For the dough
- 250g Redbournbury Mill Unbleached White Flour
- 30g warm water, about 30°C
- 5g (1½ tsp) Instant Dried Yeast (SAF Red Label)
- 2 egg yolks (about 35g)
- 50g sour cream
- 7g (2 tsp) vanilla extract
- 2g (1/2 tsp) Sweet almond extract
- 2g (1 tsp) mixed spice
- 1g (1/2 tsp) ground cardamom
- 2g (1/2 tsp) fine salt
- 30g Black Bee honey
- 50g unsalted butter, softened and chopped up
For the filling
I'm writing this in the run-up to Christmas, and if you're like me, you're probably wondering what to make beyond the usual mince pies and some fantastic loaves of bread: a big ol’ fruit cake, maybe, or a yule log? Perhaps you're also finding that it gets trickier every year to find the right gifts for the budding bakers in your family, or something to hint that you'd be more than happy to receive?
Hoping to solve two problems in one go, I had the idea while talking to Patrick at BakeryBits that you could put together a bespoke baker’s kit, based around the beautiful award-winning Spring Oven terracotta pot, designed in Britain and produced in Portugal. It’s small, just big enough for a 500g loaf, with a built-in gully around the glazed base, so water and steam can create the best baking environment for an outstanding crust. And then the sky's the limit: a mixing bowl, or scales? Maybe just a lame or grignette and a dough scraper? Or how about two or three bags of flour?
There’s nothing quite like true stone-milled flour to give you a gutsier texture and flavour compared to the roller-milled white stuff. At Redbournbury Watermill, where they’ve been milling grain for the last 1000 years (ok, they had to rebuild a few times, but you get the idea), their Unbleached White Flour has a slightly coarse texture and a delicate beige colour that combine to boost the flavour and character of your crumb. I first used Redbournbury’s flour in 2003 when we were setting up London's St John Bread & Wine restaurant & bakery, and was always impressed with the flavour and personality their flour gave my baking. To get the best from it, you can either cut the flour 50:50 with a great roller-milled flour such as Matthews Canadian Strong White or go full-on and use it straight for a denser bold crumb.
So this recipe is designed to bring all these things together: using Redbournbury’s flour to make a very special Christmas Twist loaf, with the cardamom-spiced dough rolled thinly and layered with ground almonds, butter, chocolate and brown sugar, and baked - if you've been lucky enough to receive one - in the terracotta Spring Oven. Serve warm, with a little brandy syrup and soft whipped cream spooned over.
Serves 4-6 people
Weigh the flour into a small bowl. Pour the water into a larger bowl, sprinkle on the yeast and stir until dissolved. Then add about 30g flour from the measured amount, stir well, and leave for about 30 minutes, to begin to ferment.
Stir in the yolks, sour cream, vanilla and almond extracts. Next, stir in the spices and salt, followed by the honey. Then stir in the butter; don’t worry if a few tiny lumps remain. Add the remaining flour, and mix thoroughly until you have a firm, smooth dough. Cover and leave to rise for 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the filling ingredients by stirring together the ground almonds, brown sugar, cocoa, unsalted butter and maybe half the beaten egg, until smooth. Save the remaining egg and chopped chocolate until later. Roll the dough out thinly, using flour to stop it sticking, to about 40cm by 20cm. Spoon lumps of the filling over the dough, then use a table knife to spread the mixture evenly over the dough. Sprinkle with the chopped-up chocolate, then roll the dough up tightly into a log.
Have a disc of non-stick paper ready, about 18cm across. Cut the dough down the centre lengthways so it is in two pieces, then plait the pieces together like a rope, keeping the cut sides upwards. Twist the ends of the rope round, into a ball. Then place the ball onto the disc of paper, place the paper on a plate and cover with an upturned mixing bowl. Leave for about an hour until rise by half (not doubled in size). It’s best to keep this under-risen, as this will produce a chewier texture: if it over-rises, it can have a crumbly dry texture.
Heat the oven to 200°C fan. You can preheat the Spring Oven first as recommended (this will give better height), but I used it cold, which may be easier if you're new to using it. Brush the top of the loaf with the reserved beaten egg, sprinkle with flaked almonds, then slip the paper and dough onto the base of the Spring Oven. Pour boiling water into the Spring Oven rim, then put the lid on and bake for 30 minutes. Then open the oven door, remove the Spring Oven lid, close the door and bake for just 5-10 minutes more, until the top is gently golden. Remove from the oven and leave to sit for a few minutes on the Spring Oven base. Either serve while still warm, or allow to cool completely then reheat when required for 30 minutes at 180°C in the Spring Oven with the lid on. To serve, make the brandy syrup by heating the sugar and water until dissolved, then stir in the brandy and spoon this over the warm cake. For me, a spoonful of lightly whipped double cream is the perfect accompaniment.
Recipe by Dan Lepard.