This is a sweet, Christmassy version of a tear-and-share tea bread, packed with fruit and spices and almost as much fun to decorate as a real Christmas tree. I know, I need to get out more.
The observant may notice there are two versions of the bread in these pictures. I actually made three. We'll draw a veil over the first. The second was a bit solid. By the third, I'd cracked it. Please think of it as my present to you, dear reader. Happy Christmas and thanks for stopping by.
Though the snafus were my own, the sweet dough is based on one from Richard Bertinet's Dough, a book I can't recommend too highly. Get someone to put a copy in your stocking this Christmas. Or under the tree. But not this tree, obvs.obvs.
Christmas Tree Spiced Bread
250g full-fat milk
6g fast-action yeast
500g strong white bread flour
60g butter at room temperature
50g dark brown soft sugar (bash it to get any hard lumps out)
2 large eggs
1 tspn ground ginger
1 tspn powdered cinnamon
1 tspn ground allspice
150g glacé cherries, halved or quartered
100g dried apricots, chopped
Zest of two oranges and 1 lemon
To glaze and decorate:
1 egg, beaten
50g icing sugar mixed with lemon juice
Glacé cherries and other candied fruit of your choice
Warm the milk in a saucepan until it's at blood heat - if you dip your finger in, it shouldn't feel either warm or cold.
Then either tip it with the remaining bread ingredients (except the dried fruit) into a mixer with a dough hook and blend to a smooth dough. Add the dried fruit towards the end and make sure it's evenly distributed. Or if you're doing it by hand, mix the yeast into the flour and rub in the butter as if you were making a crumble. Add the sugar and salt, spices and zest, followed by the eggs and milk. Mix until you have a smooth dough, again adding the fruit towards the end. Don't be alarmed if it's a bit sticky at this point. Place in a lightly floured bowl, cover and leave to rest for an hour.
Lightly oil a large oven tray. Dust your board with flour and divide the dough into 16 equal pieces: the easiest way to do this is to form it into a sausage, cut it in half, then continue to cut each piece in half until you have 16 pieces. Form 15 into balls and the 16th into a fat log.
Arrange on the baking tray in a tree shape, setting the balls slightly apart - one ball at the top, then a row below of two, then three, four and five. Use the log to form the trunk. Cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm to rise for an hour and a half, until the balls have increased in size and joined themselves together.
Brush with egg wash and bake in a pre-heated oven at 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7 for about 18-20 minutes until the crust is a glossy, dark golden brown. Slide onto a wire rack to cool completely before attempting to decorate (although you can stop at this point if you don't want to ice it).
Mix the icing sugar with just enough lemon juice to make an icing thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Put it in a piping bag or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off and zig-zag it over the cake. Use halved glacé cherries and other cut candied fruit (or mixed peel or jelly sweets) to form the decorations and stick them on with a dab of icing. Allow the icing to set before tucking in.