Hazelnut Chocolate Christmas Tree Bread

This might be the prettiest bread I ever made. It takes a bit of time to make, but will amaze your guests for sure. I have included a recipe for hazelnut spread. You can also use Nutella as a filling.

Ingredients:

  • 500gr strong bread flour
  • 10gr dried yeast
  • 10gr salt
  • 40gr sugar
  • 60gr butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 250gr milk (weigh it for accuracy), boiled and cooled to room temperature
  • 2 large eggs

For the filling:

  • 100gr white hazelnuts
  • 100gr white chocolate chips (or a chopped chocolate bar)

For the Chocolate Hazelnut Spread:

  • 175gr hazelnuts
  • 90gr powdered sugar
  • 20gr cacao powder
  • 2 tbs hazelnut oil
  • 1 tbs water
  • 1/4th tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Extra:

  • 1 egg
  • vegetable oil

Recipe:

Start by roasting the hazelnuts for the chocolate hazelnut spread, so they have cooled down once you start making the spread.

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl (preferable one which fits a lid). Add the salt on one side and the yeast on the other. Make sure that the salt and yeast do not touch, as yeast is a living organism and salt will kill it which will result in a dense loaf. Mix the yeast in with some of the flour around it to spread it out some. Add the butter and sugar to the salt-side of the bowl.
Pour the room temperature milk in the bowl on the salt-side of the bowl, and mix with a wooden spoon into the flour on that side. Add the eggs and then combine everything in the bowl together with the wooden spoon. Turn the bowl out over a clean working surface. Do not add flour to the surface, you actually want the dough to stick as this will develop gluten quicker. Scrape out the bowl (and your spoon) with a dough scraper (or a very firm silicone spatula if you don’t have a dough scraper, although I can advice you to get one. They are cheap and very handy, I have more than 10 myself).

Now comes the fun part. You get to play with your food! Don’t tell your mother.
It’s a sticky dough with a high water content. Most recipe books will tell you that a wet dough like this needs a freestanding mixer but I always knead this by hand. It will get less and less sticky as the gluten develop.
There are several ways to knead dough, but for such a wet dough I like to slide my fingers under the dough on both sides, lift it up from the kitchen counter, stretch it in the air and slap it back on the kitchen counter, then folding the sides (what you hold in your hands) over the middle. In the beginning the proteins in the flour have not developed any gluten yet, so your dough with easily tear. However, the more you work it, the stretchier it will become and thus easier to work with. Don’t forget to occasionally scrape the parts stuck to the work surface off and add it back to the dough. Don’t worry about being tidy or mastering the technique, focus on keeping a bit of speed in it and you too will eventually find the method that works best for you.
If you keep up a nice speed you can work the dough to a good state in about 10 minutes. It will take a bit longer the first few times. Just remember that the dough should let go easily from your hands (so your hands will be relatively clean) and then add two minutes. When you stretch the dough thinly you should be able to see thin membranes that let the light through easily. Because this is a rich dough (which means it contains added fat and sugar) the gluten will develop a bit less than a regular white bread dough, but you should still get a good membrane.

When you have kneaded the dough enough, form it into a ball with your dough scraper (it will stick less than to your hands). Scrape under the ball over the work area, and pull this part of the dough over the top of the dough. You are folding the bottom and sides over the top. This will tighten the dough and will allow for a nice, even rise.
Place the ball of dough back in the mixing bowl (if you scraped it with the dough scraper it should be clean enough, else scrape it clean now or wash it with some water without any soap). Cover the bowl and set it on a warm spot (not too warm, 30°C is a good aim, too warm and the dough will rise too fast and easily collapse, and with very high temperatures – above 65°C – you will even kill the yeast) until the dough has doubled in size. I purposely do not specify a time, as rising time depends greatly on temperature of the dough and surrounding space.

While the dough is rising you can make the hazelnut spread. Place the cooled down hazelnuts in a small kitchen machine, I use the one that connects on my immersion blender, which is approximately 10-12cm wide. The amount will be too small for a regular kitchen machine.
Puree the hazelnuts. Keep going! Yes, a bit longer. After about 4-5 minutes (yes, that long) the hazelnuts will have turrned into a smooth, shiny puree. Add the remaining ingredients and mix approximately 1-2 minutes to get a smooth mixture. Do not overmix as this will make the paste stiffer again. Taste. If desired, you can add half a teaspoon of vanilla extract extra.

Once your dough has risen, take half of it out of the bowl and place it on a lightly oiled work surface. The oil shall prevent it from sticking without drying out the dough, which could cause the dough to rip during stretching and forming. Do not use too much oil as it will keep the loaf from forming later. Spread the dough out to form a large Christmas tree, approximately 5cm smaller than your largest baking tray.
Place the dough on the baking tray. Spread it completely with the chocolate hazelnut spread, I use approximately 2/3rd of the spread the recipe above makes.
Create a line on the spread from the tip to the right side of the trunk, and again on the left, this to indicate which are branches and which is the trunk. Make rows of hazelnuts about 2-3 above one another, on the branch-sections (the left and right sections) and divide the chocolate chips next to the hazelnuts, leaving a centimeter free between the rows. Divide the remaining hazelnuts and white chocolate chips over the middle trunk of the tree.
Spread the remaining dough out to form the same Christmas tree shape and place this on top of the chocolate covered dough. Push the dough together around the hazelnut-chocolate filling, creating branches and a trunk. Trim any excess on the sides with a pizza blade.
Now cut inbetween all of the branches until the trunk, keeping the branch connected to the trunk on the side. Take a branch and twist it around itself a few times, creating a chocolate twist on the branches. Make sure you work in a mirrored way, so if you twist the branches upwards, twist them upwards on the other side as well (which is the other way clockwise) to create a nice synchronised effect.

Cover loosely with plastic and make sure the plastic does not touch the dough.
Leave the bread to rise again until doubled (bear in mind that the filling will not rise, only the dough). In the mean time heat your oven to 200°C.

Stir the egg with a fork. When your dough has risen, smear the top of the loaf with some of the egg wash. If you want, sprinkle some sesame seeds on top to refer to decorations or snow, and hazelnuts for baubles and a walnut as a topper.
Place the dough in the hot oven. Spray a bit of water over the loaf and on the bottom of the oven to create steam, which will allow your loaf to rise better. Lower the temperature to 180°C and bake the loaf 30min. Does your loaf brown too quickly, lower the temperature to 160°C.

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