Propelled out of bed by the light of a new day, it’s the sunshine that pushes me to my feet and sends them racing down the stairs, seemingly of their own power. No matter how little sleep occurred that previous night, hardly a minute past sunrise will elapse before I bolt awake, feeling the intense urge to start whittling down my lengthy to-do list. Morning without sunshine are like rhubarb without sugar; bitter and disappointing.
It’s not unheard of for me to sleep right up until noon if the sun fails to show, as if I forgot to set my internal alarm clock. Cloudiness goes hand in hand with mental fogginess, so it’s always safest to avoid heavy intellectual lifting on such occasions. However, there is one reason why I still have a soft spot for the otherwise unlovable rainy days of summer- That warm, humid air that is otherwise my eternal foe (at least as far as keeping anything less than a frizzy afro goes) creates the perfect environment for raising yeast. Thus, rainy days have become synonymous with yeast bread for me.
With a rainy stretch predicted recently, there seemed like no better time than to pour through my files of bread ideas and pick out something new. Feeling a little bit short on desserts lately, I leaned towards the sweeter side of the kitchen, and turned a classic spring cake into a sturdy but tender yeasted loaf. Speckled with walnuts, raisins, and of course orange flecks of carrot, this new take on carrot cake is certainly a mouthful, but it’s not at all hard to swallow. One might even feel slightly virtuous selecting a slice or two for breakfast, since you’re getting a nice serving of carrot, right?
Since no good carrot cake is ever plated without that signature cream cheese frosting, I could hardly leave my bread without the same. Instead of smearing it on the outside, however, a lightly sweetened “cream cheese” swirl spirals around the center, making for a more portable, clean-cut version of the original as well.
Toasted lightly to crisp up the edges and make the swirl slightly gooey, it may just provide sunshine enough to get me out of bed early on the next rainy set of days.
Yeasted Carrot Cake Bread
Carrot Cake Dough:
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 1/4 Teaspoons (1/4-Ounce Package) Active Dry Yeast
4 – 6 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
2 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
3 Cups Shredded Carrot
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1/2 Cup Raisins
1 Tablespoon Flax Seeds, Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/3 Cup Canola Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
“Cream Cheese” Filling:
1 8-Ounce Package Vegan “Cream Cheese”
1/3 Cup Cornstarch
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Starting with the dough, begin by warming your “milk” of choices for just a minute or two in the microwave, until it reaches between 105 – 115°F. No more, or else you’ll kill the yeast. Stir in the brown sugar, and sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for about 5 minutes, until it becomes bubbly and alive.
Meanwhile, combine the first 4 cups of flour, spices, raisins, walnuts, carrots, ground flax, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix lightly just to distribute all of the ingredients evenly and coat the carrot shreds with flour. Pour in the proofed yeast mixture, along with the oil and vanilla, and start mixing on a low speed, so as not to kick any flour out of the bowl. Once incorporated, switch over to the dough hook, add in 1 more cup of flour, and allow the mixer to begin kneading the dough.
After about 5 minutes of mixing, assess the texture; You’re looking for it to be tacky and elastic, not wet or sticky. You may need to add up to another cup of flour, depending on the consistency. Continue working the dough with the dough hook for 5 – 10 more minutes. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and kneed by hand briefly, for just 5 minutes or so, before placing it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover loosely with a cloth or piece of plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in volume.
Once risen, lightly grease two 8 x 4-inch loaf pans, and set aside.
Gently punch down the dough with your knuckles, cut it into two pieces, and on a well-floured surface, take one piece and roll it out into a rectangle. Be sure to keep the two short sides no longer than 8 inches so that it will fit in the pan, but roll it out lengthwise as far as possible- The longer the dough, the more impressive your spiral will be in the finished loaf.
To make the “cream cheese” swirl, simply beat together the “cream cheese,” cornstarch, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Take half of the mixture and smear it evenly over your rolled out dough, leaving about an inch of one short end clear. You may want to spread a slightly thinner layer near the other edges, to prevent it from dripping out when you move the dough. Starting with the short end that’s fully covered, roll the dough up as tightly as possible without squeezing out the filling. Pinch the end to the main body of the loaf to seal, and quickly but carefully transfer the whole thing to one of your waiting loaf pans, ends slightly folded under and seam-side down. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
Let the breads rise for another hour or so, until about doubled or just peeking out above the edge of the pans, and then pop it them a 375 degree preheated oven, for about 26 – 36 minutes. It should be golden brown on top, and when removed from the pan, it will sound hollow when tapped. (Yes, you can cool it, tap it, and then toss it back in the oven if it doesn’t sound right.)
Let cool completely before slicing.
Makes 2 Loaves