A couronne, or 'crown', is a traditional French Christmas loaf. I've been making these rich sweet breads - stuffed with marzipan, fruit and nuts - for years. Believe me, they are well worth a try. They make a wonderful centrepiece to a Christmas feast, or a spectacular gift.
Makes 1 loaf Prep 3 hours Bake 25 minutes
250g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
8g instant yeast
50g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
135ml warm full-fat milk
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
For the filling
120g ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped
150ml orange juice (freshly squeezed or from a carton)
90g unsalted butter, softened
70g light muscovado sugar
35g plain flour
65g chopped walnuts
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
50g apricot jam
100g icing sugar
50g flaked almonds
1. The night before, for the filling, put the apricots into a bowl, pour on the orange juice and set aside to macerate.
2. The next day, tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter, milk and the egg and turn the mixture around with your fingers. Continue to mix until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until you have a soft dough.
3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead. Keep kneading for about 6 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft smooth skin.
4. When your dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until at least doubled in size – at least 1 hour, but it’s fine to leave it for 2 or even 3 hours.
5. While the dough is rising, make the filling. Drain the apricots. Cream the butter and muscovado sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in the drained apricots, flour, raisins, walnuts and orange zest.
6. Line a baking tray with baking parchment or silicone paper.
7. Turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface. Without knocking it back, roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 33 x 25cm. Turn the dough 90° if necessary, so you have a long edge facing you. Spread the apricot mixture evenly over the dough. On a floured surface, roll out the marzipan thinly and lay it over the apricot mixture. Roll up the dough tightly like a Swiss roll. Roll it slightly to seal, then cut it almost in half lengthways, leaving it just joined at one end – like a pair of legs. Twist the 2 dough lengths together, then join the ends to form a circular ‘crown’. Transfer to the baking tray.
8. Put the tray inside a clean plastic bag and leave to prove for 1 hour, or until the dough is at least doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200°C
9. Bake the couronne for 25 minutes until risen and golden. Place on a wire rack. Gently heat the apricot jam with a splash of water, sieve and brush over the warm loaf to glaze. Mix the icing sugar with enough water to make a thin icing, drizzle over the loaf and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Leave to cool.
Taken from Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake, published by Bloomsbury
Photograph © Peter Cassidy