When my godson Benjamin was younger (he’s ten now) there was nothing he liked better than spending time with the coolest godmother in the world – aka me. He once spent an entire month with me when he was four; his parents were travelling in Europe at the time. We used to have the most awesome time together; we’d play, we’d read, we’d watch movies; I’d hide his dinosaurs in the turtle-shaped sandpit and he’d pretend to go on digs. I’d even pack sandwiches for the ardent and adventurous paleontologist; I don’t think any of the adult ones ever got teddy-bear shaped sandwiches when they went on digs (or ever, possibly), but Ben did. We used to think the world of each other.
Often, we’d bake or cook. He loved nothing more than helping me in the kitchen; he was a good little helper, patient, interested, and chatty. I’d often tell Aro (his mum) to send him over whenever she wanted a little time to herself and he’d often visit.
Then he grew up.
I still thought the world of him, but Ben was suddenly too cool for me. I continued to ask him to visit me and I’d invite him to come and bake or to come over and try something new that I’d done. I’d even invite him over for gaming sessions (we are both ardent gamers); he was never mean about it, but he always had other things to do, other places to go to, other people to see.
I laughed and shrugged it off. I got it; he was older. Spending time with me was just too childish; besides, I was yet ANOTHER woman in his life. I mean, he is a pre-teen with four younger sisters. That’s a LOT of girls for one young boy to deal with. I told my friends rather mournfully that Ben was growing up, and then I let it be. I knew he’d come to visit me someday again; possibly fifteen or twenty years from now to introduce his fiancée to me, or perhaps in his teens if he ever needed his cool godmother to bail him out of something that his parents couldn’t know about. (I know; I’m sorry, Aro. It’s my duty!)
But as it turns out, I don’t need to wait that long. He called me today and asked if I wanted to ‘hang’. I nearly fell off my chair. I told him that I would be delighted to hang out with him, and he turned up today with his backpack and a rather fierce new cap and a watch that is bigger than my wrist. I’m also sad to report that he is now a little taller than I am (I stand 5’4″ in my bare feet).
We talked for a bit and then he offered to help me bake, if I wanted to; it was all, you know, up to me. He was cool; he’d do whatever. I grinned. I’d been wanting to try this recipe ever since my friend Melissa proudly posted a picture of it on Facebook; she’d generously linked me to the main recipe that had inspired her and I was anxious to give it a go. I suggested it to him, and he was happy to help. So, we hunkered down to it, and we made this.
It is the perfect marriage; imagine beautiful sweet apples, lovely spicy cinnamon, and a caramel sauce made with brown sugar and butter. Ben pronounced it ‘an apple pie that tastes of cinnamon toast’ and I completely agree with him. It’s everything good and warm and beautiful and fresh and it tastes like home should taste; it tastes like a perfect day. Ben told me he’d remember this bread forever, and that’s made my week; it’s made my month. I am so happy that he loves it as much as he does; memories of food made and shared really do make childhoods perfect. Some of my happiest memories from my own revolve around food.
So go ahead and do yourself a favour; make this. Make this and add one more happy memory to your memory bank – you deserve it.
Photographs: Awanthi Vardaraj
2 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus 1/4 cup, if needed)
1/4 cup sugar
2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large tart apple, peeled, cored, and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1) Combine warm water and yeast in a large bowl.
2) Heat the milk and butter together until the butter melts, but don’t let it get too hot. Add the vanilla.
3) Add the flour, sugar, and salt to the yeast and water mixture and combine gently. Add the eggs one at a time and then add the flour gradually. Mix together to form a soft dough.
4) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for three minutes. You may need to add the extra flour; if you do need to, add it one tablespoon at a time. I discovered that two extra tablespoons was all I needed. Go by feel; when it’s perfectly smooth and soft, you know it’s perfect. Work the gluten in the dough by kneading it.
5) Place the dough in a bowl and cover it with a damp cloth; set aside in a warm place to rise for 90 minutes.
6) Meanwhile, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together for the filling in a small bowl and set aside. Just before the dough is done rising, prepare your apples and melt the butter. Grease a standard 9×5 loaf pan.
7) Turn the risen dough out onto a floured surface and roll it into a rectangle; it should roughly be 12×24 inches. It will be a bit thin; this is how it’s supposed to be.
8) Brush the dough with melted butter and sprinkle it with the cinnamon and sugar mixture.
9) Using a pizza wheel, cut the dough into equal-sized, long strips. Sprinkle the first strip with 1/6th of the diced apples. Lay the next strip on top of the first strip. Sprinkle with apples and cover with another strip. Repeat until all the strips are stacked on top of each other.
10) Cut the stacked strips into 4-6 equal stacks of squares (about 4-5 inches in size). Stack the squares vertically into prepared loaf pan. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise for 30-45 minutes.
11) Preheat the oven to 180C. Bake the bread on the middle rack of the oven for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. If the bread gets too brown on top before it is done cooking in the centre, cover it loosely with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.
12) Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by adding the butter, brown sugar, and milk to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.
13) Turn the loaf out onto the rack and make sure that you have baking paper underneath it. Drizzle the loaf with the warm caramel glaze.