Thursday, December 17, 2015

Walnut Twist (aka Wreath)

I am excited to introduce my family's favorite treat in the entire world. Walnut Twist or "Wreath" as we have always called it because it is shaped like a Christmas wreath - at least that's what we've always thought - has been a holiday staple for as long as I can remember. I think I was once told that my Dad got the recipe from a lady at work and asked Mom to make it. Well, she did and we ate it, liked it, and have been enjoying it every Christmas for the past 20+ years. It would simply not be Christmas if this treat did not grace the breakfast table at some point.

Wreath is essentially a sweet, cinnamon-roll style dough filled with a buttery, brown sugar and walnut streuesel. The filling is rolled up in the dough just like you would prepare a cinnamon roll, only it is then cut in half lengthwise, twisted together and formed into a braided circle. Or a wreath. We have a title! Then, the wreath is baked to perfection and slathered with a rich, brown butter frosting before being served warm. I cannot describe all the warm memories and happy feelings eating a slice of this evokes for me. A single bite always transports me back to celebrating Christmas morning with my family - sitting around our large table, everyone talking as loud as they can in order to be heard above everyone else while toasting one another with our little mugs of egg nog. We would gobble down our generous slices of wreath and then gaze longingly at the remaining couple slices, ready to gobble them down even though we were already stuffed to the gills. Those of us who did manage to score a coveted second serving of wreath felt like we'd won the lottery. Gosh, I miss those days.

When I got married and moved away and suddenly found myself preparing Christmas festivities for my growing little family, I was so nervous to make wreath all by myself. I had always made it with my Mom or at least had her supervision. The first year I made it, I chatted with my Mom the entire time while she simultaneously made her wreath 300 miles away just to ensure that I was doing the recipe justice. Thankfully, it turned out beautifully then just as it has in the years since. Thank you, Mom for always lovingly making this and so many treats for our family over the years. This is my most treasured recipe and I have a feeling it always will be.

Walnut Twist (aka Wreath)
from a recipe lovingly prepared for years by my Mom

For the dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup warm milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the Filling:
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

For the Browned Butter Icing:
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
5-6 teaspoons half/half
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
A pinch of salt

To make the dough, bloom the yeast in the warm water for about five minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk the milk into the yeast mixture. Attach the dough hook onto the mixer and, with the mixer running on medium-low speed, add the yeast mixture, the butter, the eggs, and the vanilla. Knead until the dough is soft, slightly tacky and not at all sticky, about 10 minutes. If the dough is sticking to the bottom of the bowl, add a little flour (about a tablespoon at a time) until it no longer sticks. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, turn to coat, and then cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled - about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling by creaming together the sugar and flour with a mixer. Beat in the flour, cinnamon, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the nuts. Cover and chill until the dough is ready.

Punch down the dough and roll out into a 30 x 10 inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Crumble the filling evenly over the dough. Starting from the long side, roll up the dough tightly like you would for cinnamon rolls. With a sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise. Carefully turn the halves so that the cut sides are facing upward. Loosely twist the halves together, keeping the cut sides up so the filling can be seen. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled - about 1 hour more. At this point, the dough can also be refrigerated overnight for baking in the morning. Simply let the dough sit out for an hour or two to come to room temperature before proceeding with baking.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the dough has risen, bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, covering lightly with foil as needed to prevent excessive browning (I almost always have to do this!). Carefully remove to a wire rack.

During the last couple minutes of baking, make the brown butter icing. Lightly brown the butter in a small heavy skillet over medium heat, being very careful not to burn. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar. Whisk in the half/half, vanilla, and salt until the mixture is smooth. Drizzle the icing over the still-warm bread.



  1. "Gosh, I miss those days." I COMPLETELY understand this. Don't realize how fleeting those family years are when you are young.

    1. I was always in such a hurry to grow up...and now that I'm an adult, I realize that it's completely overrated. I miss the simplicity of childhood, especially around the holidays where I the parent must make the magic happen!