One of the things I experienced for the first time in my life when I moved to the U.S. in 1990 was the mall. Growing up, we had heard of malls and seen them in movies, but we never had one where I lived. So there I was in Philadelphia, with just a suitcase and in need of bedding and other basics for my new college dorm room. I was quickly given directions to the Gallery, Philly’s largest mall. I took the subway (another first) and landed at the glass and steel entrance. I pushed through the revolving doors and I was instantly in love.
It’s funny how all the things that over the years I’ve come to hate about malls are the exact ones that made me love them when I first experienced them. There was the clean, almost antiseptic smell, a mix of marble, perfume, and ozone, that made me think clean! and safe! I loved the constant muzak, so calm and innocent, sort of like a glistening snake smoothly gliding towards you in the sunlight. I thought that having all those stores in one place was such a great convenience (no need to walk out in the streets!) and I loved the little stands that dotted the middle of the mall, mimicking actual street stalls. Never mind that what they sold was nothing but gimmicks and AS SEEN ON TV! products.
But my absolute favorite was the food court. Cheap and barely edible Chinese food? Bring it on. Cheesesteaks with four tiny slices of steak under a mountain of processed cheese? I was all in. Pizza with greying ham and canned pineapple? Heaven.
My tastes have obviously changed over the years and I look back at all that food I ate in abject horror. But there’s one thing I can’t help but remember fondly: Cinnabons. You could smell the sugar, cinnamon, and butter about five minutes before you hit the food court. Each bun was the size of a small baby’s head. I would start from the outside layers, like peeling an onion, and work my way to the insanely rich middle. I would devour the whole thing in minutes, making sure to get all the cream cheese frosting that got stuck on the cardboard box. I was still a teenager and eating a whole Cinnabon after two huge slices of “Hawaiian” pizza was not a problem.
This week’s recipe isn’t for a Cinnabon but it’s for its distant cousin, a healthier and more seasonal version. It will fill your kitchen with the aroma of buttery cinnamon sugar but also with the smell of baked peaches. It’s best eaten warm, with your hands, and with no regrets.Peach Pie Braided Bread – Slightly adapted from Joy the Baker
For the Dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3/4 cup whole milk, warmed to a warm lukewarm
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
a bit of oil for greasing the bowl
For the Filling:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 large egg, beaten for egg wash
In a medium bowl stir yeast with sugar. Stir in the lukewarm milk and then add the egg yolk and melted butter. Whisk together until thoroughly combined. Allow mixture to rest for 5 minutes. It should foam and froth.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour and salt.
Make the dough by hand: Pour the milk mixture over the dry ingredients and start kneading it until it pulls away from the edges of the bowl. Place dough on a lightly floured counter and knead by hand for about 10 minutes more. Dough ball should be smooth and damp, without being too sticky. Shape dough into a ball.
Make the dough in a mixer: In a mixer with the dough hook attachment, add the dry ingredients and the milk mixture. Mix at medium speed for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and not too sticky. Shape dough into a ball.
Grease a large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and cover. Allow to rest at warm room temperature for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
While the dough rises, whisk together the butter with sugar and cinnamon for the filling. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375º F. Grease a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Set aside.
After the dough has doubled in size, place it on a lightly floured counter and knead twice. Using a rolling pin to roll the dough to a rectangle of about 18×12 inches.
Spoon the cinnamon filling over top, spreading evenly, leaving a clean 1-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle the peach pieces over the cinnamon filling. Start by rolling the longest side of the dough. The roll will be a bit lumpy because of all the fruit. Using a sharp knife, cut the log in half length-wise leaving 1-inch of the edge uncut.
Start braiding the two pieces, by carefully lifting the left strand over the right strand. Repeat this motion until you reach the bottom of the dough. Press together to seal. Join the two ends, creating a circle with the dough and press together.
Using both hands, transfer the dough ring to the prepared cast iron skillet. Brush the bread with the beaten egg.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving.