The idea seemed simple enough. Make a enriched dough add some amazing flavors. Complete the loaf with braiding and baking. What could go wrong? Well how about everything. It started with the best of intensions. I was going to make a special bread for easter. Time kept getting away from me but I was confident I could still get it done…
The recipe called for making your own Marzipan. I love this sort of thing, getting to make something from scratch that you would normally buy at that store. It then calls for freezing it so you can grate it. Well, I made this Friday morning and it was obvious it wasn’t going to freeze quickly so I went to run errands. When I came home I was able to grate it but it was still very soft. I put what I grated on some wax paper and put it back in the freezer.
Saturday we had to do our usual shopping so I worked on the bread once we got home which was in the afternoon. (Day before Easter and I am finally getting to making my Easter bread…) I soak my golden raisins in amaretto and I make go to make the enriched dough. The recipe called for warming the milk and adding it to the yeast. It said after 10 minutes it should be foamy. Mine wasn’t, but knowing it wasn’t a problem with my yeast (I use it to great success often) I pushed forward with the recipe. I added the cold whipping cream and the cold orange juice. (Didn’t make sense but I was trying to stick with the recipe.)
The recipe then tells you to put the sugar, salt, zest, eggs, yolks, and extract in with the yeast mixture. All this was to go into the bowl of the mixer and I was to beat it with the paddle attachment… (That right there seemed VERY odd. Something that is just liquid will only slosh around…) It then tells you to add half the flour with the mixer running! (This seemed crazy to me…but I continued. They did mention that this recipe is too big for the standard mixer and that’s why the flour is added in two portions. However, since I have a 7 quart mixer I was able to move forward with adding all the flour.)
It then has you add the butter a tablespoon at a time. Once it’s all incorporated you then add in the raisins and the marzipan, which I did. At that point the dough was looking too sticky so I added flour a little at a time until the dough came together and cleaned the sides of the bowl. It was still not holding together well at this point so I also kneaded it on the counter for a bit to get it to come together. I then transferred the whole thing into a large bowl and covered it.
There it sat. Two hours go by and nothing. If there was a rise it was hard to detect. I was concerned. I then turned on the oven and place the bowl on the stove. Another hour and we had a slight rise. Nothing to get too excited about though. At that point it was late. I turned off the oven. Left the dough sitting out and headed to bed. This was not looking well for my Easter loaf as the next morning was Easter.
I got up and lo and behold it had risen! Motivated by it’s rise I pushed forward. I turned the dough out and got a weight. (The recipe said it could either make one big loaf or 2 small loaves. I opted for one big loaf. I portioned the dough out into eight pieces and proceeded to to an eight-braid loaf. It looked beautiful! I was so proud of it that I carefully added the almonds on one at a time! It said to let the loaf rest for 30 minutes, which I did. I then put it into a 350ºF oven to bake… (within 10-15 minutes I could see all the braids were ripping apart in the bake. The loaf was so long it had to go diagonally on the baking sheet. It then started oozing over the edge of the baking sheet. The ends started to burn! After 45-50 minutes in the oven I finally called it. I pulled it out because the ends were getting so charred. However, the center was severely under baked.
It looked horrible and parts were unedible. So much for my Easter Loaf… In the images below you can see my first and second attempts to see how badly the first one went.
I was feeling little let down. I had such high hopes for this loaf. I even managed to successfully do an eight braid! So what went wrong? I needed a break form the kitchen. I went out and mowed one of our fields. This gave me time to think about the loaf and where it could have gone wrong but I also started wondering when does one type of loaf become a different kind of loaf. Basically what makes a Mazanec a Mazanec? Is it the technique? Is it the flavoring? Is it the shaping? How is Mazanec different than say something like my challah? Both doughs are enriched. They both use milk, butter, and eggs. Why was it that when I do my typical six-braid challah it doesn’t tare in the oven?
