Braided Cardamom and Chocolate Hazelnut Bread

This post was originally published here on December 19, 2014. I’ve since updated the photographs and text. Please let me know if you try it out for the Holidays!

I think I’ve finally recovered enough from my post-Thanksgiving sluggish-ness (i.e. excessive pie and wine) to get started on some Christmas baking endeavors. Are you with me?

I sure hope so. Because today I’m bringing back an old favorite from way back in the day (circa 2014, which is like an eternity in the blog-o-sphere): my Braided Cardamom and Chocolate Hazelnut Bread.

I still remember the first time I ever made this recipe. Because as soon as I pulled it out of the oven, I immediately snapped a photo of the finished product and sent it to my Mom with the caption “Look! I made something pretty!”. I was so stupidly proud of how beautiful the bread turned out, that I just had to share that moment with someone. And my Mom was the obvious choice. Because really, who else can we brag to about all our accomplishments, even if they seem silly and insignificant?

In my eyes, however, this Braided Cardamom and Chocolate Hazelnut Bread was a masterpiece of epic proportions. Luckily, my Mom agreed with me.

Since that fateful day, I’ve made several other versions of this sweet, yeasted bread. The base recipe never fails to rise and bake up perfectly. And it’s show stopping presentation is one that always has my family and friends ooh-ing and aah-ing. It’s perfect for a special occasion, like Christmas brunch. Or for any weekend morning when you have a few hours of extra time on your hands. I love waking up early on a cold Winter morning to start the dough rising while I enjoy my first cup(s) of coffee. Nothing fills my kitchen with warmth and happiness like fresh, homemade baked goods.

Please don’t be intimated by the braiding part (steps 10 and 11 in the recipe instructions). It’s really not that complicated. And it doesn’t have to be perfect, either. The different sized swoops and swirls is what I think makes this bread feel so inviting and homey. It’s perfectly imperfect in all the best ways!

Cheers,

Liz

Braided Cardamom and Chocolate Hazelnut Bread

At a Glance:
Yield: About 8 servings
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

For the Dough:

  • 3 - 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons chocolate-hazelnut spread (like Nutella)
  • Finely grated zest from 1 orange

For the Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • About 2 tablespoons orange juice

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk together 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, salt, ground cardamom and yeast. Switch to the dough hook attachment.
  2. Warm the milk to 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the butter and let it soften in the warmed milk. It doesn't have to melt completely, you just want it to be very soft. Then add this mixture along with the beaten egg to the dry ingredients. Beat on medium speed for 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Once the mixture is well combined, start slowly adding in more flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough is soft, easy to handle and easily leaves the side of the bowl. You'll need anywhere between 1 to 1 1/4 cups flour.
  3. Mix the dough on low-medium speed for about 5 minutes, pulling the dough down off the hook as needed. The dough should be smooth and elastic. Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured countertop for about 5 minutes.
  4. Gather up the dough with your hands and shape it into a ball. Transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat it with a thin layer of oil on all sides. Then cover the bowl loosely with a thin kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until roughly doubled in size.
  5. Once the dough has risen, gently punch it down to deflate it. Remove it from the bowl and transfer it to a floured countertop. Then shape it with your hands into a rectangle. Next, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out into a 24 X 12-inch rectangle. This will take a little bit of time, because the dough can be fairly elastic and "springy" at first. If it's bouncing back too much, let the dough rest for a few minutes, then try rolling it out again.
  6. Once the dough is rolled out, make the filling. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cardamom and set it aside. In a separate microwave safe bowl, microwave the butter and chocolate-hazelnut spread for 20-30 seconds, or until the two are just soft enough to be well combined.
  7. Spread the softened butter/chocolate-hazelnut mixture out in a thin layer evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch boarder around the edges. Then sprinkle the sugar/cardamom mixture evenly over the top. Finally, top with the orange zest.
  8. Beginning at one of the long edges of your rectangle, tightly roll up the dough into a log. Then pinch the edges of the dough together to seal the log as best you can.
  9. Spray a baking sheet and the ring of a 9- to 10-inch springform pan with non-stick cooking spray and set them both aside.
  10. Using a sharp knife, slice the roll lengthwise, creating two equal sized long halves, but leaving one end still attached by about 3/4-inch at the very end. Slightly rotate the halves outwards so the layers are facing upwards. Then starting from the end that is still attached, cross the two halves over each other. Continue doing this until you end up with a single twisted/braided rope. Pinch together the end of the rope.
  11. Gently slide the rope onto your greased baking sheet. Starting with one end, spiral the rope into a closed circle. The circle doesn’t have to be tight, because the bread will rise and puff up as it bakes, filling in any small spaces. But it shouldn’t have a large hole in the center, either (think about making a shape that resembles a snail shell, not a wreath). Tuck the very end of the rope under the circle so it doesn't stick out.
  12. Place the ring of your springform pan over/around the dough circle to contain it. Then cover loosely with a thin kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Position an oven rack in the middle position.
  14. Remove the kitchen towel from the dough, but leave the springform pan in place. Transfer the baking sheet to your pre-heated oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and puffed. Then remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the bread to cool for 10-15 minutes before carefully sliding it off onto a wire rack to continue cooling.
  15. While the bread cools, whisk together all of the ingredients for the glaze. Then drizzle the glaze over the bread before slicing and serving.
  16. This bread is best when it's enjoyed the day it's made. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about 2 days, and re-warmed slightly before eating.

Notes

Recipe adapted from my Pecan Sticky Buns.

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