I've been writing about this wreath on the site since 2008, each year updating the story, because I think it's worth reminding you how perfect this bread is to start a holiday morning. When I say I make it every year, I'm not kidding. It weaves its way deeper and deeper into our family's memory each holiday.
Of all the Christmas gifts my mom has given me, the one I remember most and the one that is still with me is the tradition of cooking and eating on Christmas, and it is one that I'm now passing down to my daughter.
I'm sure there were toys and books, and I vaguely remember something in the early eighties about a sought-after Esprit outfit, but what sticks out most in my mind are the meals. On Christmas Eve we threw a tamale party, and the Christmas morning tradition has always been a big spread of scrambled eggs, bratwurst, Mexican hot chocolate, and a braided Christmas bread from the tattered pages of a 1978 Sunset Magazine. Those breakfasts were gifts enough.
The original bread recipe included a filling that called for teeth-shattering candied red and green cherries. The past few years I've skipped those in favor of dried cranberries plumped up with brandy. Of course you can use other dried fruits but avoid the kind preserved with sulphur dioxide and sweetened with high fructose corn syrup if you can. In my redux, I also upped the amounts of filling and glaze — the "saucing" as my daughter says.
Mom arrives next week to cook and sing with us in our little city kitchen. This is our gift to each other this year. My daughter, now five, will add her hands to the braiding effort and continue this cycle of absorbing holiday food traditions from the two generations of cooks before her.
When you bake this Holiday Breakfast Wreath, present it to someone you love, still warm, with two hands. It is more than enough.
Holiday Breakfast Wreath with Cranberry-Almond Filling
adapted from Sunset Magazine, December 1978
makes about 12 servings
1 packet (1/4oz) active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (about 110° F)
1/2 cup warm milk (about 110° F)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
For the Cranberry-Almond Filling:
3/4 cup dried cranberries or 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 sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon almond extract
For the Sugar Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
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, cardamom, eggs and lemon 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. Note: You might not use all the flour.
Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth, about 5 to 10 minutes, adding 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 (about 1 1/2 hours).
Meanwhile, prepare the Cranberry-Almond Filling: Drain the dried fruit of its liqueur and reserve for another use. In a small bowl, combine the drained fruit with remaining filling ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.
When dough has risen and 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- by 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 roll in half lengthwise, carefully turn cut sides up, and loosely twist ropes around each other, keeping cut sides up. (See photos below for an illustration these steps.)
Carefully transfer the wreath to a greased and floured baking sheet and shape into a wreath, pinching ends together to seal. Let it rise, uncovered, in a warm place until puffy, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake wreath until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. While wreath is baking, Prepare Sugar Glaze by stirring together ingredients until smooth.
When wreath is done, transfer to a cooling rack with wide spatulas or a pizza peel. Cool for a few minutes then drizzle the glaze over the warm wreath. Serve sliced with extra butter if you're feeling decadent.
The wreath can be prepared up to 2 days ahead of time, cooled completely and wrapped tightly in foil. Store at room temperature then re-heat at 350° for 10-15 minutes, drizzling the glaze just before serving.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)