All these questions started picking at my brain. Finally I decided to do some research and dug into some great articles online about Mazanec. First off the discovered the recipe I was using wasn’t “traditional” a big part of the Mazanec is that it’s shaped into a round loaf and a cross is sliced in the top. The recipe I was using was braiding the bread. So, already I know I am veering away from traditional. Then as I dug I discovered that normal raisins soaked in rum seemed more traditional. They all also used citrus but it varied from lemon to orange. They all also used some amount of almond extract to some degree. I also read a lot of articles that all talked about patience. some people even go up wot 3-4 rises before shaping. Some it’s over days. Some recipes even added more flavor in the way of spices. This all gave me ideas. I also looked up trouble shooting why it was ripping in the bake. Most articles I read said there were two issues. One would be that the proofing after the shaping wasn’t long enough and that the oven being dry could cause cracking and splitting so adding a pan with boiling water to create steam could help.
Knowing this I decided to re-write the recipe.
Now when I re-write a recipe typically I re-organize the ingredients to be added in a different order and maybe in a different way. Occasionally I add something to the recipe but not often. I decided to use my challah recipe as a guide. The recipe calls for making a sponge. I found this is the surest way of knowing in advance if you are going to have issues with the yeast. One other thing I was thinking about with my challah is that it uses Kamut and Millet flours along with all-purpose. So I began thinking about using alternative flours. That lead me to adding almond flour as part of the mix since almond was already a flavor component. As I was getting it out of the cupboard I keep all my flour varieties in I noticed my Amaranth flour which seemed like it could also offer something interesting to the bread. Finally I chose bread flour hoping it’s higher gluten content would help keep the braid intact.
Next I played with the flavor of the filling a little. Since I used the bulk of my golden raisins and I couldn’t get more for a while I looked in my pantry and found some old currants and sultanas as well as the little bit of golden raisins I had left. I grabbed them all and soaked them in rum rather than amaretto. I also used the idea of adding ground fennel seeds to the dough which I knew would work well with the fruit and the rum I chose.
Finally I changed all the rise time and methods. For the sponge I let it sit for 30 minutes rather than the 10 of the original recipe which worked great! I say very happy active yeast before I moved on. Once the dough was made I set the bowl, tightly covered in plastic, on the stove with the oven on. I let the dough rise for a little over 2 hours. I would have let it go longer but I had more than doubled the volume. I then made two loaves. I now know my max length for a loaf is 14 inches. This allowed me to assess that it would make two goos sized loaves.
After shaping things really changed. Since I really wanted a beautiful braid I did my braid for both, putting them on separate baking sheets, in a cold oven, with a pan in the bottom. I then poured boiling water from a kettle into the pan, closed the door and let it sit over night. This slow gentle rise meant I would have the best luck of avoiding tears as the heat from the oven shouldn’t have any huge bursts from the yeast.
The final major changes were in the bake I opted for a pan with boiling water to make steam in the oven for the first 30 minutes of the bake. This also helped insure minimal tearing as the steam would allow the dough to stay more pliable rather than getting tough and tearing. The last piece to all of this was the glaze. This offered both a shine and a sweetness to this great to help make the braids look even more phenomenal.
In the end it turned out perfectly. All of the extra steps I used sure I had a good bake and I didn’t have any damage to my loaf while baking. Now I have a recipe that with just a few tweaks will be an absolute winner.
Word of caution if you’re interested in making this bread: It takes a minimum of 3 days to make it. Be Patient…
FOR THE DOUGH:
- 10 fl ounces Whole Milk, 105º-110ºF
- 4 fl ounces Heavy Whipping Cream
- ½ ounce (14 grams) Active Dry Yeast
- 200 grams Almond Flour
- 60 Amaranth Flour
- 1000 grams Bread Flour (more if needed)
- 2 ½ teaspoons Salt
- 200 grams Granulated Sugar, divided
- 1 tablespoon Ground Fennel
- Zest of 3 Oranges
- 2 Whole Eggs
- 2 Egg Yolks
- Juice of 3 Oranges (divided)
- ½ teaspoon Almond Extract
- 227 grams Unsalted Butter, softened
- 87 grams Marzipan, frozen and grated
FOR THE MARZIPAN:
- 216 grams Almond Flour
- 183 grams Powdered Sugar
- 1 Egg White
- 10 grams Rosewater
- 10 grams Almond Extract
FOR THE ADD-INS:
- 120 grams “Kraken” Rum
- 60 grams Water
- 40 grams Sultana
- 230 Currants
- 110 Golden Raisins
FOR THE EGG WASH:
- 1 Egg, large
- FOR THE GARNISHING:
- 1 ½ ounces Sliced Almonds
- ½ ounce Fennel Seeds
- FOR THE ORANGE GLAZE:
- 9 ounces Orange Juice (remaining juice)
- 60 grams Granulated Sugar
Start with making the marzipan. In a food processor add the almond flour and powdered sugar; pulse until combine. Add the egg white, rosewater, and almond extract. Process until the mixture holds together. If too dry add 1 teaspoon of water at a time. Wrap in wax paper, place in a ziplock and freeze.
