A gorgeous holiday braid, with a crunchy almond crust and a soft, fluffy crumb. Make it plain or add cranberries, chocolate chips, or spices for a more festive look. It can be made ahead and frozen.
*Allow 2 and 1/2 more hours of proofing to the time specified in the recipe.
For the bread:
- 1 tablespoon (8g) active dry yeast
- ½ cup (100g) of sugar
- Zest of 1 medium lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 cups (700g) all-purpose flour (or use 3 ½ cups cake flour and 1 ½ cups bread flour as I do)
- 1 cup (250g) milk (regular or low fat)
- ¼ cup (80g) cream (heavy, double, or whipping)
- ¼ cup of water
- 5 tablespoons (70g) sunflower oil (see Notes below for options)
- 2 teaspoons pure almond extract
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 eggs, at room t°
For the crunchy topping: see Notes, below
- ¼ cup coarse raw sugar
- ¼ cup (40g) whole almonds
- ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup sliced almonds
- 1 egg + 1 tablespoon water for the glaze
For the bread:
- Mix 2 cups cake flour, yeast, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if you’re kneading by hand). If using fresh yeast see Notes, below.
- Heat together milk, cream, water, and oil to lukewarm (120ºF). This is not hot at all, you should be able to dip your pinky finger and feel it slightly warm.
- Add it to the yeast mixture and lightly mix.
- Add the eggs, mix with a wooden spoon a bit, and add salt, almond, and vanilla extract. Mix well until creamy, about 1 minute.
- Attach to the stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and start adding the rest of the flours, ½ cup at a time.
- Knead for 4 or 5 minutes, adding a few extra tablespoons of flour if needed because the dough is too wet. The dough will leave the sides of the bowl for the first minute when you add flour, but it won’t completely gather into a ball. That is fine.
- By hand, mix with a wooden spoon while you add the remaining flour until it’s very thick. Then dump the dough into a lightly floured counter, and knead by hand for no less than 5-7 minutes, adding extra flour by tablespoons to make a slightly sticky dough.
- Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic and let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ to 2 hours depending on the temperature of the room.
- Reserve a small piece of dough (you'll use it to cover the pinched ends of the wreath).
- Lightly flour the counter and flatten the dough into a rectangle, roughly 17x9 inches, and cut it into three even ropes.
- Pinch 3 ends together, and braid it. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.
- Transfer to a parchment paper-lined or greased baking sheet, and pin the two ends together to make a ring. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until almost doubled about 40 minutes.
- Preheat the oven 20 minutes before baking to 350ºF / 180°C.
For the crunchy topping:
- Prepare the topping while the dough is proofing for the last time. In a food processor (I use the small attachment) mix sugar, whole almonds, and cinnamon until it’s coarsely ground.
- Transfer to a bowl and mix in the sliced almonds.
- When ready to bake, mix the egg with a tablespoon of water, and brush generously but carefully the top of the dough trying not to let too much egg wash fall into the crevices.
- Sprinkle with the almond mixture.
- Bake for 30 minutes, turn down the oven to 325º and bake 10 more minutes, until golden and crunchy.
- Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Or eat warm.
- Keep at room temperature for a few days, covered or wrapped.
- Fresh yeast: you need 3 times more than dry, that is about 27 grams.
Mix 1 cup flour, yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar (from the total amount) in a bowl (from the stand mixer if using one), and slowly add the lukewarm milk. Mix lightly with a fork and let stand 5 minutes. It should start to bubble. Proceed with the recipe as in the instructions adding the rest of the liquid and ingredients.
- Flour: you can use all-purpose flour instead of both flours listed below.
- Liquid: I use cream together with low-fat milk; you can use full-fat milk and ½ cup water too.
- Topping: if you only use sliced almonds you can omit the processor and simply mix the topping ingredients in a bowl. You can also use other nuts like hazelnut or pistachios. If you don't have pearl sugar, use granulated without processing it though it won't be exactly the same.
- Shape: a braided wreath is great for the holidays, but you can make one very large straight braid or two medium ones. The latter is the one I opt for many times.
- Flavorings: in theory, almost any extract and/or ground spice can be added. As for citrus zest, orange or tangerine goes very well also.
- Add-ins: this is a great dough to add dried cranberries or raisins. And chocolate chips work well also. About a 1/2 cup total.
Keywords: almond braid, almond bread