I haven't participated in the #BreadBakers group in quite a few months. I have no excuse other than I let time get away from me. But this month, I planned ahead. For this month, the theme is "Family Feast Breads," and as inspiration, Stacy posted a photo of a cornucopia made of bread. The gauntlet had been thrown. If we were going to be all fancy, I was going to go all out. I just wasn't sure how. Then The Beloved and I were perusing the Martha Stewart Living Magazine and came across a gorgeous centerpiece bread that was shaped like a sheaf of wheat tied with a braided ribbon. And then my idea came to me. I was making a Thanksgiving Wreath Braided Bread Centerpiece. I didn't know how I was going to do that, of course, but I had my idea and went about my business until this weekend, when I realized I had better Get Crackin'.
I also realized I wanted my leaves to hold their shape pretty well, so I wandered over to my friend Donna's blog, Cookistry, where she has made quite a name for herself making loaves of bread that look like bunnies and birds. Her advice is long, slow rising in the fridge and not to use a slack dough. Too much liquid and the bread will just poof all over the place and your carefully braided wreath may turn out to look like monkey bread or something! I decided on a dough with a hydration of 65%. I must admit that was a rather arbitrary decision, but I stuck with it, and I was rewarded with a dough that completely cleared the sides and bottom of my mixer bowl during kneading. Perfect!
What I mean when I talk about hydration is just the percentage of the weight of the flour that the water weighs. For example, if I made a dough with 50% hydration, for each ounce of flour, I'd use half an ounce of water (by weight). In bread baking, the flour is always designated at 100%, no matter the weight. In recipe A, if the weight of the flour is 18 oz, that's 100%. In recipe B, if the flour weighs in at 24 oz, then that's 100%. The rest of the ingredients are scaled with percentages. So, for hypothetical Recipe A with 18 oz of flour, a 50% hydration dough would contain 9 oz of water, or half as much as the flour. In hypothetical Recipe B with 24 oz of flour, a 50% hydration dough would contain 12 oz of water. Make sense? In real life, a dough with 50% hydration would be pretty stiff--almost like a cracker dough rather than a bread, but for ease of explanation, 50% works. Any fatty liquids (namely oil) don't count towards the percentage of liquid since fats don't interact with flour in the same way water-type liquids do. That is, they don't contribute to gluten formation.
In my 65% dough, I (again, rather arbitrarily) decided on 15 oz of flour, so 15 x .65 (or 65%)= 9.75 oz. Tada! Serious bakers will assign percentages to the rest of the ingredients as well (maybe 1-2% salt and yeast, etc), but I'm a bit more loosey goosey than that, so I just added "reasonable amounts" of each. I also added a bit of olive oil for richness and a liberal sprinkle of poultry seasoning for that Thanksgiving Flavor. Here's how I made my bread. Please scroll on down to see all the other fabulous #BreadBakers offerings this month, too.
All oz measurements, including liquids, are by weight, not volume.
- 15 oz bread flour
- 9.75 oz cool water
- 1 Tablespoon sugar (I used palm sugar. Brown sugar or white would work as well)
- 1½ Tablespoons (4½ teaspoons) extra virgin olive oil
- 1¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning (get the coarser kind that looks like tiny flakes--not the ground kind--if you can find it)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric (for yellow leaves)
- ½ teaspoon paprika (for orange leaves)
- 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
- optional rosemary sprigs for "pine boughs"
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together the flour, water and sugar until it comes together into a soft dough. Cover and let sit for twenty minutes if you have time. If not, keep on going.
- Add the rest of the ingredients to your mixer bowl and continue to mix until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Knead on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough should completely clear the sides and the bottom of your mixing bowl. If the dough sticks a bit in the bottom, add a small amount of flour (1 tablespoon or so) and continue kneading another couple of minutes.
- Once the dough is lovely, oil your hands and gather the dough into a ball. Plop the ball back in the mixing bowl, spray lightly with pan spray or brush with some olive oil and allow to rise in a warm place until at least doubled, about 3 hours. Dough should be very light and airy.
- Evenly press all the gases out of the dough and place back in the mixer bowl. Oil or spray the top again, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and press out any gases that have built up in it. Portion out 5 4oz pieces of dough. Cut the remaining dough into 3 equal pieces (weighing this part isn't as important) and set them aside, covered.
- Shape the remaining dough into smooth balls. Take one of the dough balls and roll it out on the counter until you have a very short and fat snake. Set aside and do the same with each of the other four balls.
- Keep rolling them a bit longer, one at a time in succession, until all five balls have magically turned into ropes about 3 feet long. You can also make them shorter for a smaller wreath or even just braid them as a straight loaf. Totally your call. The reason why you're working with each piece in succession is that short rest while you're working with the other ones allows the gluten to relax enough to roll them out a bit longer with each turn. I think it probably took me a good five turns of rolling each one before I liked the length..
