Today, I present to you one of my favorite loaves of bread of all time. Long before I joined the TWD group, I made this bread as a newly married and completely inexperienced baker. It was one of the first yeast breads I ever made and I was drawn to it simply because it contained a spice with which I had recently become completely enamored: cardamom!
The first time I made this bread, I decided to majorly "up" the cardamom in the original recipe. Instead of the teaspoon called for, I dumped in a couple heaping tablespoons. I was not exaggerating when I said I loved the stuff...and I wanted this bread to sing the praises of everything cardamom. When I proudly presented a thick slice to my husband that night, he nearly gagged on the amount of spice in the bread. I dismissed his criticism as the ignorant words of a uncultured cardamom-hater. Then I took a bite. As much as I love cardamom, even I had to admit that it was a bit overwhelming. I learned my lesson and have only used the recommended amount ever since. And it is perfect.
This recipe is as easy and simple as can be. The dough rises beautifully, braids perfectly, and fills your house with a wonderful, exotic aroma. The finished bread has a beautiful crumb that is light, soft, and tender. It's subtle sweetness and gentle spiciness make it delicious enough to be eaten alone. However, a healthy dose of salted butter wouldn't be a bad addition.
To find the recipe, please visit the blog belonging to Erin, our host for this week, or use my slightly adapted version is written below. Or you can just buy the book Baking with Julia for yourself. Every recipe has been pretty fantastic - the book will make a great addition to any cookbook library and a great last-minute Christmas gift for the baker in your life!
adapted from Baking with Julia
1 cup milk, scalded
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom (or just use powdered)
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
4 1/2 - 5 cups flour
1 stick butter, melted
Egg Wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon milk beaten together)
sliced almonds and coarse sugar (for the topping)
Put the milk in a small saucepan and scald it (heat it until a ring of small bubbles is visible around the sides of the pan). Remove the pan from the heat and cool the milk to a room temperature of between 105-115 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes, or until the yeast has dissolved and is creamy. Whisk in the milk, sugar, cardamom, salt and eggs. Switch to a wooden spoon, add 2 cups of flour, and beat the mixture until smooth. Beat in the butter and add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is stiff but not dry.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until it is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, turn it around in the bowl to grease the top, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until it doubles in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Turn the dough out onto the oiled surface and knead it lightly and briefly, just to deflate it and release the air. Divide the dough into thirds and roll each third into a rope of about 36 inches long. Braid the three strands, braiding as far down to the bottom of the strands as you can. lift the long braid onto the parchment-lined pan, shaping it into a circle as you place it on the pan. Fuse the ends together.
Cover the wreath with a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature until it is puffy but not doubled, about 45 minutes.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Brush the egg glaze over the bread. Sprinkle the wreath with coarse sugar and sliced almonds (I skipped the almonds but absolutely insist that the coarse sugar be used!).
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden, taking care not to over bake the wreath. Transfer the loaf to a rack to cool at room temperature before cutting.