baking, dare I say it, seemed ridiculous. Then, I kept seeing stars. The one in the morning in the east; the one at close of day in the southwest. And, a star made of bread that was nearly breathtaking, in versions filled with herbs and cheese and also cinnamon and sugar.

imageLooking at photos of these bread stars, I could not even see how they were made…beautiful star points of twisted dough, striated with filling that seemed like marbled paint swirls. It both intrigued me and tired me to look at them, but something took hold and wouldn’t let go.

One morning, rain tapping outside, the stars somewhere unseen, I took time that I didn’t think I had and made a star out of layers of simple, sweet bread dough and cinnamon-sugar filling.

image_1Usually, such a bread project would have me starting with energy and finishing exhausted, yet mildly triumphant. As I stacked rolled dough layers on top of each other like pancakes, sandwiched with cinnamon mix in between, I felt my energy growing, as what should be.

image_3Using a pizza cutter, I cut even strips in my stack of dough rounds and in pairs, twisted the strips and pinched them together to make star points.

Seeing the beautiful new star before me, I realized why I do this thing. Seeming impossibilities of what we can do exist all around us all the time so we don’t reach. This star seemed as unattainable as the ones in the sky, but anything can seem like that. Our only failure is in not reaching. This star was easier to reach than I had imagined.image_5

So I brushed my star with egg wash and waited for its fruition in my oven, my own sense of duty and optimism about my reach restored.

Eight buttery, light-as-air star points (making this a much desirable pull-apart bread), punctuated with the dark sweetness of cinnamon brought me to the lightness in my own center.

There are reminders everywhere that we must aim. The stars we know can provide guideposts. You can start by looking toward the sky.
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Cinnamon Star Bread
From King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com)
Makes one star loaf, 8 to 12 servings

Dough
3/4 cup + 2 to 4 tablespoons lukewarm water, enough to make a soft, smooth dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor, optional; for enhanced flavor
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
1/4 cup potato or 1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes

Filling
1 large egg, beaten
1/3 cup cinnamon-sugar, or your own mix of cinnamon sugar

To make the dough:
Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 60 minutes, until it’s nearly doubled in bulk.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, cover the balls, and allow them to rest for 15 minutes.

On a lightly greased or floured work surface, roll one piece of dough into a 10″ circle. Place the circle on a piece of parchment, brush a thin coat of beaten egg on the surface, then evenly sprinkle with 1/3 of the cinnamon-sugar, leaving 1/4″ of bare dough around the perimeter.

Roll out a second circle the same size as the first, and place it on top of the filling-covered circle. Repeat the layering process — egg, cinnamon sugar, dough circle — leaving the top circle bare.

Place a 2 1/2″ to 3″ round cutter in the center of the dough circle as a guide. With a bench knife or sharp knife, cut the circle into 16 equal strips, from the cutter to the edge, through all the layers.

Using two hands, pick up two adjacent strips and twist them away from each other twice so that the top side is facing up again. Repeat with the remaining strips of dough so that you end up with eight pairs of strips.

Pinch the pairs of strips together to create a star-like shape with eight points. Remove the cutter.

Transfer the star on the parchment to a baking sheet. Cover the star and let it rise until it becomes noticeably puffy, about 45 minutes.While the star is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Brush the star with a thin coat of the beaten egg. Bake it for 12 to 15 minutes, until it’s nicely golden with dark brown cinnamon streaks; the center should register 200°F on a digital thermometer.

Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
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Blogger’s Note: For this recipe, I used “rapid rise” yeast. Instead of using King Arthur Flour’s Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor, I added a teaspoon of vanilla to the dough. I prepared my own cinnamon-sugar filling with 1/2 cup fine granulated sugar and about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon.

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