If you know me, then you know I love my kitchen gadgets. I’ll spend more time than I’m comfortable divulging on Williams Sonoma’s website browsing through things I know I don’t even need and will probably only use once or twice, still wishing I could just splurge and get all of it. And although there are kitchen gadgets that are unnecessary to everyday life, there are a few that I have that have become essential.
My bench scraper. My rolling pin. My vegetable peeler. My zester. All of my cookie stamps.
Where would I be without them? I don’t even want to know.
A kitchen gadget isn’t just a way to cut short on manual kitchen labor–depending on the object, it can have multiple uses that really help you step up your cooking/baking game in other ways. For example; quite a few of the cookie stamps I have were sold as gadgets for another purpose, like moon cake molds or pie crust and fondant stamps or even biscuit cutters. I just decided to try them out on cookie dough and the results turned out to be really successful.
I went through a phase where I was addicted to apples–I’d eat one or two a day. Problem was, I didn’t like eating it whole bite by bite until I got to the core. I prefer eating apples in pieces, so I invested in an apple slicer. The slicer basically separates the bulk of the apple from the core, and cuts the whole apple into wedges for you. It was such a worthwhile buy, not just for those days I ate apples, but also the times I’ve baked apple pies and cakes and needed to be able to cut a lot of them at one time into even pieces.
And as it turns out, apple slicers aren’t just for cutting apples.
One day I saw a picture in a magazine of an apple slicer pressed into a piece of dough and it blew my mind. Okay, maybe not blew my mind, but it certainly did intrigue me as it hadn’t ever occurred to me to do that. Ever since, then every time I used my apple slicer I thought about using it myself to shape bread. The next time I made bread I decided to give it a shot–what’s the worst that could happen? At the end of the day, it’s still going to be delicious bread.
I wanted the structure of the bread itself to be sturdy enough to stand up to shaping, so I went with one of the sturdiest kinds of breads there is: challah. I then divided it up into individual portions that I pressed into rolls with the apple slicer. The dough is flavored with sweet potato, honey and orange zest; it’s a good combination of sweet and savory. The flavor actually improves over the course of a few days. The overall shape of the rolls made by the apple slicer wasn’t perfect in uniformity; some of the rolls ‘bloomed’ with petals like flowers while baking, while others developed bubbles. I’m okay with that, as I think they still look pretty good. They certainly taste that way.
Sweet Potato Challah Buns
- 1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
- 1 whole egg plus 2 yolks
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Zest of 1 orange
- 4-6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- Egg wash (1 egg white plus 1 tablespoon water, beaten)
- Sesame seeds, for sprinkling
Special Equipment, optional: Apple slicer
In the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl), pour the water inside. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water, and sprinkle the sugar on top of the yeast. Allow to sit for 10 minutes until frothy and proofed.
Add the honey, melted butter, mashed sweet potatoes, eggs, salt, black pepper and zest. Use the paddle attachment (or a large wire whisk) to mix well.
Switch to the dough hook attachment and add 1 cup of flour at a time to the bowl. (Or you can use a wooden spoon). Knead it for 5-8 minutes in the bowl. You may not need to use it all, but the dough should be one homogenous mass that you can hold together, slightly smooth but it’s ok if it’s slightly sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. Flour your hands, then knead with your hands for about 5 more minutes, using a firm push-pull motion until it is elastic and not sticky, adding more flour if needed. Grease the bowl, then place the dough inside. Cover it with plastic wrap & a damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 1/2-2 hours. Punch it down, flip it over in the bowl, then recover it and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the dough from the bowl and let it come up to room temp. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Flour a clean work surface, then turn dough out onto it. Punch down to deflate air bubbles, then divide in half. Place one half back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap while you work with the other.
Divide the half piece of dough in half, then the half into fourths. Gently roll each fourth piece into a smooth ball of dough. Flour both the top of the ball & the blades of the apple slicer. Position the apple slicer over the ball and press down firmly, carefully removing from the bottom. Place the bun on the parchment paper. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap & damp kitchen towels and allow to proof until doubled in size 45-60 minutes. In the meantime, preheat oven to 350°F.
In a small bowl, beat together the egg white and water. Brush over the proofed buns and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes in the oven. (Bread inner temp should be 195-200°F).