I love a good weekend baking project, and the accomplishment of this bread is one of my proudest moments. Though it looks complicated and intimidating, it is really quite easy. Just give yourself enough time (this is a two day project), space to work, and then relax, and bask in the glory once you remove it from the oven. The sweet potatoes make for an insanely light and flaky bread, and the date filling adds just the right amount of sweet and spice. This recipe was inspired by Chef Mary Dixon's skillet bread, Zingerman's raisin babka, and my grandmother's sweet potato biscuits. It is great on its own, but I like to serve it with honey butter on the side. This beautiful bread will keep for a 4 days and is tasty at room temperature but best warm.
For the bread:
4 1/2 c. bread flour
1/2 c. warm whole milk
2 tbsp. dry active yeast
1 large sweet potato
1/4 c. honey or maple syrup
1/4 c. sugar
Zest of 2 oranges (about 2 tbsp.)
1 tbsp. grated ginger root
1 tsp. fine sea salt
For the filling:
1 c. dates, pitted and chopped very fine
3/4 cup unsalted butter, very soft
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground ginger
1. Prepare your sweet potato first. Wash the unpeeled sweet potatoes and scrape well. Dry, then prick all over with a fork and place on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on high for 8 minutes until soft. Remove from the microwave and let cool until you can handle comfortably. Split the potatoes and scrape the flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Puree by pulsing until smooth. Measure out 3/4 cups of puree and set aside. (Use any left over puree for biscuits or beignets!)
2. Next, prepare the bread. In a large bowl using a study wooden spoon, or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, add 3/4 c. of the flour, the warm milk, and the yeast. Stir together and let sit for 5 minutes.
3. Add the sweet potato puree, butter, eggs, honey, sugar, salt, orange zest, and ginger and stir to combine. Then stir in the remaining flour and stir in until completely combined.
4. Flour your work surface and dump the bread out onto it. Knead the bread until is is smooth and stretchy like silly putty (this is a great stress reliever!), then gather it into a ball. Coat a large bowl with a neutral oil (like canola) and put the bread in. Turn the dough so that it is covered with oil on all sides, then cover with a clean dish towel and place in a warm spot to rise for an hour. Butter the heck out of a 10-inch cast iron skillet and set aside.
5. Dump the bread back out onto your well floured work surface. Roll out until is is a long rectangle (about 18x10 inches). Spread the date filling across the entire surface of the dough, leaving about a 1" border of plain dough. (You can add chopped nuts to the filling if you like!) Roll the dough lengthwise as tightly as possible but without smushing the filling (like cinnamon rolls) until you have a long roll of dough. Pinch along the seam to seal and place seam side down on your work surface.
6. Now, take a sharp knife (serrated works best) and cut the dough lengthwise down the middle until you have two long pieces of dough. Place them side-by-side then twist them around each other. Form into circle and tuck into the prepared cast iron skillet. Cover the bread tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. You will be amazed by how much it rises!
7. Now, remove from the fridge and remove the plastic wrap. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise for another 30 minutes.
8. Preheat oven to 350F. Bake bread, uncovered, for 25 minutes, then cover lightly with foil and lower the oven temperature to 325F. Bake for another 15 minutes, being careful not to let it burn!
9. Remove from the oven and glaze while hot.
For the glaze:
1 c. confectioners sugar
1 tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. dark rum
Whisk all ingredients together and drizzle over hot or warm bread.