Once upon a time, in a kitchen far away, there lived a little baker. Day in and day out, the little baker would fire up the oven and punch out dough after dough, fearlessly conquering scores of wild yeasts within. All the villagers depended on the little baker to slay these fickle beasts, feeding the town and keeping it safe all in one deft thrust of the rolling pin. Years of practice rewarded the little baker with flawless, lofty loaves, perfectly soft and tender through every slice, until one fateful day when a stack of sad, half-eaten toast arrived at her doorstep along with a hastily scribbled note. Scrawled out in the uncertain, tilting print of a child, it read:
Go back to the old formula! We hate this new stuff. It tastes like wet cardboard and it’s so bad, even the jam slides right off in protest. Did you switch to GMO flour? Is it gluten-free? Whatever you’re doing differently, stop it!
The little baker was perplexed. The formula was the same as ever, simple but reliable, exactly as it had been when she first learned to tame the wild yeasts years ago. Perhaps it was the little baker that had changed. Growing weary after just the first few loaves, it became a struggle to keep the oven light on late into the night, as the wild yeasts grew restless and unruly. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, they were beating down the little baker’s spirit, draining her of all the magic it took to transform humble dough into delicious bread.
Crestfallen, the little baker mournfully shoveled the cold, abandoned toast into her mouth while whipping through every cabinet in the kitchen. Surely, there was a secret ingredient in here that could turn things around. The villagers all depended on her! Alas, nothing turned up; just the standard salt, sugar, and flour that had always been there remained in amply supply, and nothing more. The little baker retreated to her bed, falling heavily onto her pillow and immediately drifting into a strange dreamland…
Everywhere around the little baker, the air glittered with rainbow colors. What is this strange sorcery?, she wondered to no one in particular. It seemed to fill the entire room, invading her very pores, becoming a part of her. The little baker’s hands began to glow with a peculiar warmth, as though they were on fire.
The little baker woke with a start, panicked that morning had already broken and the daily bread still needed to be made. Had she gotten drunk on over-fermented yeast in that toast? No matter, there was a job to do, even if the magic was gone.
When the little baker stepped into the kitchen, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Sitting there on the counter, still slightly warm, was a golden brown loaf of bread. Surely, she would have remembered baking such a beautiful specimen, but the little baker was certain she went straight to sleep last night. It looked fairly humble, and yet there was definitely a different energy about it. The loaf hummed with potential.
Tentatively, the little baker wielded her sword-like bread knife and plunged it into the heart of this suspicious beast. As the first slice fell away, she gasped.
Swirled throughout the standard crumb, a rainbow of fairy dust had embedded itself into the loaf. Without missing a beat or stopping to lavish the bread with any sort of accouterments, the little baker hungrily devoured the first wedge in record time. Impossibly light yet satisfyingly chewy at the same time, it was a world apart from the sad, standard loaves she had churned out just the day prior. Sweet and slightly sticky in all the right ways, the fairy dust within didn’t taste of a rainbow, but it possessed an undeniably enchanting power, elevating the unremarkable baked good into something positively spellbinding. How it happened, where it came from- The little baker hadn’t the slightest clue, but it filled her with a new, indefatigable zest, impassioned once more to reproduce this miracle.
Even though the little baker never did discover the source of the fairy dust, nor create another loaf quite so otherworldly, her breads once more began to rise to the occasion; filled not with magic, but simply the little baker’s passion, the bread never tasted better.
Fairy Swirl Bread
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 – 3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Rainbow Sprinkles
In a small saucepan, combine the non-dairy milk and sugar over medium heat. Warm the mixture gently, bringing the temperature up no higher than 110 degrees; exceed that, and the poor yeast will all be killed instantly. Aim for around 100 degrees or just warm to the touch, turn off the heat, and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit and become bubbly; about 5 minutes.
Pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer with the dough hook installed, and introduce the oil and vanilla as well. Add in the wheat gluten, salt, and 3 cups of the flour. Start the mixer on low speed to combine, allowing a few minutes for the dough to begin coming together. If it seems excessively wet, go ahead and add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until it mostly pulls off the sides of the bowl and feels tacky but not sticky. Let the dough hook knead it for about 10 minutes before scraping it out, kneading it briefly by hand, and shaping it into a smooth, elastic ball. Drop the ball of dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for about two hours in a warm place.
The dough should more than double in volume, at which point you’re ready to punch it down and shape it. Lightly flour a clean surface and turn the dough out onto it. Either use your hands or a rolling pin to press it out into a rectangle. The most important dimension to keep in mind is the width, so that the final loaf fits comfortably inside the pan. Keep it around 8 – 8 1/2 inches on two sides, but roll it out as long and thin as possible. You may want to let the dough rest and relax periodically to stretch it even further. The longer you can make the dough, the more impressive the final swirl will be.
Scatter the sprinkles evenly over the entire surface of the dough except for an inch of one of the shorter sides. Starting at the fully sprinkled end, roll it up as if you were making cinnamon buns and pinch the finishing edge closed. Lightly grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan, and drop the rolled dough into it, seam side down. Cover and let rise again, for about an hour, or until the loaf is almost peeking out above the rim of the pan.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Once the loaf is risen and ready, tent very loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil at this point, drop the temperature down to 350 degrees, and bake for a final 5 – 10 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let it rest in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack. Cool completely before you even think about slicing it, no matter how incredible it smells. Trust me, your slices will be much more fluffy (and less smeared with molten sprinkle filling) with just a little bit of patience!
Makes 1 Loaf