Friday, December 04, 2009

Elephant Juice and the Yule Wreath

Update: The photo at the start of the post is now one sent by NoHandle. It shows the glorious Elephant Juice Roll he made for his family, with a whole lot more glaze than mine...I think I like his better! He also made some suggestions for improvements in the directions in the recipe, so I've made those changes in italics. I think you'll find it improves the recipe. Thanks NoHandle!

When our daughter was very young she had the most wonderful imagination. She still has a great imagination, but the flights of fancy of a young child are a special joy. Sweetie was enchanted with her and used to pretend that there were fairies who lived in the corner of the kitchen, near the ceiling. He would point that way and say “look at the fairies” and while she was distracted he would do a little ‘magic’ and pull a coin from ‘behind her ear’ and similar fun. One of his favorite drinks was apricot nectar. Just for fun he called it ‘elephant juice’ which encouraged her to drink it. I think the thicker texture of the nectar drinks was not as appealing as watered juice drinks, but who could resist elephant juice?

Recently I was remembering the fun we had during those early years and began to wonder if I could make a sweet bread for Christmas morning with ‘elephant juice’. Having sweet rolls or bread on Christmas morning has become a tradition. After looking unsuccessfully through a number of books and online sites, I decided to make major changes to the Yule wreath recipe from last year (which I filled with a sausage and spinach stuffing) and do a sweet apricot almond version.

Almonds go so well with apricots, so it was a no-brainer to combine them. Since dried apricots can use a little plumping, I decided to soak the finely chopped dried apricots in warm rum. I used some of the rum that was drained after soaking as liquid for the glaze that was drizzled over the top. I also made a large wreath for Christmas which will be frozen until then, plus a small ring for Sweetie and me to try. With a new recipe you never know how it will turn out.

Since I have a nice sourdough starter going, I used some of that, but you can always substitute a package of instant dry yeast, rehydrated in ¼ cup warm water instead of the sourdough. Since there would be a fairly heavy filling, I added a bit of yeast to the dough, too.

The smaller ring turned out really well…it will be hard to let the large one stay in the freezer until Christmas! You can really taste the apricots in both the dough and the filling. The almonds are the perfect complement in taste and texture. The cream cheese adds a richness very appropriate to the season. All in all, a very successful recipe for a fancy holiday bread.

Allow some time for making this. The apricots need to soak (I left mine overnight and it really allowed the rum flavor to shine), the dough needs to rise twice and then bake for almost an hour. You should cool the wreath before slicing. The glaze, if you are using it, needs to go on the cooled bread and be allowed to dry, too.

Now you know why I made mine early. I’ll take it out of the freezer on Christmas Eve to let it thaw in the fridge, then reheat it in the morning, let it cool 10 minutes, then glaze it and let it sit another 10 minutes. By the time Sweetie has the bowl of cut up fresh fruit ready and the coffee is made we will have a delicious, slightly warm, fragrant, almond and apricot yeasted delight to eat.

Elephant Juice Wreath
adapted from Betty Crocker's International Cookbook

1 package active dry yeast
(I used 1 cup sourdough starter instead, plus ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast mixed into the water - below)
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 deg. F)
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
½ cup lukewarm apricot nectar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
2-1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1-Whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour (1 cup bread flour and 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour), cardamom, nutmeg, sugar and salt. Stir in milk, nectar, extract, butter, egg and proofed yeast (or starter and proofed yeast if using). Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.

2-Turn dough onto lightly floured surface: knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover and let rise in warm place until double, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. (Mine took 2 1/2 hours)

3-Prepare Filling
½ cup dried apricots
½ cup warm rum
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds, plus 2 tablespoons for top of wreath

Soak finely chopped dried apricots in rum for at least 2 hours. Drain well, reserve the drained liquid, and set both aside.
Cream the cream cheese and milk in the bowl of an electric mixer, until light, then add the sugar and mix well to combine.

4- Punch down the dough. Roll into rectangle, 15 x 9-inches, on a lightly floured surface. Spread with the cream cheese mixture to within 1/4-inch of the edges. Evenly distribute the chopped, drained apricots pieces over the cheese mixture. Sprinkle on the 1/3 cup sliced almonds evenly. Roll up tightly, beginning at the wide edge. Pinch edge of dough into roll to seal well. Stretch roll to make even. With sealed edge down, shape into ring on lightly greased cookie sheet.
Pinch ends together.

5- With scissors or kitchen shears, make cuts 2/3 of the way through the ring at 1-inch intervals. Turn each section on it's side (90 degree turn), to show off the pretty swirled filling. (Grasp top of each 1 inch wide "piece", which is still attached to the ring at the bottom, and twist is so the filling side is facing the ceiling.) Cover ring loosely with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray. Let rise until double, about 40 to 50 minutes.

6- Heat oven to 350 deg. F. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes or longer if needed, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. (If it browns too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.)
7 – When loaf has cooled, it can be drizzled with a glaze.

Glaze – ½ cup confectioners sugar whisked with enough reserved apricot drained liquid to make a good drizzle consistency. Sprinkle drizzle with reserved 2 tablespoons of sliced almonds.
Let the glaze harden before serving.

I'm sending this seasonal recipe over to Susan of Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting, a wonderland of yeasted recipes. Do check it out here.
BTW: The thawed ring was great on Christmas Day, although the fresh one was better. It was nice to have it already to warm in a low oven and serve. Hope you enjoy this if you try it!


  1. I love that it's made with "elephant juice!". What a wonderful memory.

  2. Beautiful wreath! It just says Christmas morning to me. Did the elephant juice make it a bit heavy? (Joke there.) Sounds delicious!

  3. This is a gorgeous wreath and an excellent idea! I love the filling and your use of elephant juice. So festive.

  4. That is so ... filled with elephant magic beauty, I am awed!
    A young child's imagination truly is a very special joy. And I love the creativity it inspires in us as parents.