We are having a bi-coastal holiday season this year. Lenny is on the East Coast with his family, and I am on the West Coast with mine. This is the first Christmas in four years, that we have not spent it together. While it is wonderful being with our families, the distance during the holidays is bittersweet and tugs at my heartstrings every year. We hardly ever fight but when it is time for the holidays, and we are getting tugged by both families, it is the one time there are tears around our house. Which is a shame as the holidays are supposed to be a wonderful time of the year. We use to dream of entertaining at our home but since we don’t have space at this time, it is hard. Regardless of where we are, we wanted to be sure to wish each and every one of you a very happy holiday season and hopefully, you are able to spend it with the ones you love this year! Hopefully, you have time to bake a Christmas Wreath Bread for them as well. If we were hosting at our home for our families this would definitely be on the Christmas morning menu.
Wishing you the very best this holiday season and in the New Year!
Christmas Wreath Bread
** adapted from Sunset Magazine, December 1978
For the bread:
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110° F)
1/2 cup warm milk (about 110° F)
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
2 large eggs
3 teaspoons grated orange peel
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cherries, soaked in 1/2 cup brandy or other liqueur
6 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped blanched almonds
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the sugar glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon orange juice
Prepare the dough
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let it foam up for a minute or two. Blend in the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon, eggs and orange peel. Stir in two cups of the flour, one cup at a time. Beat for 2 minutes. Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until you have a soft, workable dough — you might not need to use all the flour.
Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. Add more flour if needed to prevent sticking. Place in a lightly oiled mixing bowl large enough to accommodate dough when doubled in size. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Prepare the filling
Drain the dried fruit from the liqueur and reserve the liqueur for another use. In a small bowl, combine the drained fruit with remaining filling ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.
Shape the dough
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured board, kneading just enough to release any air bubbles. Roll the dough into a 9×30-inch rectangle. Crumble the filling over the dough to within 1 inch of the edges. Starting along a long side, tightly roll up the dough, pinching edge against loaf to seal. With a sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise. Carefully turn the halves so the cut sides are facing up, and then loosely twist the halves around each other, keeping cut sides up. (See photos above for step-by-step instructions.)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the wreath until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. While the wreath is baking, stir together the ingredients for the glaze and set aside.
When the wreath is done, transfer to a cooling rack by picking up the sides of the parchment and then sliding the parchment out from underneath. Cool for a few minutes then drizzle the glaze over the warm wreath. Serve with extra butter if you’re feeling decadent.
Make Ahead Wreath
The wreath can be baked up to 2 days ahead of time. Do not glaze the loaf — let the wreath cool completely, then wrap tightly in foil and store at room temperature. Re-heat the bread at 350°F for 10 to 15 minutes, and drizzle with the glaze just before serving.