The bits of Christmas I like most are the stolen quiet moments. And in those quiet moments, I make Nutella Snowflake Bread.
Please do not think this is an invective against Christmas. I love Christmas. I love the sparkling lights and bright colours and traditions and organised fun. I do, really.
But I live 300 miles from most of my family, so when I visit them or they visit me at any time other than Christmas, there is an eagerness to entertain one another, to make up for lost time, to be physically in one another’s company as much as possible.
It’s only when I go home for Christmas, for that slightly extended period of time not normally afforded by weekend breaks, that I remember how simply to be around them again. I can take a quiet pleasure, a satisfaction in being with them whilst not being actually with them. It gives me the time, the ability to breathe in the house around me.
We have a small kitchen at home; there is nowhere to sit, or lounge. It is so filled with memories of my mother, of her singing along to the radio, of cooking, of talking on the phone. But mostly of her just standing quietly.
So now I stand there quietly. And think of my mother, and listen to my family in our home around me. And this year, I will stand there and make Nutella Snowflake Bread.
Nutella ‘star’ bread has been doing the pinterest round for some time, but I’ve stuffed it with hazelnuts and topped with demerara to give it crunch, and a false impression of being slightly grown up, with folds of slightly sweetened dough giving way to ripples of smooth Nutella and crunchy little hazelnuts. Giving the strips of dough a double twist, rather than just one, together with the icing sugar, makes the bread look both more elegant and also more convincingly like a snowflake.
This Nutella Snowflake Bread is so deceptively simple that making this bread is an activity eminently suitable for doing with children (under supervision; knives!), but actually there is something quite lovely about doing it alone. Although the ingredient list and method are uncharacteristically long for one of my recipes, each gentle stage is pleasant and delineated, and the whole process being to feel like sitting at a particularly peaceful children’s craft table. After all, this is just like one of those paper snowflakes that you learn to make in infant school, only edible, and filled with Nutella.
In many ways, this is my platonic bake: an involving bake which needs to be left and returned to, requiring short bursts of activity, without being manic, with languorous cup-of-tea breaks in-between each stage. It is the perfect Christmas Eve activity. And then, of course, you have the delight of the big reveal – one in direct contrast to the quiet stillness of the baking process – because this is one of the most impressive looking things I make. Although the bread looks complicatedly and elaborately braided, the truth it that it uses a simple twist: there is no plaiting, no numbering of strands. I am cackhanded and impatient, so I adore a recipe like this (or this) which does the work for me.
It is also, serendipitously, the perfect Christmas Day breakfast: fuss-free, baked the day before, warmed briefly in a not-hot oven, then sprinkled with icing sugar. It is wildly impressive, should be met with coos and applause, and demands to be eaten in broad slabs, alongside steaming coffee, ideally whilst opening stockings.
It goes like this:
Nutella Snowflake Bread
Makes: One giant snowflake (eight hearty slabs or sixteen more elegant slivers)
Takes: 1 hour-1 hour 20 minutes
Bakes: 20 minutes
- 180 ml of whole milk
- 1.5 tsp dried active yeast
- 500g plain flour (plus a little more for when you roll the dough)
- 70g sugar
- 2 eggs
- 30g butter
- pinch of salt
- 1 small pot of Nutella (smallest available that I’ve found is 200g, which is probably a little more than you need, but having excess Nutella in the house is no bad thing)
- 50g chopped hazelnuts (optional)
- 1 tablespoon of demerera sugar
- 1 tablespoon of icing sugar
1. Heat the milk in a pan over a low heat until it is warm but not hot, then add all of the yeast, a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of flour, and stir. Leave for fifteen minutes to allow the yeast to activate.
2. Separate the eggs into yolks and whites, and set the whites to one side*. Combine the yolks, flour, sugar, salt, butter, and milk-yeast mixture in a large bowl using a spoon. When the ingredients have broadly come together, scatter a little bit of flour on a clean work surface and knead and stretch the dough for around seven minutes until it is a smooth ball. This is prime quiet time. Set aside in a cling film covered bowl in a warm place to allow it to prove for 1 hour.
3. About fifteen minutes before the proving time is up, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Place the chopped hazelnuts in a single layer on a small baking tray and place in the oven for around 10 minutes. When you can smell them toasting, remove them from the oven. Keep an eye on them as nuts can catch very quickly, and you don’t want to burn them. Meanwhile stand the Nutella jar in a deep bowl and pour hot water around the jar, but not so that it reaches the lid. This will slightly melt the Nutella to make it easier to spread.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl and punch the air out of it. Divide into four even pieces. Roll the first piece of dough into a large, thin circle. Take a large cake tin or large plate and use it as a template to cut out a big circle — about 25 cm. Lay the thin dough circle gently on a large tray lined with baking paper. Spread a layer of Nutella (I use a spatula or palette knife) over the dough, right up to the edges, and sprinkle with hazelnuts if using.
5. Roll out another circle, and cut it in the same way. Lay over the top of the first circle, spread with Nutella, and sprinkle with more hazelnuts. Repeat once more with the third piece of dough. Roll out the fourth and final piece of dough, cut into the same sized circle, and lay gently on top of the others. Take a sharp knife or a pizza cutter and make sixteen equal incisions, from the outside in, cutting towards the centre of the dough, but stopping short so that there is an uncut section in the middle about the size of a two pound coin.
6. Take two adjacent strips of dough, one in each hand, and gently stretch and twist them away from each other, exposing the filling. Twist each piece twice (so they have been turned 360 degrees) and lay next to one another. Slightly tuck the tails of the strands under one another. Repeat until all strands have been twisted.
7. Here, you can give the dough a second prove for 20-30 minutes, or bake it straight away. If it receives a second prove, the bread will be lighter, more crumbly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, more bready. If you bake straight away, as I often do, it will be crisper and flatter, the layers more defined.
8. Brush the top of the bread with some of the reserved egg white (if you don’t have a pastry brush, use a square of greaseproof paper as a spreading tool) and sprinkle with demerera sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top if brown and glossy.
9. Allow to cool fully, then dust with icing sugar for the full snowflake effect.
10. TA DAH!
*The easiest way to do this is to crack the egg on the side of a bowl or mug and then pour the egg into your cupped hand, above the vessel. The white will separate from the yolk and drip into the mug or bowl, leaving you holding a whole yolk which you can decant or chuck straight into the recipe. It avoids the possibility of cutting the egg yolk and it running into the whites, which can happen if you pass the yolk between two halves of the shell, siphoning off the white.
Icing on the Cake
This bread needs nothing more than a light dusting of icing sugar. We eat this every day in the run up to Christmasa at eleven am, with tea and coffee, sitting in the office, imagining that it is a stolen quiet moment on Christmas morning.
The possibilities for tweaking this bread are essentially endless. Try sprinkling the Nutella with a little ground cinnamon or nutmeg. Add orange zest between the layers (I would have done this excpet I’ve been saving this for my next Christmas bake). Replace the hazelnuts with chopped pistachios and dried cranberries. Swap the Nutella for Biscoff (although you would lose the visual contrast of the dark brown of the hazelnut spread), or introduce a middle layer of peanut butter, bookended by the Nutella layers. You could even fill the bread with mincemeat and glaze it with sieved apricot jam. At the moment Im thinking about a savoury variation with pesto and hazelnuts and gruyere. But first, try it with Nutella and hazelnuts. Trust me.