Andrew Whitley's recipe for a Christmas bread that deserves to become a seasonal classic
While other nations have their stollen and panettone, when it comes to Christmas, in Britain we tend to put our dried fruits and spices into cakes, puddings and mince pies.
In English Bread and Yeast Cookery, however, Elizabeth David mentioned a Christmas bread recipe from Cumbria, which inspired Andrew to write this modern version. Yeast has a hard time when dough is enriched with butter and sugar, and using a pre-ferment helps get that rise.
Makes: 1 large or 2 small loaves
For the pre-ferment
175g white bread flour
5g fresh yeast
125g water, at about 25°C
For the fruit and nut soaker
100g crystallized ginger, chopped
100g raisins or sultanas
100g dried cranberries
50g pitted dates, chopped
50g dried figs, quartered
100g almonds or Brazil nuts, chopped
50g / 3⅓ tbsp rum, brandy or fruit juice
For the dough
220g white bread flour
100g butter, plus extra for greasing
70g dark brown sugar
100g lightly-beaten egg, (about 2 eggs)
Mix the pre-ferment ingredients together thoroughly, cover and leave in the refrigerator for about 12 hours overnight. Meanwhile, mix the soaker ingredients together in a bowl, substituting similar fruits, nuts and liquid if you wish, according to taste, allergies or simply what you have to hand. Leave this mixture at room temperature for about 12 hours, stirring occasionally.
Mix the dough ingredients into the pre-ferment and knead until the sticky mixture becomes a soft, smooth and glossy dough. Cover and leave at room temperature for 2–3 hours. At this point you can give it a fold and leave it for another hour or so, but this isn’t essential.
Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a rectangle about 20x25cm. Spread the fruit and nut soaker over almost all the surface. Roll the dough up carefully, turn it through 90 degrees and gently roll it up again, taking care not to force the fruit through the surface. The aim is even distribution, but it is better to leave the dough a bit lumpy than to work it so much that you end up with a mess.
Grease the baking tin (or tins) with butter, shape the dough to fit and place it in the tin(s). Cover and leave to rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough doesn’t spring back instantly when gently pressed. Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas 4.
Bake a large loaf for 45–60 minutes, smaller ones for about 30–40 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown.
Baker’s Tip: For an extra glossy crust, you can brush the top of the dough with a little beaten egg before baking or with melted butter afterward. For a festive flourish, dust the top with icing/confectioners’ sugar when it has cooled.
Taken from Slow Dough: Real Bread by Chris Young, Nourish Books 2016. Hardback, £20. Commissioned photography Victoria Harley.