I love experimenting with new ways of shaping bread and was very pleased with the results of this particular experiment. It is a messy affair to shape - I got almond filling everywhere, but the end result is very attractive. You start by rolling out the dough into a large rectangle and spreading the filling all over, leaving a small border around the edge, then roll it up, like making cinnamon rolls, slice the log in half lengthways, leaving about 3cm at the top attached; then, this is the messy bit - you twist the length of dough all the way along so that it resembles a coil, then place it in a cake tin in a spiral shape. Don't worry if none of that made sense to you - I've included some photos of each step under the recipe.
The way the dough is shaped ensures that the filling is evenly spread throughout the loaf - you get some in every bite. I went for an almond filling made with marzipan, egg whites, butter, sugar and ground almonds, it is incredibly simple to make as you just blitz it all together in a food processor (you could whisk it together with an electric mixer if you don't have a food processor). The dough is flavoured with vanilla - either the seeds from a vanilla pod or vanilla extract, and is enriched with milk, butter and egg. It has got to be the softest bread I have ever made, the loaf was incredibly soft and light, with a delicate almond and vanilla flavour. It was sweet, but not overly so; we polished the loaf off within a couple of days, eating it both for breakfast and snacks (it was addictively good...).
The dough itself is quite sticky, so is best made in a stand mixer, although you can knead it by hand if you want (I did), just be prepared to get a bit messy, and resist the urge to add any extra flour unless the dough is actually wet - sticky dough means softer bread. It is a good idea to invest in a dough scraper, it helps immensely when your dough is stuck to the worktop and is also useful for slicing and portioning it out. I always like to let my dough rise in the fridge overnight; it not only splits up the workload, but lets you get the bread on the table quicker the next day and improves the flavour.
Almond Vanilla Twisted Bread
- 240 ml (1 cup) whole milk
- 50 g (scant ¼ cup0 butter
- 1 vanilla pod/2 tbsp vanilla extract
- 500 g (4 + scant ¼ cups) strong white bread flour
- 50 g (¼ cup) sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 10 g (3 tsp) fast action yeast
- 1 egg beaten
- 2 medium egg whites
- 200 g (7oz) marzipan
- 50 g (scant ¼ cup) softened butter
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 50 g (2 oz) ground almonds
- 1 egg yolk beaten with a little milk
- handful flaked almonds
- Place the milk, butter and vanilla in a pan and heat until just boiling. Remove from the heat and leave to cool until lukewarm (scalding the milk like this helps to make the finished loaf softer).
- Place the flour in a large bowl (the bowl of your stand mixer if you have one) and add the yeast to one side and the sugar and salt to the other. Add the egg and the lukewarm milk (scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod if using, then remove the pod) and mix it all together until it forms a sticky dough.
- Knead either with the mixer or by hand on an un-floured surface until the dough is smooth and stretchy. If you are kneading by hand it will be quite sticky to start with, but after a few minutes of kneading it will become smooth (you may need to prise it off the work surface with a dough scraper).
- Place in a clean lightly oiled bowl and cover with oiled clingfilm. At this point you can either let it rise for an hour or so at room temperature until doubled in size, or place the dough in the fridge to rise overnight.
- If you have left the dough in the fridge overnight, let it sit out for about half an hour to come up to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the egg whites in a food processor and pulse until they are frothy. Crumble in the marzipan and continue to pulse until smooth. Add the butter, sugar and ground almonds and pulse again until combined.
- Line the base of a deep, 23cm/9in round, removable base cake tin with greaseproof paper.
- Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into an 36x46cm/18x14in rectangle. Spread the filling all over the dough leaving an inch gap around the edges.
- Roll the dough up from the long side (like making cinnamon rolls),cut the roll of dough in half lengthways, leaving an inch or so at the top uncut. This next part is messy, be prepared to get almond filling everywhere...Twist the dough all the way along so that it so that it has a coiled appearance. Coil the length of twisted dough into the prepared cake tin in a spiral shape.
- Cover loosely with oiled clingfilm and set aside to rise for an hour or so until risen and puffy.
- Heat the oven to 200C/400Fgas mark 6.
- Brush the risen dough with the beaten egg yolk and scatter over the flaked almonds. Bake for 50-60 minutes, covering with tin foil once the top is brown. It is done when the centre measures 94°C/200°F on a probe thermometer.
- Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack for at least half an hour before unmoulding.