Chocolate Walnut Holiday Bread

Pull off a branch of this Christmas tree and bite into tender bread layered with creamy dark chocolate and ground walnuts. I couldn’t resist adding maraschino cherries to make the bread even more festive. It’s rich without being too sweet, and the chocolate flavor really stands out.

This dough needs to chill overnight, so make it in the evening, let it rise, and then put it in the fridge until the next day. 

I’m sure you’ve seen variations of this idea, often using puff pastry and hazelnut spread. (Check out YouTube for this option.) It would have been much easier, but I wanted to make things difficult, of course, preferring a soft, puffy 3-D appearance.

I’m posting this at the last moment, but inspiration just struck today and I had to bake this. If you’re too busy this Christmas, the strips of layered dough could easily be woven into a heart for Valentine’s Day. Or you could simply roll the dough out, spread with the chocolate mixture, roll up and slice, and bake like cinnamon rolls.

This is undeniably messy to make. You will get chocolate on your hands, on the counter, and on the bread itself. But your hands and the counter will wash, and the chocolate smears on the dough just makes the bread prettier, honest!

Since this is a last minute slam-dunk, I’ll dispense with my usual chit chat and just go right to the recipe!

Chocolate Walnut Holiday Bread
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Ingredients
  • BREAD:
  • ¼ cup very warm water
  • 1 package active-dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 5½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • FILLING:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 10 ounces chocolate (I used semi-sweet mini chips)
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 cups ground walnuts (grind in a food processor for 10 seconds)
  • Maraschino cherries, if desired, blotted well with paper towel
  • Egg wash: 1 egg and 1 teaspoon milk or water, whisked together well
  • Powdered sugar and water glaze, if desired
Instructions
  1. BREAD DOUGH:
  2. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, yeast, and pinch of sugar. Allow to sit until bubbly - about 5 minutes
  3. In a small pan place 2 cups milk, 2 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Heat on medium until butter is melted. It should be warm to the touch, but not hot.
  4. Pour warm milk mixture, yeast mixture, and eggs into large bowl. (A stand mixer with dough hook is recommended) and mix until combined.
  5. Add flour and salt and mix well.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons softened butter and knead by machine for 5 minutes. (Dough will be too soft to knead by hand. If you don't have a stand mixer, stir with a heavy spoon.)
  7. Scrape dough into a generously greased bowl, cover, and let rise until double - about 1 hour.
  8. Punch down the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
  9. FILLING: The next day, in a medium pan on low heat, combine the cream, butter, and chocolate. Stir often until chocolate melts. Once the mixture is smooth, add the flour and ground nuts. Stir well and set aside. Mixture will need to set up a little. If you plan on starting the bread right away, place the pan in a cold water bath. (Put the pan of chocolate filling in a larger pan and add cold water to the bottom pan, bringing it halfway up the side of the pan of chocolate.) Stir occasionally until thickened.
  10. ASSEMBLY: Place a sheet of parchment in a 12x17 rimmed baking pan. Remove dough from the refrigerator and drop onto floured surface. Form a long roll, flatten, and roll into a 24-inch by 14-inch rectangle. Spread with the filling and cut into three 8x14-inch pieces. Roll each up from the long side, stretching slightly to create rolls that are 18 inches long.
  11. Cut two of the rolls LENGTHWISE down the middle, exposing the chocolate layers. You will have 4 long skinny pieces and one whole piece (for the trunk).
  12. Note: Remember that dough will rise as it bakes, If all of your branches touch the sides of the pan, the tree will look square. Only let the bottom, bigger branches touch the sides of the pan.
  13. Pick up one of the cut pieces (yes, this will get messy) and twist it. Place it down in an upside-down 'V' shape, at the bottom (short end) of the pan. leaving room for a trunk. It will be too long; cut extra off with a scissors or knife.and set scrap aside. About an inch above the bottom branch, add another twisted piece, cutting off extra. This piece will be smaller, so the scrap will be larger. Repeat two more times, getting progressively smaller with each branch.
  14. Using the palms of your hands, roll the uncut piece to make it longer and skinnier, tapering it at one end, and place it in the center of the branches, putting the skinny end at the top and going from top to bottom, creating a trunk. Cut off excess, and cut the scrap down the middle to use for branches.
  15. Twist and stretch the remaining scraps to make them a little thinner, then fill in your tree, laying branches across the trunk. Pull and twist to shape the tree to your satisfaction. Cut some vertical lines down the trunk to look like bark.
  16. If you're using maraschino cherries, tuck them into the branches. Cover bread with a towel and allow it to rise for 30 minutes..
  17. Heat oven to 350 F. Brush bread with egg wash and bake for approximately 40 minutes. (Cover lightly with foil if bread is getting too dark.) Remove from oven and cool on rack.
  18. Use glaze to add "snow" to the branches, if desired.

Dissolve yeast until bubbly in very warm water with a pinch of sugar.

Combine warm milk mixture, yeast, and eggs.

Mix in flour and salt, then knead in softened butter. Dough will be soft and will stick to the bowl. That’s okay!

Scrape dough into buttered bowl. Flip over to coat both sides and let rise until doubled. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Finely grind the walnuts in a food processor for about 10 seconds.

Heat cream, butter, and chocolate until smooth. Stir in nuts and flour.

Drop chilled dough onto floured surface. Use hands to make a long roll, then roll it out 24×14

Spread with filling

Cut into three equal pieces and roll each from the long edge.

 

Use a sharp knife (or pizza cutter) to slice up the middle of two rolls. This is where it starts getting messy!

First layer, place 4 branches, then top with uncut roll for trunk

Add another layer of branches. Get creative! Twist and pull to shape it, then add maraschino cherries.

I’m in love with the way this dough turned out. It was so soft I had my doubts, but once it was chilled, it was very cooperative. I’ll be playing with it more in the future, for sure.

TIPS:

  • I use maraschino cherries without artificial color. If you use regular ones, they will be brighter and prettier.
  • If you have a larger pan, use it! It will be much easier to shape your tree.
  • If you don’t have a food processor or blender, just chop the nuts finely.
  • I like to put a little meringue powder in my icing to give it more body.
  • If it looks like your bread is getting too dark, lightly cover it with foil as it bakes.

Merry, Merry Christmas!

Lorinda

2 thoughts on “Chocolate Walnut Holiday Bread

  1. This is so pretty! You make is sound so easy to create something so impressive. And I learned about a new ingredient: naturally colored maraschino cherries.Cool!

    • Thanks, Mary! Those cherries taste wonderful. They’re a little on the pricey side, but . . .no artificial colors. I kinda miss the fluorescent red for some uses, though.

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