Is it just me or does my title sound just a tad morbid?
Anyways, since we were on the subject of yeast breads coming from my previous post, I was contemplating on doing some sort of Christmas yeast bread that is not a panettone. It wasn’t until I caught this very interesting-looking wreath bread on the cover of a local food magazine that I decided I would.
It’s a little bit like a panettone in that it makes use of dried fruits, some of which inevitably end up within the bread. However half of the dried fruits do end up speckled all over the top as in bright red decorations, which gives this wreath bread a definitely more festive appearance compared to a panettone. Even my very traditional grandmother who doesn’t like anything that is not Chinese commented on how festive this bread looks in between bites. So I suppose I could declare this a success!
I was more excited about the making of this wreath-bread more than anything, but I have to admit, I was having just a bit of second thoughts, because I have tried several recipes from this magazine and almost all of them have been less than stellar in results. However, I wanted to give it another chance, plus my curiosity and excitement got the better of me. It’s not even a difficult recipe to make. The most difficult part was forming the perfect wreath shape, which admittedly might take some practice.
In case you’re curious, here is a side by side comparison of my wreath bread and the photograph in the magazine:
I find it a bit odd how thin the bread is in the magazine when my bread puffed up and spread in the oven. This is usually the case with the yeast bread recipes I attempt from this magazine, spreading instead of rising. Maybe I should have let it proof a little longer?
Nonetheless, I thought it was rather cute; I had fun making it and took loads of pictures; but it tasted okay. I thought the bread could definitely use a little more flavour other than the mild sweetness given by the dried fruits and the sugar glaze.
This bread is supposed to have an almond paste filling, but it was nearly non-existent for most of the bread, maybe because it got spread too thin. The recipe calls for rolling the dough into a huge rectangle, but the amount of almond paste was just too little. I would consider doubling, or maybe even tripling, that filling recipe next time, and I’m sure that would solve the problem. However the texture of the bread was very good, which is an improvement from all the other failed yeast bread recipes I tried from this magazine.
I finally used the dried cranberries from my Aunt, too. I love her cranberries. I mean just look at this photo and you’ll see why:
Looking at the first photo, the dried cranberries on the left are from one of those Supermarket brands in giant resealable bags. They really got the life sucked out of them! On the other hand, the cranberries on the right from my Aunt are plump and juicy. It’s practically double the size of the other one, and almost as big as my candied cherries, as you can see on the second photograph. We usually use the big cranberries for homemade trail mixes because they are just begging to be popped into your mouth, but I decided to use them for baking this time around given that the dried fruits on top of the bread are basically the only colourful decoration it has. I couldn’t use ugly shrivelled dried fruits now, could I?
Just so you know:
- When is the best time to make this recipe? This recipe was actually quite fun, especially the part where you twirl the dough together, however it’s best to make this if there are other people in the house with you just in case you need help to carry it into a baking sheet or something.
- Anything special we should know about before attempting this recipe? Because the dough for this bread is rather soft, it’s a bit difficult to carry and hold for fear that it would tear apart. Don’t make this in a rectangular baking pan with sides because it might inhibit the second rising of the wreath bread into a perfect round shape. Instead, set parchment paper on a flat baking sheet and do all the twirling and shaping directly on top so you wouldn’t need to carry the fragile dough into your baking vessel. Trust me.
- Would I change anything from this recipe? Doubling or perhaps even tripling the almond paste filling would be an advisable change. I kept looking for the almond flavour in bread because I love pastries with almond extract in them, but I just couldn’t find it here. A better filling-to-bread ratio should do the trick. The amount of dried fruit was enough for me though.
Holiday Wreath Bread
Makes one large wreath, or about 15-20 servings
For the bread
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast, I used 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 cup milk, warmed
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups bread flour
For the filling
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup almond meal
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/4 teaspoon orange extract
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries, sliced if large
- 1/4 cup glazed cherries, sliced
For the glaze
- 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1 to 2 tablespoons milk, depending on how thick you want the glaze
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- If using active dry yeast: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, dissolve yeast in warm milk. Leave for 5 minutes until foamy. (Skip this step if using instant yeast.)
Make the dough
- 1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, place sugar, butter and eggs and combine on low speed.
- 2. Switch to the dough hook. Add in the flour and instant yeast, kneading until the mixture forms a smooth elastic dough. Adjust the flour according to how the dough feels. It should be tacky but not so sticky that it will adhere to your fingers when you touch it.
- 3. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with a damp towel (I used plastic wrap) and leave in a warm place. Allow dough to rise until double in bulk, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling
- 4. Combine the butter, almond meal, and sugar in a bowl; mix well. Add almond and orange extracts; mix well. Set aside.
- 5. Once risen, punch down the dough and transfer to a floured parchment paper, flouring the surface on the side of the parchment paper as well. Roll dough until 25 inches long, 9 inches wide, and about 1/4 inch thick.
- 6. Using a spatula, spread the almond-butter mixture evenly over the dough. Sprinkle surface with dried cranberries and glazed cherries.
- 7. Tightly roll the dough starting with the long end, pinching the seams to seal in the filling.
- 8. Using a sharp knife, cut roll in half lengthwise. Carefully turn the sough halves cut side up to reveal the filling. Loosely twist the halves of dough around each other, keeping them cut side up, in order to form a wreath. Carefully tie the two ends of the dough together to form a circle.
- 9. Carefully move the parchment paper onto the baking sheet. You may need help to do this. Allow dough to rise until puffy or doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
- 10. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Set the oven rack to the middle.
- 11. Bake the wreath for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Transfer baked wreath onto a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before applying the glaze.
Make the glaze
- 12. In a bowl, beat together confectioner's sugar and milk; mixing until smooth. Add almond extract and mix well.
- 13. Using a spoon, drizzle the glaze all over the wreath before serving. Serve warm.
That aside, I really had so much fun with this recipe, and despite the deformed wreath, I like how it came out. It looks… rustic? Homemade? I liked it enough to feel bad about cutting into it, but the inside was even more lovely. Just look at how pretty that is! This is what I always marvel at when I make yeast breads. Yeast truly is a magical thing!
With that first slice, I finally cut up the wreath and packed it into Christmas boxes in wedges, and then I distributed it among my extended family to have with their morning cup of coffee. I really hope they enjoy this! 🙂