5 days of christmas 2016 - walnut cinnamon wreath

Welcome to the 2016 Christmas collection. I think I should call 2016, the year of the babka because I made so many. Now that I've discovered the no-knead method of bread making, I make something requiring yeast just about every week. 

This Christmas wreath is just a re-imagining of the cinnamon walnut babka (also known as the lesser babka) I made last year with a few little tweaks. I've simplified the yeast dough and bumped up the walnuts and twisted the dough to make a wreath, perfect for Christmas. My workmates aren't keen on fruit mince but I think fruit mince, grated apple and toasted walnuts would make for a delightful Christmas flavoured wreath.

The recipe looks pretty daunting but once the dough is made, it's a matter of adding the filling before rolling, cutting and plaiting the dough. 

The rest of your time is spent waiting for the dough to rise. I like to make the dough the day before I need it letting it rise slowly in the fridge. That way you can bake it fresh on the day or if you want, you can also bake it the day before. As the babka dough is soaked in syrup it's pretty forgiving and unlike most other sweet breads, it keeps quite well.

If you'd like to make the recipe, I always use 60g eggs, a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. My oven is a conventional gas oven so if you're using a fan forced oven you may need to lower the cooking temperature by 20°C.

Cinnamon Walnut Wreath
For the dough
75 g unsalted butter
100 mls milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups plain flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ tsp salt
45 g caster sugar
2 tsp dried yeast
1 egg

80 g of soft butter
100 g brown sugar
1 tsp golden or maple syrup
4 tsp ground cinnamon
50 g almond meal
75 g toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

Topping (optional)
1-2 tbs milk
Raw sugar crystals

⅓ cup water
⅓ cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick

To make the dough, melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat, add milk and vanilla and heat until lukewarm. Mix flour, salt, sugar and yeast in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Make a well in the centre, then, with motor running, pour the beaten egg into the well and gradually add the milk mixture and knead until smooth and shiny (2-3 minutes). The mixture will be quite soft at this stage. If it's not then you might need to add a little more milk. If you'd like to use the no-knead method, please click the link. Full instructions are contained in the recipe.

Grease a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the greased bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap and stand in a warm place until doubled in size (1 hour) or you can leave the dough to prove in the fridge overnight, which is what I usually do. The following day bring the dough back to room temperature while you prepare the filling. In a small bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, the syrup and the ground cinnamon. Mix in the almond meal to form a paste, ensuring there are no lumps in the mixture.

Line a baking tray with baking paper. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring 15 by 11 inches (38 by 28 cm). Trim the sides to make them even, then position the dough so that a long side is closest to you. Use an offset spatula to spread the filling over the rectangle, leaving a ¾ in/2 cm border all around. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top of the filling. Brush a little bit of water along the long end farthest away from you. Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side that is closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the dampened end onto the roulade and then use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar. Rest the cigar on its seam.

Trim about ¾ in/2 cm off both ends of the roulade with a serrated knife. Now use the knife to gently cut the roll into half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam. You are essentially dividing the log into two long even halves, with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both halves. With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half, and then lift the right half over the left half. Repeat this process, but this time lift the left half over the right, to create a simple, two-pronged plait. Gently squeeze the two ends together to form a wreath showing the filling on top. Carefully lift the cake onto a baking paper lined oven tray, placing a small greased ovenproof ramekin in the centre of the wreath. If you like, you could glaze the wreath with milk and sprinkle the top with raw sugar crystals for some added crunch. Cover the tray with a wet tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1½ hours.

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C, making sure you allow plenty of time for it to heat fully before the wreath has finished rising. Remove the tea towel, place the wreath on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for about 20 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. If not ready return to the oven for another 5 minutes.

While the wreath is in the oven, make the syrup. Combine the water, sugar and cinnamon stick in a saucepan; place over medium heat and bring to the boil. As soon as the sugar dissolves, reduce the heat and simmer the syrup for 5 minutes. As soon as the wreath comes out of the oven, brush the syrup all over using every last drop. Don't throw out the cinnamon stick though. Wash it well, let it dry out then store it carefully as you can reuse it.

Leave the cake until it is just warm, then remove the cake from the paper and let cool completely on a wire rack before serving. If you like you can tie a ribbon around the wreath to add a festive touch.

I can't tell you how delicious this is - a perfect way to start your Christmas Day.

See you all again tomorrow with another 5 days of Christmas recipe.

Bye for now,


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