I know, you’re probably asking yourself “what the heck is an almond wreath?” And trust me, it’s okay not to know because as of a few years ago I had never heard of it either. It was my boyfriend who actually introduced me to the world of braided breads. We were talking about our favorite things about Christmas: snow (being from New England), looking at Christmas lights, decorating the tree, so on and so forth. And then he said “almond wreaths.” Clearly seeing the confusion on my face, he explained it was a breakfast pastry his mother used to make when he was a kid and lived in North Dakota, but she would ONLY make it on Christmas morning. Being the way that I am, I made it my mission to recreate this childhood favorite of his. I’ve experimented with different recipes, some calling for soaking the cranberries in brandy, some not calling for cranberries at all, some using orange zest, some lime, some with no glaze (big mistake). Finally, after years of deflated loafs that were too dry or dense or bland, I have found the perfect combination that has been boyfriend-approved. The key factors here is 2 things: using brown sugar in the filling, and NOT SKIPPING THE GLAZE. I always thought the glaze was just some extra sugar on top, how important could it be? Very, apparently. Because it made the difference between failed attempt and childhood memory. The brown sugar also gives the bread an extra dimension besides lemon and sweet that just hits the nail right on the head. Christmas or not, try out this recipe and let me know your thoughts. Could this be your new Christmas tradition?
1 packet (about 2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup warm milk
3 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp butter, room temperature
large pinch of salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
zest from 1/2 lemon
3 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries
8 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp almond extract
zest from 1/2 lemon
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
4-Quart DoveWare Dutch Oven
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 25 minutes
For the Dough:
In a large mixing bowl, pour the warm water; right around the temperature of what you would consider “hot” when coming from the faucet. Pour in the packet of yeast and give it a quick stir. Let the yeast dissolve and foam up for a couple of minutes. Once it has gotten nice and foamy, mix in the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon, eggs, and lemon zest. Then, stir in about 2 cups of the flour, one at a time. Add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time until you have workable dough (you might not need to use all of the flour).
Take the dough from the bowl and transfer to a clean and lightly floured work surface, like your counter or a large cutting board. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes until it is smooth. You’ll know it’s done when you’re thinking to yourself, “oh my goodness this is the softest thing ever, why have I not made bread before?!” Once you’ve gotten to this point, try to fight the urge to keep playing with the dough ball and place it in a lightly oiled mixing bowl. Make sure the bowl is large enough to fit the dough when it has doubled in size. Cover it with plastic wrap then a towel and let it rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about an hour and a half. My Meme always sets her dough on a heating pad to let it rise when making bread. “Bread dough is like a child; it needs dark and warm sleep to grow big and tall!”
Prepare the Filling:
In a small bowl, roughly mix the cranberries, butter, flour, almonds, sugar, brown sugar, almond extract, and lemon zest. Cover and stick it in the fridge while the dough finishes rising.
Back to the Dough:
Once the dough has about doubled in size, give it one quick PUNCH in the middle (this actually serves a purpose besides getting out some residual anger!). Take it out of the bowl and put it back onto your clean and lightly floured work surface. Knead it a few times just to release any air bubbles that might have formed. Using a rolling pin or similarly shaped tool (I use my large metal water bottle), roll the dough into a long rectangle that is about 9×30-inches. As with all of our dough recipes, the exact size of the rolled dough does not matter as long as you have a long and thin rectangle.
Once you are satisfied with the size, crumble the filling over the dough within about an inch of the edges. Starting along a long side (much like with the cinnamon buns), tightly roll up the dough then place it back on the work surface with the seam side down. Using a very sharp knife, cut the roll down the middle so it becomes 2 separate rolls revealing the filling. Carefully turn the cut sides so they are facing up, then loosely twist the halves around each other keeping the cut sides up. It sounds confusing but take a look at the picture below to see!
Once you have twisted to the end of the dough ropes, it’s time to get out your DoveWare Dutch Oven. Spray the inside with non-stick cooking spray or lightly butter it to prevent the bread from sticking. Gently transfer the rope into the DoveWare, shaping it into a wreath around the outside edge. Finagle the ends together the best you can to make it look like one continuous twisted dough rope.
Let the dough rise, again, covered with the DoveWare lid in a warm place until it gets puffy, about 45 minutes.
Now it is finally time to bake! Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, then bake the wreath until it is lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven and allow it to cool completely in the Dutch Oven before attempting to take it out, or simply serve it in the DoveWare for an even more home-made feel.
While the glaze isn’t completely necessary, according to my boyfriend (the ultimate almond wreath judge), it is what really takes the bread from being alright to amazing. For the glaze, simply mix together the powdered sugar, water, lemon juice, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg until it is a smooth liquid. Generously drizzle the glaze all over the bread. Let it cool and sit until the glaze has hardened. Cut into slices and enjoy! Feel free to top with some powdered sugar for even more decadence.