I love making festive food and this is an idea I came up with based on a starter we used to have in our favorite restaurant before they changed the menu. The cranberry studded loaf has a jeweled look that’s perfect for a Christmas table and the hot cheese and warm bread are a perfect combination for cold winter nights. This is great as a starter for a dinner party, a casual supper or buffet table. We chose to eat the bread while it was still warm but there’s no reason you couldn’t make it ahead of time. The cranberry sauce is also made in advance – in fact the sauce we had last night was from a freshly opened jar that I bottled last Christmas. I always make too much sauce for Christmas dinner so by bottling in sterile jars straight out of the dishwasher I get gorgeous cranberry sauce that keeps really well.
The plaiting in the bread was inspired by my attempt yesterday to do a fishtail braid in my daughter’s hair. I’d never done one before and had to watch a YouTube tutorial to see how it was done but it looked pretty simple so I thought it would look nice in the wreath bread I’d been planning. If you don’t have time simply twist the loaf to make a spiral and form into a circle but otherwise have a go – as long as you keep the strands separate from each other it’s pretty straight forward.
To make the cranberry sauce:
You will need some (3 / 4) empty jam jars to pot the sauce in. They need to be completely sterile when the sauce is put in and them sealed immediately. The easiest way to sterilise the jam jars and lids is to wash them in the dishwasher. The heat from drying them in the dishwasher will also sterilise them. Simply time your sauce to be ready as your dishwasher finishes so that they are hot and sterile – be careful taking the jars out as they will be hot. (You can also sterilise in an oven if you don’t have a dishwasher).
200g Castor Sugar
50ml Orange juice
- Place all the ingredients in a small pan and stir until the sugar has dissolved into the liquid.
- Cook on a medium heat until the cranberries are bursting and the sauce is a beautiful red colour.
- While the sauce is still hot remove your sterilised jam jars and lids from the dishwasher and immediately spoon the sauce into the jars and tighten the lids.
- Leave the jars to one side to cool then store in a cool dry place or in a fridge if you prefer – wait for the jars to be completely cool if placing in a fridge as the sudden temperature change could otherwise crack the glass.
To make the cranberry wreath bread:
500g strong white bread flour
1 sachet fast action dried yeast
2 table spoons castor sugar
175ml whole milk
100g chopped dried cranberries
1 beaten egg to glaze
- Add the flour, yeast, sugar and salt to a large bowl and mix together – place the salt on the opposite side from the yeast or the salt may denature the yeast.
- Mix the milk and water together and heat for approx 30 seconds in a microwave until slightly warm. This will kick start the yeast respiration and allow the dough to prove slightly quicker.
- Gradually stir the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients until combined then turn out onto a floured surface and knead. (This can also be done with a dough hook in a free standing mixer.)
- Continue to knead until the dough is smooth and elastic – about 10 minutes, then form into a ball and place in an oiled bowl covered with clingfilm.
- Leave to prove for at least an hour until doubled in size.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knock it back to remove the excess air.
- Knead the chopped cranberries into the dough so that they are evenly distributed.
To plait the loaf:
- Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 25cm wide and as long as you can make it.
- Starting about 2 cm below the top of the rectangle use a pizza wheel or knife to cut the rectangle in half lengthways (it should stay joined together at the top.
- Cut each half in half again lengthways again starting about 2cm below the top. – you should now have 4 strips of dough.
- Cut each of the 4 strips into 3 giving you 12 strips in total.
- Divide the 12 strips of dough into two groups of 6.
- Bring the outside strip from the left hand group across the left hand group and place it on the inside of the right hand group.
- Bring the outside strip from the right hand group across the right hand group and place it on the inside of the left hand group.
- Repeat these steps all the way down the plait – you will need to move the strips apart a few times to keep the groups clear and stop strips from sticking together.
- Once the plait is complete press the ends together neatly.
- The top of the plait has a section of dough which is not braided, roll this as flat as you can then bring the bottom of the plait round on top of this section to form a circle.
- Place on a buttered and floured tray to prove for an hour – place something oven proof and circular that is the same size as your Camembert in the middle of the ring so that as it rises you keep a hole large enough for the cheese.
- Turn on the oven to preheat to 190c
- After the bread has finished it’s second prove use a pastry brush to glaze the top with the beaten egg and place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until the top is golden brown and the base sounds hollow when tapped.
- Place on a wire rack to cool.
To bake the Camembert:
- Preheat the oven to 200c – ideally take the bread out when baked and turn the oven up.
- Open the box and remove all other packaging from the cheese then place it back in the box leaving the lid off.
- Drizzle the top with olive oil.
- Place on tray and bake for 10 minutes or until the middle of the cheese is molten.
- Remove from the oven and place in the middle of the warm bread on a bread board or serving plate.