Apricot Couronne


250g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting

5g salt

8g instant yeast

50g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

135ml warm full-fat milk

1 medium egg, lightly beaten

For the filling

120g ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped

150ml orange juice (freshly squeezed or from a carton)

90g unsalted butter, softened

70g light muscovado sugar

35g plain flour

60g raisins

65g chopped walnuts

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

200g marzipan

To finish

50g apricot jam

100g icing sugar

50g flaked almonds

Apricot Couronne

Makes 1 loaf
Prep 3 hours
Bake 25 minutes

A couronne, or 'crown', is a traditional French Christmas loaf. I've been making these rich sweet breads - stuffed with marzipan, fruit and nuts - for years. Believe me, they are well worth a try. They make a wonderful centrepiece to a Christmas feast, or a spectacular gift.

1. The night before, for the filling, put the apricots into a bowl, pour on the orange juice and set aside to macerate.

2. The next day, tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter, milk and the egg and turn the mixture around with your fingers. Continue to mix until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until you have a soft dough.

3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead. Keep kneading for about 6 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft smooth skin.

4. When your dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until at least doubled in size – at least 1 hour, but it’s fine to leave it for 2 or even 3 hours.

5. While the dough is rising,  make the filling. Drain the apricots. Cream the butter and muscovado sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in the drained apricots, flour, raisins, walnuts and orange zest.

6. Line a baking tray with baking parchment or silicone paper.

7. Turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface. Without knocking it back, roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 33 x 25cm. Turn the dough 90° if necessary, so you have a long edge facing you. Spread the apricot mixture evenly over the dough. On a floured surface, roll out the marzipan thinly and lay it over the apricot mixture. Roll up the dough tightly like a Swiss roll. Roll it slightly to seal, then cut it almost in half lengthways, leaving it just joined at one end – like a pair of legs. Twist the 2 dough lengths together, then join the ends to form a circular ‘crown’. Transfer to the baking tray.

8. Put the tray inside a clean plastic bag and leave to prove for 1 hour, or until the dough is at least doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200°C

9. Bake the couronne for 25 minutes until risen and golden. Place on a wire rack. Gently heat the apricot jam with a splash of water, sieve and brush over the warm loaf to glaze. Mix the icing sugar with enough water to make a thin icing, drizzle over the loaf and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Leave to cool.

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