Two years ago, after watching the Kavanaugh hearings, Katherine Alford chose one of the first recipes she would contribute to the Rage Baking collective: Maple Walnut Pull-apart Bread. Like other women her culinary career had connected her to, she had found herself taking her anger to the kitchen. There, baking, especially, provided proof that positive transformation is possible. Not that she retreated there daintily. Her recipe became a meditation on “pulling apart the patriarchy in power,” she says.
The cookbook, co-authored with food journalist Kathy Gunst, includes recipes like “Not taking any more ‘sheet’ cake” and “(Don’t call me) honey cakes,” and a whole chapter called “No more humble pie.” Ideas, essays, and recipes came in from over 40 women — chefs, writers, and artists — who saw the project as a way to come together. And not just as cooks but as activists. The book, published this year by Tiller Press, benefits EMILY’s List, which works to get progressive women elected.
This particular recipe’s history includes Alford’s annual pilgrimage to Wellfleet. The Cape is where her husband, photographer Robert S. Johnson, indulges his obsession for maple walnut ice cream.
“It’s a flavor he can’t find in New York,” where they spend at least half the year, she says. “There, you find yourself eating wasabi ice cream, and not really wanting to.”
The two met in California, but each had long connections to Cape Cod. For generations, Alford’s family spent summers in Chatham. But when Alford was young, her mother took her on day trips to the dunes of Wellfleet. “This how the Cape is supposed to be,” her mother told her. Meanwhile, “Robert’s parents were shrinks in Boston,” she says. “So, they had to have place in Wellfleet.”
Here, their house is the one that belonged to Johnson’s parents, a “cupola” house built in 1910. The kitchen has been updated, which is a good thing for someone who has spent the last 20 years developing recipes for the Food Network. She owns more than one Bundt pan and “a gazillion other odd supplies.” Alford did a lot of the testing for the book at a big table with a peaceful view of Blackfish Creek.
Given that, is she still mad?
“Hell, yes!” says Alford. “The book came together during the Kavanaugh moment. But there’s more. George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and so many others.” She pauses. “Our son is transgender, and the vulnerability of this community’s basic humanity and rights is always on the line.”
Maple Walnut Pull-apart Bread From Katherine Alford
Makes 1 loaf: serves 6 to 8
For the dough
3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. water
1 (¼-oz.) packet rapid-rise yeast (2¼ tsp.)
¾ stick (6 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for buttering
⅓ cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten
1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ tsp. fine salt
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for buttering
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
About 1⅓ cups walnuts, finely chopped
For the glaze
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
¼ tsp. pure maple extract or substitute vanilla extract
About 2 tsp. whole milk
Make the dough: In a saucepan, whisk together ¼ cup (30 grams) of the flour, ¼ cup of the milk, and ¼ cup of the water until smooth. Heat over medium heat, whisking continuously, until thick and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and, by hand, whisk in the remaining ½ cup milk, remaining 2 Tbsp. water, the yeast, melted butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Attach the dough hook, add the remaining 2¾ cups (330 grams) flour and the salt and knead on medium-low speed until smooth, about 10 minutes. (It can take a couple of minutes for all the flour to become drawn into the dough — it’s okay to turn off the machine and scoot the flour in toward the dough hook.) Don’t be concerned if the dough looks slightly wet.
Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface, lightly dust with flour, and form into a ball. Lightly butter a medium bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic or reusable wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, light, and puffy, about 1 hour, depending on how warm the room is.
Assemble the bread: Brush an 8- or 9½-inch Bundt pan with room-temperature butter.
Turn the dough out onto your work surface and lightly stretch it into an 18-by-4-inch rectangle. (Take care not to overwork the dough, or the bread may be tough.) Divide the rectangle in half lengthwise and then cut both halves into 1½- to 2-inch pieces; you should have 18 to 20 pieces. (A pizza wheel makes quick work of this.) Tuck the edges of each piece under and gently roll into a ball, placing them on a sheet of parchment paper on your work surface as you go. Brush them evenly with the melted butter, then brush with the maple syrup. Put the walnuts on a plate and roll each ball in the nuts to coat. Arrange the balls in the prepared pan in two layers. (At this point, if you’d like to serve the bread for breakfast or brunch, you can cover the pan and refrigerate the dough overnight. Bring it to room temperature and let rise in a warm place until the dough is puffy and fills the pan, about 1 hour, then bake as instructed.)
Cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the dough is puffy and fills the pan, 1 to 1½ hours, depending on how warm the room is.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
Cover the Bundt pan loosely with a piece of aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until golden brown or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the bread registers 190° to 200°F, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the bread out onto a wire rack set over a piece of parchment paper to cool.
Meanwhile, make the glaze: In a small bowl, mix together all the glaze ingredients to make a thick but pourable glaze.
When cool, drizzle the glaze over the bread. Let the glaze set, about 10 minutes, then serve.
The event: Katherine Alford and Kathy Gunst talk about Rage Baking and demonstrate recipes for summer galettes via Zoom, hosted by Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill.
The time: Thursday, Aug. 27, 6 to 7 p.m.
The cost: Registration is $10 at castlehill.org