Apple, Camembert and chive pull-apart bread with horseradish butter
When I started brainstorming recipes for this site two years ago, one of the first half-ideas I had was a Fiona Apple-inspired dish involving with tart apples — naturally, because of her reputation for having a sometimes-bitter personality that’s come across as much in her public appearances as in her music. I’m glad I held off on that, though, because her latest record changed my perception a bit. The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do (whew!) still has songs about loneliness, heartbreak and defeat, with lines like “I ran out of white doves’ feathers/ to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me.” But overall it’s not quite as intense as her first two releases, and there are a few more moments of sweetness than I’d expected, and when I saw her at a small show in Brooklyn months before the album came out, she was funny and chatty and just not as angry as she’s been the other times I’ve seen her. Idler Wheel is Apple’s first album since Extraordinary Machine in 2005; it was worth waiting for and every bit as great as I’d hoped it would be.
I’ve only made yeasted bread a few times — partially because if it was a regular thing I’d eat way too much of it, and also because of the time commitment. But it’s becoming tradition when my best friend Jenni comes to visit from Michigan, and the couple times we’ve done it it’s been worth the effort and, like Apple’s records, more than worth the wait for the end result. Last year we made Smitten Kitchen’s apple and honey challah (part of an entire apple-themed dinner) and it was incredible, quickly devoured by my friends at an apple-themed dinner party. This year’s project — a pull-apart bread filled with apples (becoming another part of the tradition, I guess), Camembert cheese, and chives — also took a while; something like three hours if you count the time waiting for it to rise. We had the BF and his mom over for dinner, and this baby was nearly gone by the end of the evening, with just enough for Jenni and me to share for breakfast the next morning.
The bread is baked in stacks of square pieces of dough covered in the apple filling, so when it’s done you don’t need a knife because you can just break it off into big, flaky pieces. The childlike, eating-with-your-hands element makes me think of the Idler Wheel song “Anything We Want,” where Apple sings about pretending to be 8 years old, and also “Jonathan,” a song about her ex, author Jonathan Ames, who supposedly has taken many a date to Coney Island. As for the filling itself, we did use tart apples like my original idea, as well as chives, balanced out by sweet, creamy Camembert cheese.
The album ends with the jazzy vocal acrobatics of “Hot Knife,” driven by the line, “If I’m butter, if I’m butter/ If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife.” Some have written the track off as silly, but it’s actually one of my favorites here. Like other parts of Idler Wheel, it’s uncharacteristically sweet, about a guy who makes her melt (and vice versa later in the song, when it changes to “I’m a hot knife, I’m a hot knife/ I’m a hot knife, he’s a pat of butter”). I also love the story behind the recording: Apple sung it with her sister, an experience that was one of their most intimate. So to complement the bread, we made a horseradish-infused butter; the kick from the horseradish represents the song’s bold claim that she’s going to win the guy over for good: “If I get a chance I’m gonna show him that he’s never gonna need another, never need another,” and the butter is self-explanatory. (In case you were wondering, we didn’t spread it with a hot knife — whoops!) The album’s most quoted line comes from the first track, “Every Single Night”: “I just want to feel everything,” and with the different flavors in this, I think it works here, too.
Makes one loaf. Heavily adapted from Joy the Baker
For the dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour, separated
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons water, separated
2 large eggs, at room temperature
For the filling*:
1 cup finely chopped tart apples
6 ounces Camembert cheese
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
*This is the exact amount we used, but if I make it again I’ll use more apples (one large) and 8 ounces of cheese, maybe even some more chives
• In a small bowl, combine yeast with 3 tablespoons very warm water and a pinch of sugar. Let stand for at least 5 minutes.
• In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups of flour, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
• Whisk together the eggs and set aside.
• In a small pot, melt together the milk and butter until the butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and add 2-3 tablespoons of water. Let sit for a minute.
• Pour the milk mixture and yeast mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula. Add the eggs and continue to mix with the spatula until they’re incorporated.
• Add another 3/4 cup of flour and stir until it’s sticky and looks like dough.
• Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and place a clean dish towel on top. Let it sit in a warm place for about an hour, until it’s doubled in size.
• Meanwhile, make the filling. Slice the rind off the Camembert and melt in the microwave for about 20 seconds. Add the chopped apples and chives and mix.
• Grease and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and set aside.
• After the dough has risen, punch it down and knead about 2 tablespoons of flour into it. Cover the bowl with the dish towel and let sit for 5 minutes.
• Lightly flour a flat work surface (hello, silicone workmat!) and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough. It should be about 20 inches long and 12 inches wide, but you really don’t have to measure it. Carefully slice it horizontally into six strips. Spread the apple and cheese mixture evenly among them. Stack the strips on top of one another and then cut into six pieces again, more or less squares.
• Layer the piles of dough upright in the loaf pan, so you can see all the layers when you look at it from the top. Put the towel over the pan and let it rise in a warm place for half an hour.
• Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, with a rack on the middle shelf. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the top of the bread is a dark, golden brown. Take it out of the oven and let sit for about half an hour. Use a knife to loosen the bread, then flip it onto a board or plate. Then flip it back the other way so it’s right-side up again.
4 tablespoons butter, soft
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Mix all ingredients together. Add more horseradish or mustard to taste.