In a small saucepan bring the rum and water to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the dried fruits, remove from the heat, and let stand for 30 minutes. Strain and discard the excess liquid.
In the bowl of the stand mixer add the yeast. In a measuring cup add milk and whipping cream. Warm in the microwave to 105ºF about 1:10 minutes. Whisk together. Add the almond flour, 60 grams of the bread flour, and 40 grams of the sugar. Whisk together to make a thick paste. Add the remaining flour and top with salt. DO NOT STIR. Let sit, tightly covered for 30 minutes. The yeast mixture should push up through the flour causing fissures.
In a small bowl, with a fork, mix together the sugar, zest, and fennel until it looks like a corse sand, then add to the top of the flour. After dumping out the sugar use the same bowl for 2 fl ounces juice, eggs, yolks, and extract, whisk together well. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix on low until the dough comes together. Add the butter a tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Add flour if the dough is too sticky until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl.
Add the raisins and the marzipan. Mix until a smooth cohesive mass. Let rise until double in size 2-4 hours (this will work best if in a VERY warm place. I like to stick mine on top of the stove with the oven on.
Weigh out 16 portions to become your ropes*, 2 eight-braid loaves. Set 8 back into the bowl and cover with a towel. Roll your ropes to about half the length you want for all the pieces. Then start at the first one and finish rolling it to the desired length. This will allow the dough to rest as it’s being rolled out giving you stronger braids and less breakage. They should be between 12-14 inches long. Shape.
*(2952 grams total weight = 184 gram ropes.)
Here’s my secret for elaborate braiding: Take masking tape and place it at the bottom of each rope. With a sharpie (or anything easy to see) write the number of each rope 1-8. As you follow the steps adjust the ropes to correspond with the numbers. This will make it easy to follow the steps and get a good looking braid. (Even I get confused at points and this keeps me on track.)
Braid the dough:
Fan out the eight strands joining together at the top.
Place strand 8 under strand 7 and then over 1
Place strand 2 under 3, then over strand 8
Place Strand 1 over strand 4
Place strand 7 under 6 then over strand 1
Place strand 8 over strand 5
2 under 3, then over 8
1 over 4
7 under 6 then over 1
8 over 5
Repeat the spring steps with the second set of dough.
(I did notice that the butter was seeping out of my dough as I handled it. I ended up blotting the dough while it was in ball form to absorb as much of the butter leaking out as possible. Next time I make it I am thinking I might reduce the amount of butter.)
Let rise until double in size, preferably overnight. Place the shaped loaves in a cold oven. Place a pan in the bottom of the oven and pour in boiling water. Leave the door closed until you are ready to move on to the next step.
Remove the loaves and your pan of water from the oven.
Whisk up an egg in a small bowl. Brush the loaves with the egg wash. In a mini chopper or food processor pulse the almonds and fennel seeds until the nuts are a rough texture. Sprinkle on the loaves. (This bread has both a egg wash and a glaze. This may seem odd but the egg wash is needed as a glue for the topping and the glaze is to both give it the finished shine and a little fresh orange taste.)
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Once the oven is preheated place a pan on the bottom rack (I like to use a casserole dish) and pour in the boiling water. Place one loaf on the top rack. Bake for 30 minutes.
While the bread is baking make the orange glaze. Add the juice and the sugar to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. You’re looking for a syrup like consistency and it will thicken slightly when it cools. I occasionally stir the mixture to make sure the sugar fully dissolves. I keep cooking it over medium heat until the entire surface is bubbling. I then remove it from the heat and set it aside.
Remove the water and loosely cover with foil. Bake for another 18-20 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 190ºF.
Immediately removing the bread from the oven brush with the orange glaze. Let fully cool before cutting into it.