What’s better than a buttery, rich, tender, slightly sweet loaf of brioche?
TWO buttery, rich, tender, very sweet brioche loaves that are lovingly shaped into twisty wreaths and filled with a sticky, caramel-like pecan filling and a subtly cinnamon-spiced bittersweet chocolate filling. Eaten while still warm from their transformative trip to the oven. On a Sunday morning.
Perfection, I tell you.
I first made these pretty (not-so-) little loaves during my final weeks at school for my roommates on a weekend morning, and I’ve been smitten with them ever since. So smitten, in fact, that they’re one of the first things I chose to bake for my family as soon I got back home.
And I have to say, I can’t tell where these swirled brioche wreaths were more positively and graciously received. It seems like each time I make these, their shelf life is basically nonexistent (always a good thing), not that I should be surprised, though. They are that good…
The dough is the simplest I think I’ve made yet — so if anyone reading this is afraid of yeast doughs, this is a pretty perfect place to start and test the waters. It comes together so quickly and so simply, yet bakes up into the softest, most buttery brioche with the perfect crumb – I kid you not, this is what brioche dreams are made of. No bread machine and no mixer required, just a couple of bowls, some basic kitchen utensils (everyone has a whisk and a rubber spatula, yes?), and some elbow grease (VERY minimal on the elbow grease) and you’re on your way to the best, most cinnamon and chocolate filled morning you’ve probably had in a while.
While I love recipes that don’t require a straight bake-through and give you the chance to let your shaped yeasted beauties chill out in the fridge overnight, you can certainly go ahead and ignore the fridge step if you so wish. They actually don’t raise at all while they’re in the fridge overnight, but having the option to keep them in the fridge for up to 12 hours is always nice to have.
Shaping them is also a very simple process; just roll out the dough and sprinkle on the filling like you would for cinnamon rolls, only after you roll the dough into a log, split it right down the center so the log is divided into two halves. From there, it’s just a matter of twisting and overlapping those halves together and then shaping into a circle to get that pretty twisted wreath look.
And, hands down, the BEST part about this recipe — it makes enough for not one, but TWO loaves! And if you have two, why on earth would you make just one filling?? I may not be a math genius over here, but those numbers just don’t sound right to me. At all.
I’ve made both of these fillings multiple times for various recipes, they’re my absolute favorites where all things swirled, bread, and sweet are concerned. The pecan and brown sugar filling (which I may be just a teensy bit partial to) is out of this world good. The recipe comes from The Kitchn, and is used to fill their very aptly named sticky caramel pecan babka loaves (on a side note, if you’re looking for an awesome recipe for babka, that’s the one to make; the ink to the recipe is at the bottom of this page!). This filling takes on some deliciously nutty and caramel flavors while it bakes and might actually be my favorite sweet bread filling in general.
And the chocolate cinnamon filing – also something of its own category. Just be sure to use really good quality chocolate here; as much as I love Nestle chocolate chips in my cookies, I made a filling similar to this years ago with them and was so unhappy with how it turned out. It wasn’t until recently when I did a re-do using Ghiradelli’s bittersweet chocolate chips (I’m not sure why my dad abruptly switched from Nestle chips to Ghiradellii, but I’m definitely not complaining!) and let me tell you, it makes a world of difference.
Now go ahead and enjoy your sleepy Sunday morning. And then think about just how much it can be improved with the addition of these beautifully swirled and sweetly spiced brioche wreaths so you can have yourself a sleepy Sunday morning re-do next weekend 😉
Swirled Brioche Wreaths
Makes: 2 9-inch round loaves (or wreaths)
For the dough:
1/4 cup warm water (heat the temperature specified on the back of the packet of dry yeast you’re using)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
12 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 – 4 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the brown sugar pecan filling:
3/4 cup pecans
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3 Tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the chocolate cinnamon filling:
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks (Ghiradelli is my favorite)
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons butter, cold and cubed
For the glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to its lowest setting (for my oven, that’s 175ºF); once it’s preheated, turn the oven off and start making the dough.
To make the dough, mix together the warm water (I use Fleischmann’s active dry yeast, which requires a higher temperature of 120ºF – 130ºF for proofing, but this temperature will vary based on which brand you use), yeast, and sugar in a large mixing bowl; cover with cling wrap and allow to proof until foamy in a warm spot in your kitchen, about 5 minutes.
In a large, microwave-safe bowl of measuring cup, add the buttermilk and the butter and microwave at 30-second intervals until the butter is fully melted. Whisk in the eggs, salt, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed (whisk quickly, though, you don’t want the hot buttermilk/milk to cook your eggs!). Once your yeast is proofed, whisk the warm buttermilk mixture into the yeast until well-mixed. Then, using a rubber spatula, gradually mix in the flour 1/2 cup measurements, until a soft dough comes together.
Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead (adding more flour, little by little, as necessary to keep the dough from sticking) for a couple of minutes, then knead into a smooth ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl and loosely cover with lightly greased cling wrap and a kitchen towel. Place in the warmed oven (if the oven racks are still very hot to the touch, place a kitchen towel or pot holder beneath the bowl) until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.
While the dough is rising, prepare the fillings. For the pecan and brown sugar filing, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Even spread the pecans onto a parchment-lined baking sheet into an even layer and bake until toasted and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Transfer the the toasted pecans to a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then give them a rough chop; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, mix up the rest of the ingredients with a fork or a spoon until well-combined, then mix in the still-warm chopped pecans. Set aside until ready to use; this can also be prepared a day in advance, just cover with cling wrap and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
For the chocolate cinnamon filling, combine all of the ingredients except for the butter in a food processor and blend until the chocolate is broken up into a mix of pea-sized pieces, larger chunks, and finely ground bits. Dump this pulverized chocolate mix into a small mixing bowl and, using your fingers, mix the butter into it until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Set aside until ready to use; this filling can also be prepared a day or so in advance and stored int he fridge.
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and dump it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half, placing half of it back into the bowl and keeping it covered with a kitchen fowl in a warm spot. Roll the dough you kept out into a 13″x15″ rectangle, and sprinkle with one of the fillings. From the longer end, roll into a tight log. Using a sharp knife, slice through the length of the log, right through the center, and position the halves so that the swirls of filling are facing outward. Interwine the halves, one over the other. Shape the twisted dough into a wreath shape, joining and pinching the ends together. Gently lift and position the wreath into a parchment-lined 9-inch cake pan and cover with cling wrap.
Roll out, fill, and shape the remaining half of the dough using the second filling. Move both of the shaped wreaths to the fridge to chill overnight. The next morning, warm the oven by preheating to the lowest temperature setting again, then turning the oven off. Brush each of the wreaths with melted butter, loosely cover with cling wrap and a kitchen towel, and allow to rise again for 1-2 hours until puffy and about double in size. Remove from the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Bake the brioche wreaths for 20-30 minutes, until they’re golden browned and sound hollow when tapped. If your loaves are browning too quickly, tent some foil over them as they finish baking.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack (still in the cake pans) and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. While they’re cooling, mix together the glaze ingredients in a small bowl, adding just enough milk to reach the desired consistency; drizzle over the pecan and brown sugar filled wreath. Lightly dust the chocolate cinnamon filled wreath with powdered sugar. Lift out of the cake pans and serve while still warm (but not hot!). Keep any leftovers stored in an airtight container for several days.
Recipe for the dough adapted from Half Baked Harvest’s Pull-Apart Cinnamon Roll Brioche Loaf
Recipe for the pecan brown sugar filling adapted from The Kitchn