- Pinch the ends of the five ropes together at one end. Position the strands so you have two on one side of the work space and three on the other. They should be at about a 45 degree angle from each other. Take the outside strand on the side with three and move it across his two friends to end up next to the two strands on the other side. Now that side has three strands and the other has two. Move the outside strand on that side across his two friends to end up next to the two strands on the original side. Keep braiding like that, keeping the angle between the two sets of strands as consistent as possible so the braid is uniform, until you get to the end. I watchedthis YouTube video to learn how. Very helpful.
- PInch the five ends together and then form them into a ring. Pinch the ends together where they meet. That part won't be gorgeous, but that's okay because we're going to cover them with dough leaves.
- Place the wreath on a parchment-lined pan (I turned a half sheet pan upside down so my wreath wouldn't get messed up if it started pressing against the sides. If you have a flat cookie sheet, that will work as well. Cover the wreath with plastic wrap while you deal with the leaves.
- Knead the turmeric into one of the remaining balls of dough as well as you can. Do the same with the paprika to another of them. If you have a brown spice or even some espresso powder, you can work that into the third ball for the pine cones. I just thought of that, so I didn't do it myself. If any of the dough is sticky, knead in a bit more flour to make a slightly stiffer dough.
- Roll the yellow and orange dough out very thin. Use cookie cutters to cut out leaf shapes. If you don't have leaf cutters, heart and star cutters will work because once you cut them out, you can pull on the shapes to make them more leaf-like. A third option is to just free-hand it all. That's what I did, and it worked out just fine.
- Use a bit of water to "glue" the leaves Artfully onto your wreath. You can go all the way around or stay in one place like I did. You can make your leaves bigger or smaller. Go crazy!
- For the pine cones, form small egg shapes and stick them where you want them. My guys slumped a bit, so I would probably add more flour to the third ball of dough the next time. Take scissors and snip into the dough at regular intervals to simulate the...petals? What are those called? Anyway, those.
- Spray the finished bread lightly with pan spray, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours.
- Remove the dough from the fridge. It won't look too much different than it did when you put it in there in the first place, but it has been sneakily developing flavor.
- Let rise in a warm place in your kitchen while you preheat the oven for an hour. Place a baking stone on the center rack and preheat to 350F.
- At the end of the hour, brush the whole loaf with the egg wash and transfer the bread--still on the parchment--to the baking stone. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake another 10-15 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread is 200F-205F.
- If your bread isn't as brown as you'd like (mine wasn't), put it under the broiler--watching carefully--for a couple of minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Wash and some small rosemary sprigs and poke them into the bread (artfully, of course) around the pine cones.
- Use as part of your Thanksgiving table centerpiece and then pass to share.
Shop This Recipe
Most of the ingredients you need to make a fine loaf of bread are available at the regular grocery store. Still, here are some recommendations for ingredients and equipment that will make your bread baking life easier.
#BreadBakers Family Feast Breads
Just check out all the deliciousness this month! Thanks to Pavani from Cook's Hideouta for our Family Feast theme this month!
- Baklava Bread Rolls from Mayuri's Jikoni
- Butterflake Rolls from Karen's Kitchen Stories
- Cardamom Fig Braid from A Shaggy Dough Story
- Challah Bread from la cocina de Aisha
- Cheesy Garlic Pull-Apart Buns from Food Lust People Love
- Chicken in a Blanket from Sneha's Recipe
- Classic Dinner Rolls from A Baker's House
- Cloverleaf Rolls from En La Cocina de Caro
- Cranberry & Orange Spice Bread from Baking in Pyjamas
- Eggless Coconut Pineapple Quick Bread from Seduce Your Tastebuds
- Edible Bread Basket from Passion Kneaded
- Mallorcan Ensaimadas from Ruchik Randhap
- Meyer Lemon & Cranberry Einkorn Bread from The Schizo Chef
- Pear Pie Cinnamon Rolls from From Gate to Plate
- Poppy Seed Coiled Challah from Bakingyummies
- Poppyseed Roll from A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Povitica from Spiceroots
- Pumpkin Dinner Rolls from Cook's Hideout
- Pumpkin Yeast Bread from Hostess At Heart
- Rose-shaped Buns from Sara's Tasty Buds
- Savory Cheddar Honey Butter Rolls from Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks
- Simple High Fibre Baguettes from What Smells So Good?
- Smoked Cheddar Caramelized Onion Dinner Rolls from Noshing With The Nolands
- Sweet Dumpling Squash Drop Biscuits from Magnolia Days
- Thanksgiving Wreath Braided Bread Centerpiece from Pastry Chef Online
All delicious, right?! If you're like me, the Bread Bakers always show me something new and inspire me to stretch my bread making skills. I hope you'll decide to make at least one of these recipes for your Thanksgiving feast. I know I will be.
Who Are the Bread Bakers?
#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.
We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.
If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to firstname.lastname@example.org.