Well, first of all, Happy Tu be'shvat, or Jewish Arbor Day! Mendy sent me a list of Jewish holidays (thanks, Mendy!), and I was having a hard time finding an appropriate recipe. It seemed like it should be a middle-Eastern fruit that grows on trees, and I thought apricots met those requirements. (Don't even tell me if apricots don't really grow on trees). Wheat is also celebrated on Tu be'shvat, so a bread also seemed appropriate. Tu be'shvat is spelled in multiple different ways in English, but if you have a complaint about the way I spelled it, take it up with Mendy.
This bread has quite a lot going for it. It's pretty easy (you have to make a biga ahead of time, but that only takes a few minutes, and then you can ignore it for hours); it's perfect on a cheese board and so much more homey than crackers; it makes fabulous toast after its first outing; and I got to make it with my adorable grandson.
I had a terrible shock when I opened the bag of apricots. They were black! At first, I thought I'd bought prunes by mistake, but, no, they were definitely supposed to be apricots. Paul Newman apricots. Poor man. If only he knew how quality control at his little factory had deteriorated after his death. I was not going to put disease-ridden apricots in my bread, so I opened the tin of mixed fruits and nuts I keep on hand for snacking and managed to pull out enough apricot-colored apricots for the bread. I plumped them in a little water, and they looked a-ok. I would have plumped them in apricot brandy, but JJ's mother would not have been amused.
By the bye, I googled "black apricots" and discovered that they probably weren't disease-ridden, but were just unsulphured. I suppose one could make a case that unsulphured apricots are healthier, but I don't think you'll find any colored pictures of black apricots gracing the bags in the dried fruits section of your supermarket. Frankly, their color is not a selling point. From now on, I'll buy apricots in bulk so I can see what I'm getting.
I told JJ that there was something amazing about this bread. "What is amazing, Lulu?" he said. "Just wait until I do the walnuts,." I said. I thought he'd think it was great that I could rub off most of the skins from the walnuts, so I roasted them, and rubbed them in a dish towel, and, with great fanfare, showed him the result. "This is not amazing to me, Lulu," he said. Also, he looked at me like I was a little wacky, but I blame the iPad, which does so many truly amazing things that walnut skins left on a dish towel don't have a chance in the competition.
After the nuts are skinned and cooled, you simply mix the dough.
After my false advertising with the amazing walnuts, JJ kind of lost interest in the project, especially when I offered him a piece of walnut and my daughter yelled, "Choking hazard!" Poor JJ may have been suffering an extreme loss of faith in his Lulu, who first came up with black apricots, then completely failed to deliver on the amazingness claim, and then apparently tried to choke him. The kitchen got quieter.
Rising (twice) into a fruity, puffy dough.
I guess I never got a picture of how you "set the apricots in a staggered row lengthwise across the dough, under the triangle." In fact, I didn't get a picture of the triangle, but the directions were easy to follow.
This loaf is by no means perfectly shaped. There are occasional nodules and the odd burnt raisin. But that just makes it look homemade (by a not very exacting baker). And it looks just fine sliced.
And wouldn't that have looked ugly with black apricots? I'm so glad I didn't let myself be talked into using them by one of the web sites touting their health benefits: "organically grown, "NO preservatives or pesticides," "deep, dark, complex." Maybe.
The final test of this bread (of any bread, in my book) is what kind of toast it makes. This bread makes excellent toast--crusty and nutty, with some sweetness, but not as sweet as a muffin or breakfast cake. I was sad when I took the last two slices out of the freezer (well, they're small, so you have to have two, right?)
Another thing you can do to mark Tu be'shvat is to plant a tree. This is clearly not a celebration arising from the North American frigid northland. But celebrating it with this bread is not only possible, it's delicious. Hope you enjoy it, Mendy--and everyone else!