I have a new book; James Martin’s Sweet. A friend bought it for my birthday. It’s signed and everything. How exciting. There are some delicious looking puds and cakes in Sweet, and the photos are amazing. We’re so close to Christmas that there was only one thing to try, the Candied Fruit Christmas Garland; a brioche filled with rum-soaked candied fruit.
I’ve been trying to produce a decent enriched dough since I tried to make hot cross buns at Easter. They weren’t quite right, neither were my iced fingers, or the stollen I made last week. The chocolate savarin I attempted for my husband’s birthday ended up in the bin. Would I get better results with James Martin than with Mary Berry, Delia Smith, or Martha from the Great British Bake Off 2014?
According to James, brioche dough is really simple to make. Really simple eh? – we’ll see. In the recipe, the top tip is to use fresh yeast. Well, Tesco only does easy-bake and I couldn’t find any in Marks. After my unsuccessful hunt around Leamington Spa for candied peel last week, I couldn’t face the possibility of another fruitless search, so I decided to risk the recipe with dried yeast. Not the greatest start.
I don’t have a great deal of experience in using anything other than easy-bake yeast. I know you have to activate it in liquid and sugar before putting into the dough mix. I read the instructions carefully, then got into a bit of a state about whether it’s OK to use milk rather than water to activate the yeast if that’s the liquid that’s going into the recipe. Google said that, yes I could, and Google must be right, so I mixed the yeast with warm milk and a bit of sugar, put it on top of the radiator and hovered over it for any signs of froth.
To make the dough, I mixed strong flour, salt and sugar. When my yeast looked like this
I added it to the flour mixture along with some eggs and mixed it in the KitchenAid with the dough hook. The aim was to end up with a soft, smooth dough. The recipe said that this would take around five minutes. Once I had my soft, smooth dough, I added some softened butter. At the top of the recipe, James Martin emphasises the importance of adding the butter to the mixture slowly. There’s even a picture of him adding small cubes a few at a time. What did I do? I added my butter in two large lumps. Things were not looking at all good for my Christmas garland. Next time, I will read the recipe and I will look at the pictures. Promise.
The butter was in and the KitchenAid was on, so I kept going, although I feared that my brioche had little chance of working. I kept the KitchenAid on until the butter had been incorporated and the dough was soft, then I tipped it out onto a floured board. My mixture was more like a cake batter than dough. I was supposed to knead the mixture until it was smooth. I pulled it about a bit, I don’t think I could truthfully call it kneading, put the dough into a clean bowl, covered it with clingfilm and left it by the radiator to rise.
To make the brioche into a Christmas garland, I had to fill it with rum-soaked fruit and bake it in a ring cake tin. I greased my tin with Cake Release and soaked orange and lemon zest, sultanas and chopped candied fruit in rum for twenty minutes (the recipe says use spiced rum. I sneaked a bit of my husband’s Angostura Trinidad and Tobago premium stuff. it’s probably not supposed to be used to make cakes, but hey-ho). For the fruit, I used glacé cherries, chopped whole mixed peel and glacé pears. There’s still no candied fruit in Leamington Spa as far as I know, but both Delia and James recommend the same online supplier (Country Fruits) so I am now well stocked for the festive season. I scattered some of the soaked fruit around the base of the tin. The rest, I would use to fill the brioche. Easy.
I tipped my dough onto a floured board, actually, scraped is probably a more accurate word. I gave it a bit of a squeeze to knock the air out and flattened it into a rectangle. I scattered the rest of the fruit onto the top.I just about managed to roll it up into a sausage shape, but I couldn’t twist the dough into a circle as per the recipe, it was just too wet. The only thing I could do was to, somehow, get the mixture into the tin. This I did with a palette knife and a fish slice. Most of it did, thankfully, end up in the tin. I’m not sure how.
I covered the tin with clingfilm and, again put it by the radiator for one and a half hours. I baked it for 30 minutes at 170° fan and held my breath as I turned out what was sure to be a complete mess of a brioche garland. Another sweet dough disaster…
…or, perhaps not. True, a few piece of fruit had stuck to the tin, but it was definitely a garland and, more surprisingly, it was definitely a brioche. It smelled so delicious that I stood over it for five minutes wafting the warm rum, fruit and just-baked scent up my nose. Fabulous.
In Sweet, James Martin decorates the garland with royal icing and glacé fruit. I’m not too keen on royal icing, so I just used a sugar syrup. I have to say that, despite the dried yeast, the lumps of butter, and the slightly unorthodox way of getting it into the tin, the Christmas garland was great. I can’t believe I’ve actually managed to make something with enriched dough that tastes exactly as it should. There’s definitely much more to come from Sweet.