It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I was already playing my Christmas music before Thanksgiving, when I had a memory of eating a gubana, a traditional sweet bread eaten during the festivities in the Friuli region of Italy, that I tasted for the first time around Christmas here with a family in Padova. It was pure coincidence that Skye McAlpine, a freelance writer and the author of the blog From My Dining Table, suggested we enjoy a recipe for a putizza, a sweet bread with a filling of chocolate, raisins, walnuts, and Skye’s own twist – tarragon butter. Skye lives in London, but she grew up in Venice, where her family home remains. Though the putizza is not strictly a Christmas sweet, it is a Christmas morning tradition in Skye’s family. It is a beautiful sweet bread, and if you have a baking tradition in your family around the holidays, it would be a lovely addition to a party or holiday meal. Skye encourages you to use her recipe only as a guide, adapting the filling to your own tastes and whims. –Kristina
About Skye: Skye McAlpine is a freelance writer and passionate home cook. She writes the blog From My Dining Table, an online cookbook of sorts, which explores the food and hidden secrets of Venice, her hometown. When she is not cooking, eating or reading Latin love poetry (she is currently wrapping up a PhD in ancient literature), she contributes recipes to a number of online publications, including the Huffington Post. Find her on: Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.
(Sweet Bread with a Chocolate, Raisin, Nut and Tarragon Butter Filling)
Note: This is quite a sticky dough – but keep kneading and you will find that it comes together beautifully. If you are baking putizza to serve at breakfast still hot from the oven, you can prove the loaf overnight. Once you have braided the dough, set it on its baking tray and cover with cling film, then leave it to rest in the fridge overnight. Just bring the loaf to room temperature before glazing and bake as per the recipe below.
For the dough
- 3 & 3/4 cups white bread flour (strong white flour)
- 1tsp salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tsps easy bake yeast
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup milk
- 1 egg
For the filling
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2 tbsps rum
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp cocoa
- 2 tbsps milk
- small bunch of fresh tarragon
- 1/3 cup walnuts
- 1/3 cup dark chocolate chunks
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
For the glaze
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
Make the dough:
- Put the raisins for the filling in a small bowl and soak them with the rum, then cover and set to one side to allow the fruit to steep. The longer the raisins stew the more flavorsome they will be.
- Sift the flour, salt and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast. Then add the butter, rubbing it into the flour mixture with your fingertips until there are no large lumps.
- Gently warm the milk in a small saucepan to just above room temperature, warm but not hot, about 110F. If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast and stop the bread from rising properly. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the warm milk and crack in the egg.
- Bring the dough together with your hands and knead for 10 minutes, until it becomes elastic. You can test whether the dough is ready by tearing off a small piece and stretching it as thin as you can – if you can see the light shining through the dough and you can see the shadow of your fingers held behind the thinnest part of the dough, it is ready. Lightly oil a good sized bowl, roll the dough into a ball using the palms of your hands and set it into the bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and set somewhere warm to prove for 90 minutes, until the dough has doubled in size.
Make the filling:
- Cream the butter, breadcrumbs, sugar and cocoa together to form a thick paste. Add the milk and whip. Finely chop the tarragon and mix it in to the paste, before setting to one side. Roughly chop the walnuts and the chocolate. Add them, along with the pine nuts, to the bowl with the raisins and the rum, and set to one side also.
Shape the loaf:
- Lightly grease the base of a baking tray and line with parchment.
- When the dough has doubled in size, tip it out of the bowl onto your work surface and knock the air out of it, then split it into four equal sized pieces. Use your hands to flatten each piece into a roughly shaped rectangle.
- Use a butter knife to spread a quarter of the filling over the rectangle of dough, leaving a margin of roughly 1/4 inch (half a centimeter) all around the edge. Sprinkle with a quarter of the mixed nuts and raisins.
- Starting with the long side of the rectangle, roll the dough tightly into a sausage shape. Twist the ends a little and make sure that the dough is sealed all over, so that none of the filling spills out while the loaf is baking. Repeat with all four sections of the dough.
- Now, roll the sausage shapes until they are roughly the same length – you can be quite rough with them – then take the far end of all four and press each one on top of the other and tuck the ends under together so that you have a knot with four strands. Braid the four strands together, then tuck the ends under. To braid the strands, take them in two pairs, one pair on the left hand side and one pair on the right hand side, then take the far right strand on the righthand side pair over the left strand, then again the same for the lefthand side pair, now take the two strands in the middle and bring the left strand over the right one. Repeat this motion – right over left, right over left and left over right in the middle – until you have braided all the dough. Lift the loaf of bread onto the lined baking tray, cover with a damp tea towel and set in a warm spot to prove for a further 45 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
- Once the loaf has risen and feels springy to touch, it’s ready to bake. Mix your remaining egg with the cream and beat until pale. Use a pastry brush to glaze the loaf with egg mixture and then place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden on top and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Set on a wire rack to cool.
Why Skye loves this recipe: Putizza (or potica), a Slovenian nut bread adopted by Venetian cuisine, isn’t really a Christmas bread – but I find that I make it most often around the holiday season, for no other reason than that it’s decadent, and somehow it’s become kind of a family tradition. We eat it for breakfast on Christmas morning, alongside traditional Italian fare like panettone, still warm from the oven, with the chocolate melting in our fingers. Stockings, wrapping paper, ribbons and pine needles strewn everywhere – a trail of happy destruction. Putizza traditionally involves nuts in some shape or form, chocolate, raisins, rum, breadcrumbs and milk. Every baker has her own version – some add a few spoonfuls of honey, others candied peel. I offer my recipe as a guide only, nothing more. Make it yours!