This past year, while sifting through old cookbooks at a yard sale, I came across a book that was filled with sensory memory for me. It was a simple paperback on bread published by Sunset Magazine in the seventies, and my mom had baked from it throughout my childhood.
I remembered in particular the richly fragrant Swedish Cardamom Wreath that she would bake at the holidays and dot with candied fruits (that I would dutifully pick off before eating). I have adapted the recipe for my own family at the holidays—taking advantage of my standing mixer and adding fresh lemon zest and vanilla bean to the glaze. Oh, and no candied fruit!
Adapted from Sunset Cookbook of Breads (out of print)
This recipe makes two bread wreaths—one to keep and one to share with a friend or neighbor.
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups warm milk (about 110 degrees)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
7 to 7 1//2 cups all-purpose flour
For the icing (enough for one wreath):
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine lemon zest
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons milk
Sliced almonds for garnish
In the bowl of a standing mixer, dissolve yeast in the warm water. Stir in milk, butter, egg, salt, sugar and cardamom until blended. Attach dough hook and gradually add the seven cups of flour with the mixer running. Dough will come together and be sticky. Add additional 1/2 cup of flour if it seems your dough is too sticky, but remember the dough will come together as it is kneaded. Knead on low speed for 10 minutes or until your dough is glossy and smooth. Turn out dough (tucking in ends into a ball) into a large greased bowl. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled (1 1/2-2 hours). Note: after the first rise, you can refrigerate your dough until the next day—a good choice for baking on Christmas morning. Allow the dough to come to room temperature and proceed as below.
Punch dough down and divide into six equal portions. Roll each portion into a rope about 24 inches long. Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a baking sheet, take three ropes, pinch them together at the top, braid loosely, then loop around to form a wreath, pinching and tucking in the ends where they meet. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover the sheets and allow to rise until almost doubled (30-45 minutes).
Bake wreaths at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes (switching positions of the pans halfway through) or until golden. Cool on racks while you prepare the glaze.
For the icing, mix the powdered sugar, lemon zest, and the seeds scraped from one vanilla bean with the milk until smooth. Drizzle over your wreath. Garnish with sliced almonds if you wish. Wreath is best served warm and gently torn apart rather than sliced.