Chocolate-hazelnut sweet braided bread
Creating the recipe of the perfect chocolate sweet bread is one of those projects I have been working on for a few years. With several attempts behind my back I can honestly say it’s not easy to make a chocolate sweet braided bread that can meet all the requirements. My braids were either too soft (the loaf lost its shape) or too hard; the dough was too crumbly and dried out, or it splitted during the baking process. I tried to use cocoa powder and butter for the filling, it didn’t work. I spread the dough with only melted chocolate – it was too concentrated. I failed many times, but I didn’t give up.
Last week I set about a new trial and, what a surprise, the result has more than fulfilled my expectations. It stands all the demands I expect from a chocolate sweet bread: it’s soft, not crumbly, not too sweet and yeast’s taste doesn’t dominate the pastry. Maybe it’s not flawless, but the best of all the chocolate sweet loafs I have ever made.
Though the recipe is a little long and may seem to be complicated, but appearances are deceptive. There is just one thing that makes this sweet bread different from the usual yeast pastries, namely the so called “cold rising”. As the dough contains more butter than a traditional sweet bread, it shall be proofed at low temperature to prevent butter from melting. For this reason it’s recommended letting the dough rise in the fridge overnight, so it can double in size.
For the dough:
- 500 g (~4 cups) flour
- 90 g (~1/2 cup) sugar
- 7 g (~2 1/2 tsp) dry yeast
- 2 pinches of salt
- 2 eggs
- 100 ml (~1/2 cup) cold milk
- 150 g (~5 1/3 oz) soft butter
For the filling:
- 100 g hazelnuts
- 150 g (~5 1/3 oz) semi-sweet dark chocolate
- 120 g (~4 oz) butter
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp powdered sugar
- pinch of salt
For the egg wash:
- 1 egg
Sift the flour in a bowl, add yeast, sugar, salt, eggs and milk, and mix them up. Add the soft, cubed butter in batches to the mixture and knead until smooth and pliable. Cover and leave it to rest in the fridge overnight (or at least for 3-4 hours).
Toast hazelnuts in a dry pan until they are aromatic and lightly toasted, and the skins have started to crack. To remove hazelnut skins, place the hazelnuts in a clean tea towel and gently rub together (don’t worry about skins that don’t come off). Cool completely, then grind them in a food processor.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add the dark chocolate broken into small pieces and stir until it melts completely, and fully incorporated. Whisk in cocoa powder and powdered sugar.
Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 3 equal pieces and form balls. Roll out each dough ball into a thin 40×30 cm / 15×10 inch rectangle. Divide the chocolate filling among the oblongs and spread them evenly. Scatter ground hazelnuts on top. Starting with one long end roll them up.
Place the rolls seam side down, press the 3 pieces together very securely at one end and braid them as you would a girl’s hair. Seal the second end by pressing the three pieces together and tucking under the loaf. Place the loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the loaf with the egg wash and let it rise in a draught free, lukewarm place for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 356°F. Brush the top of the braid with beaten egg again and bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.