Sweet breads are my weakness, when I bake a cake I can eat a slice and not go back for seconds, but with sweet, filled breads I just can't stop myself from going back and slicing off another piece, and another, until I've eaten the whole lot.... this chocolate chestnut bread wreath is no exception....I ate nearly half the loaf in a day...Maybe it's because the idea of bread is wholesome, so even though it's got butter, sugar and chocolate in it, it doesn't feel that indulgent...
Chestnuts are one of those things that I associate as an iconic part of Autumn and Christmas but rarely ever use, although I really should. They have a sweet, mild nutty flavour and are incredibly versatile, work well in both sweet and savoury dishes and pair really well with chocolate.
I bought some pre-cooked, vacuum packed ones on a whim (they were on offer) but had no plan as to what to do with them. I deliberated for a while, torn between biscuits, cake and bread (I don't fantasize about savoury dishes the same way as I do baked goods...) but finally settled on the bread; so I made a soft, enriched dough and filled it with sweet chestnut puree mixed with melted chocolate, it tastes amazing! Like a chestnut nutella. So annoyingly moreish...and perfect for brunch, or Christmas morning breakfast.
I have given the recipe below to make your own sweetened chestnut puree, it is fairly simple but will not give as smooth a result as buying tinned puree, if you are able to buy it tinned then by all means use that instead (sweetened not unsweetened), I would have if my local supermarket sold it! I was able to get pre-cooked, vacuum packed chestnuts so I used those rather than roasting my own to make things a little simpler and quicker.
If you want to forgo the chestnuts altogether, this bread would taste out of this world if made with nutella, or fill with butter, sugar and cinnamon to make a Kringle, the dough is very versatile and will hold up well to most fillings as long as they aren't too wet.
(Please note: although I have provided a conversion from grams to US cup measurements I cannot guarantee the accuracy as I do not bake using cups, I thoroughly recommend investing in a digital metric scale, it is far more accurate.)
- 75g (scant ⅓ cup) unsalted butter
- 225ml (scant cup) full-fat milk
- 450g (3 ¾ cups) strong white bread flour
- 10g (3 tsp) fast action (instant) yeast
- ½ tsp salt
- 70g (⅓ cup) caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 200g (7 oz) roasted, peeled chestnuts (I use the pre-cooked, vacuum packed ones)
- 200ml (¾ cup plus 1tbsp) water
- 150g (¾ cup) caster sugar (superfine)
- 1tsp vanilla paste/extract
- OR use about 400g (14oz) of tinned sweetened chestnut puree
- 100g (3.5 oz) dark chocolate
- warm milk
Warm the butter and milk gently in a small saucepan until the butter has just melted then set aside until it has cooled to a lukewarm temperature. Place the flour in a large bowl and add the yeast to one side and the salt and sugar to the other. Pour in the milk and add the egg, mix everything together into a shaggy dough then turn out onto an un-floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes. The dough is very soft and sticky at first but after a few minutes of kneading (and a little bit of prising off the worktop with a dough scraper) it should come together into a smooth, elastic ball of dough, try to avoid the temptation to add more flour.
Of course you can use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook if you have one, mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or so until doubled in size. On cold days I like to heat up the oven on a low temperature then switch it off, open the door for a few seconds to let a little of the heat dissipate then place the bowl of dough inside and close the door. You can also place the dough in the fridge to rise overnight and continue the bake the following morning.
While the dough is rising make the chestnut puree (If you are able to get hold of tinned sweetened chestnut puree then use about 400g of that instead and skip this step). Place the chestnuts, water and sugar in a small saucepan over a medium heat, stir until the sugar has dissolved then bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the chestnuts are soft and the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup, take off the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes then tip into a food processor with the vanilla paste and blend to a smooth puree, you probably wont be able to get it completely smooth so if you do want a smooth paste then you'll have to press it through a sieve; I didn't as I thought that a bit of texture would be nice and I liked it, but my fiance said that he would have preferred it smooth so it's just a matter of personal taste!
Once the dough has risen, melt the chocolate, either in a heatproof bowl over a pan of hot water (don't let the bottom of the bowl touch the water), or in 10 second bursts in the microwave. Stir the melted chocolate into the chestnut puree then add warm milk, a tablespoon at a time, until it is a spreadable consistency.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 30x40cm (12"x16"), spread the chocolate chestnut paste evenly all over the surface.
Roll up tightly from the long side into a log.
Use a sharp knife to slice the log in half lengthways.
Twist the two strands together keeping the cut side up.
Transfer the twist to a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and form into a ring.
Loosely cover (I place mine inside a clean plastic bag) and leave to rise for 30-45 minutes until puffy. Heat the oven to 180°C/350ºF/gas mark 4. Once the dough has risen, bake for 45-50 minutes until deep golden, risen, and sounds hollow when knocked, cover with tin foil after 20 minutes or so to prevent the top from burning. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving.