Thursday, March 20, 2014

christmas (or anytime) wreath

After ogling blog post after blog post of twisted wreath breads for what felt like ages, I finally baked this Christmas Wreath. I was so excited to try it! We were headed to a potluck brunch at a friend's house, and it felt like the perfect hostess gift - something they could easily put out on the table or save to eat later (though selfishly, I hoped they'd share it so I could taste it!). Sara Kate Gillingham has written reverently about her family's Christmas morning tradition that involves this bread, but for me, the clincher was when my old friend from Bologna, who now teaches cooking classes in England, shared a recipe using nearly the identical shape and technique!

First, look how pretty it is!

Now let's talk about the taste. It is a just-barely-sweet bread, and it is actually much breadier, perhaps drier, than I had imagined. I expected the consistency of a coffee cake, like a king cake, but it's pretty true to its yeast dough origins and not as soft as a brioche. Both my friend's recipe and Sara Kate's are for a slightly more sophisticated palate, and I simplified the filling and just used dried cranberries plumped in a little hot water. Ottavia's is filled with raisins and chopped, candied orange peel; Sara Kate's with a mixture of dried cranberries, almonds, and lemon zest that also sounds delicious.

What appealed to me most was the way you achieve the shape. After mixing the dough and letting it proof, you roll it out into a large rectangle, brush it with melted butter, and sprinkle on the filling of choice. Next, you roll up the dough tightly. Here's where it gets interesting: using a thin, sharp knife, you cut the snake in half lengthwise. Keeping the cut edges up, you twist them together, then bring the ends together, leaving a hole in the center, to form a wreath. My only quibble with the way it turned out is that I thought the layers would look more distinct. Next time perhaps I can roll it more tightly so there are more internal layers; then, when I dissect it, it will have more striations.

It's really a lovely bread, and I can see how both the orange peel or the cranberries make it a perfect winter treat; they are such cold weather flavors! I'm sure you could fill it with any flavor combo you like (I actually think almond paste and cranberries would be even nicer!), so perhaps I will try that next time. This definitely deserves a "next time!"

Holiday Breakfast Wreath with Cranberry-Almond Filling or Raisin/Candied Orange Peel Filling
Makes about 12 servings

1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (about 110F)
1/2 cup warm milk (about 110 F)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cardamom powder (I omitted this)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
3 1/2 cups (14 7/8 ounces) flour

Cranberry-Almond Filling
3/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries, soaked in 1/2 cup brandy, other liqueur, or hot water
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup (1 3/8 ounces) flour
3/4 cup finely chopped blanched almonds
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon peel
1 teaspoon almond extract


Raisin-Candied Orange Peel Filling
3 ounces raisins
3 ounces candied orange peel, chopped
2 ounces butter, melted

Sugar Glaze
1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoons cardamom powder (I omitted this)

First, make the dough. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let it foam up for a minute or two. Blend in the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom (if using), eggs, and lemon peel. Stir in two cups of the flour, a cup at a time. Beat for two minutes. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a soft, workable dough. You may not use all the flour.

On a lightly floured board, knead the dough until smooth, about 5-10 minutes, adding flour if needed to prevent sticking. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the cranberry-almond filling if using. Drain the dried fruit of its liqueur and reserve the liqueur for another use (or have a swig). In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and knead it just to release any air bubbles. Roll it into a 9x30" rectangle. If you are using cranberry-almond filling, crumble the filling over the dough to within 1" of the edges. If you are using raisin-orange peel, brush the dough rectangle with the melted butter, then sprinkle with raisins and orange peel to within 1" of the edges. Starting on a long side, tightly roll up the dough, pinching the edge against the loaf to seal it. With a thin, sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise. Carefully turn the halves cut side up. Loosely twist the ropes around each other, keeping the cut sides up.

Transfer the twist to a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat and shape it into a wreath. Pinch the ends together to seal. Let it rise a second time, uncovered, in a warm place, for about 45 minutes or until puffy.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. While the wreath is baking stir together the ingredients for the sugar glaze.

When the wreath is finished baking, transfer it to a cooing rack. Cool for a few minutes, and then drizzle the glaze over the warm wreath.

The wreath can be eaten immediately, or it can be prepared up to two days in advance, cooled completely, and wrapped tightly in foil. Store at room temperature, and then reheat at 350 for 10-15 minutes, drizzling the glaze just before serving.


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