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Chocolate Orange Pull-Apart Bread

One of my favorite types of bread is rye-pumpernickel swirl.  My husband, on the other hand, could do without it.  I think his major beef with it is that it looks like chocolate...yet it isn't chocolate.  Perhaps if he didn't grab a loaf from the shelf expecting it to be suitable for satisfying a sweet tooth he'd think differently.  Oh well.  I'm happy to be the sole being in the house who likes it.  But in an attempt to make him smile, I decided to make a loaf of bread that not only looks like it would be chocolate...but actually tastes like chocolate, too.  And I took it even further into the spirit of the season by adding some orange to the mix.  Am I the only one who only eats chocolate oranges this time of year?  I don't know, I just associate them with cold weather.  Probably because growing up, I always (and only) got them in my stocking on Christmas morning.  So really, I don't even think of them until I can see my breath outside.  But, I digress.  

This loaf is deeply rich and chocolaty and permeated by the scent of oranges.  A little goes a long way.  Pull off a slice or two to satisfy that craving for dessert after a meal and wash it down with a cold glass of milk.  Or maybe rev up your morning with a fantastic dose of caffeine and chocolate.  Either way, this loaf seems festive to me; a reminder of the season.
Chocolate Orange Pull-Apart Bread
adapted from Chocolate Loaf in Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
yield: 1 loaf 

1 (½ oz.) cake fresh yeast
2 Tbs. superfine sugar
1¼ c. milk
3⅓ c. bread flour
⅓ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbs. (1½ oz.) butter, melted
pinch of salt

2 oz. butter, melted
1 c. vanilla sugar
finely grated zest of 2 oranges
Crumble the yeast into a large bowl and add the sugar.  Gently heat the milk on the stove top or in the microwave until lukewarm (~110° F).  Add to the yeast.  Stir through and leave for 10 minutes or so, until the surface starts to turn spongy.  Add the flour, cocoa powder, butter and salt; mix well.  Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for ~6 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic with no lumps.   Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap.  Set in a warm place and let rise until about doubled in size and puffy, ~1½-2 hours.

Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  *Roll out into a rectangle, ~12" x 18".  Brush with melted butter.  Combine vanilla sugar and orange zest, then sprinkle evenly over the buttered surface.  Cut into six by six sections.  Stack each row of cut dough and then layer into a  loaf pan that has been greased.  Cover with a clean towel or plastic and set aside to let rise in a warm place until it puffs and rises above the top of the pan, ~30-60 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350° F during last 15 minutes of rise time.  Remove plastic/towel and slide into oven.  Bake for ~25-35 minutes, or until done.  Let cool for a few minutes on a wire rack, them carefully turn out onto a plate/board, immediately flipping back over onto a serving plate.  Tastes best warm or at room temperature.
*At this point, you could make a regular chocolate loaf by punching down and forming the bread to fit into a loaf pan.  Butter and flour a loaf pan and drop in the dough.  Cover and let rise until it puffs over the edge, ~30-60 minutes.  Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for ~25-30 minutes, or until top is firm and bread sounds hollow when tapped on bottom.  Tip out onto a rack to cool.
Many people will ask if this can sit in the fridge overnight and be baked the next day.  To that I'm going to recommend refrigerating before adding the filling, stacking, and putting in the pan.  In other words, if you want to refrigerate it, do so immediately after punching down the first rise.  Let it come back to room temperature and them continue on with the rolling, filling, stacking, etc.  Since a lot of people asked me that after I made the Cinnamon-Sugar Pull-Apart Ricotta Bread, I thought I'd try it this time.  A problem arises if you refrigerate it after brushing on the butter and adding the sugar.  When you pull it out of the fridge in the morning, it is sitting in a pool of syrup.  I tried transferring the dough to a different pan, but by the time it was brought back up to room temperature and risen, it was sitting in another pool of syrup.  I went ahead and baked it this way, but you'll notice in the pictures that all of the "good goo" is at the bottom half of the loaf, leaving the top a bit dry.  If  you bake the loaf without refrigerating (again, that's what I recommend), that wonderful filling will stay evenly distributed.
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