Harvest Grape Bread

2.5 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 package instant dry yeast, like Rapid Rise (2-1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon group nutmeg
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons orange liqueur or orange juice (I used Cointreau)
2 egg whites, separated
Poppy seeds (optional)

Combine 1-1/4 cups of the flour, the yeast, cardamom and nutmeg in a bowl.  If you have a stand mixer, like a KitchenAid, put the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer.  It's much easier to make the bread in a stand mixer.

Heat together gently the milk, sugar, butter and salt until just warm and the butter is melted.  Be careful not to make the mixture too hot or it will kill the yeast when you add it to the dry ingredients.

Add the warm liquid, liqueur or orange juice, and one egg white to the dry ingredients.  If using a stand mixer, attach your dough hook and mix ingredients until blended.  Otherwise, use a hand electric mixer and beat on low for just a minute, scraping sides of bowl.  Beat 3 minutes at high speed.  By hand, stir in as much of the remaining flour as possible.  If using a stand mixer, add enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that does not stick to the bowl.  Mix, using dough hook, until smooth.  If making this by hand, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead in enough remaining flour until dough is not sticky any more and knead until smooth, about 5-8 minutes.

Place dough in a greased bowl; turn once to grease surface, clover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, one to two hours. 

Punch dough down; let dough rest 10 minutes.  Remove one fourth of the dough (or a little less), cover and set aside.  Using remaining dough, shape it into about 30 inch balls, about the size of a walnut. 

Arrange balls on a greased baking sheet (I used baking parchment) in the shape of a bunch of grapes.  Brush with mixture of remaining egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon of water; sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired. On lightly floured surface, roll the reserved dough to a rectangle and cut triangular shapes for leaves.  Position shaped leaves atop the widest end of the bunch of "grapes". Brush the leaves with the egg white mixture and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.  Let rise in a warm place till nearly doubled (about 40 minutes). With a very sharp knife, slash ribs in the leaves.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until bread is just golden.  Remove to wooden board or serving platter.  Serve warm and let your guests serve themselves by pulling off pieces of bread.

The Italian Dish               --               theitaliandishblog.com