At Tante Marie’s, where I went to culinary school in San Francisco, about half the program was dedicated to pastry. This was the half I favored, the half I got wide-eyed over every single day there was pastry on the roster.
There was another program at the school dedicated 100% to pastry, an evening class whose “projects” were left out for us for breakfast when we arrived for class the following morning. We’re talking chocolates and puddings and cakes with buttercream. Didn’t matter that these aren’t typical breakfast fare. We ate Princess Cake with abandon as we tied on our aprons and unpacked our knives.
But just before Christmas, there was a flurry of holiday breakfast pastry that both classes focused on. Enriched doughs with eggs, butter, and milk are an entirely different animal than our typical bread doughs—they’re softer than a baby’s skin and fragrant of richness and warmth.
There was Danish and panettone, stollen and croissants. The master of these, chef and author Jim Dodge, came in to teach us, and even the most savory-minded in the class were smitten in the heady bakery the school became that day.
When he told us to always remember as we rolled it out that we control the dough, the dough doesn’t control us, I made an oath in my soul that I’d bake breakfast breads weekly from that day forward. I was in control! I’d roll that dough out into any shape I wanted, just like I was shaping a life I wanted, such a different life than the one I’d left behind on a desk in the loop in Chicago.
I started out with full commitment to my oath; my sister likes to remind me of how, just after I moved to Michigan after culinary school, I’d start a baking project at 7 p.m. with no thought of it. After dinner in Harbor Springs that first summer, I’d say: how about croissants for breakfast tomorrow? And the flour went flying.
Time has passed, though, and seeing as there weren’t so many recipes for enriched breakfast pastry in my Rosewater book, I have fallen short of that original baking plan.
Last Christmas, it was just about this very moment when I was deep into the all of the fire-drill edits and final review for the Rosewater book. I started feeling a little…out of control. There was a debacle involving conversion of all of the measures in the book to metrics that sent my no-math-please mind into a tailspin. I’d avoided the project as long as I possibly could, and then it had to be faced. It was a simple dialogue in my head: Do you want to sell the book overseas, Maureen? Yes, yes I do. Then sit your bootie in the chair and face the math.
Even then I took my sister up on her offer to help, and foisted the thing on her. After she did it, I went back over the numbers and started correcting what didn’t need correcting. I made the work far more painful than it needed to be (I’m so good at that), weighing pinches of spices that had no weight at all and wondering (with expletives) how on God’s green earth this made sense. Well, it made no sense because I wasn’t supposed to do that kind of conversion. Of course. If I’d taken my time and read carefully, carefully the instructions for the project as my sissie had, I would have understood. Instead I just jumped in as though it was Little Traverse Bay in early summer: just do it eyes closed tight; it’s freezing in there.
In my teary dejection after spending a sizable amount of time doing that which I did not need to do, I turned that evening to the holiday recipes of my emails and Pinterest and magazines for solace. It was here that the glory of breakfast pastry resurfaced. I felt the need to bake, immediately. No matter this was evening and dough needed to rise twice before I’d hit the hay. I even called my sister for a little Face Time to show her what I was into, that I’d control this if I couldn’t control that.
The Christmas Breakfast Wreath became my kind of lifeline, and it was so very soothing to make, and so very gorgeous to look at, and so very delectable to eat that I turned out a whole slew of them alongside turning out the final edits for the book last year.
Recently, Peg’s been deep in the crazy of busy herself, and she asked: You gonna make that wreath pastry again this year? I told her she best come over and do it with me, a surefire recipe for gaining a little control, and shaping up some peace of mind.
- For the bread:
- 1 packet (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
- ¼ cup warm water (about 110° F)
- ½ cup warm milk (about 110° F)
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
- 3½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- For the cherry-almond filling:
- ¾ cup dried cherries, soaked ½ cup Chambord + ½ teaspoon rose water
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
- ⅓ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup finely chopped blanched almonds
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- ¼ teaspoon rose water
- For the rose water glaze:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- ¼ teaspoon rose water
- In a large mixing bowl (for a stand mixer or by hand), dissolve the yeast in the water until it is creamy and foaming, about 10 minutes. Blend in the milk, sugar, butter, salt, eggs and lemon peel with a spoon or the paddle attachment in the stand mixer. Mix in two cups of the flour, one cup at a time. Beat or work with your hands for 2 minutes. Add remaining flour ½ cup at a time until you have a soft dough that is only slightly sticky.
- Knead the dough until smooth on a lightly floured work surface and knead, adding flour to keep the dough from sticking, 5 to 10 minutes. Even if you’re using the stand mixer to start, do this by hand to enjoy the full experience of this wonderful dough. Place in a large, lightly oiled mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 90 minutes.
- Immediately after putting the dough to rise, soak the dried cherries in the liqueur and rose water for an hour (this step can be done up to a day in advance, soaking for 24 hours). Drain the dried fruit from the liqueur and reserve the liqueur for the next time you make this wreath (which will be again soon!) or to drink after dinner. In a small bowl, combine the drained fruit with remaining filling ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
- When dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a large, lightly floured work surface. Taking control of the dough and using a measuring tape, roll the dough into a 9x30-inch rectangle. Smear and dot the filling over the dough to within 1 inch of the edges, evenly distributing the cherries.
- Starting along a long side, tightly roll up the dough, pinching the edge against loaf to seal it. With a sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise. Gently turn the halves so the cut sides are facing up, and then loosely twist the halves around each other, keeping the cut sides up.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment or non-stick baking mat. Carefully transfer the rope to the baking sheet by picking up portions and moving it gently a bit at a time. Shape the rope into a wreath, pinching and tucking the ends together to seal. Let it rise again, lightly covered, in a warm place until puffy, about 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the wreath until it is light golden brown in spots, about 25 minutes.
- Whisk together the glaze ingredients, making sure it is not too thin. Add more confectioners sugar or water as needed to make a thick but pourable consistency.
- When the wreath is done, cool for a few minutes, and then drizzle the glaze over the warm wreath in the same direction as the twisted surface. Cut into slices and serve warm.