Hitting week four of the university semester seems to always be hectic: mid semester exam is close (and we are learning head and neck, which is insanely complex – like, I always assumed the skull was made of 4 or 5 bones, but no, there is twenty two!), assignments start piling up, weekends are taken up by various birthday celebrations and events, and all I end up wanting to do is get in the kitchen and do some baking. Which isn’t possible at Mannix, obviously.
I am also just getting over being a walking viral ball of infection (not the best timing), and I have realised that it is nowhere near as fun being sick anymore as it was when I was at school and all you did was stay home for the day and indulge in general laziness. Now not only do I feel awful, but nobody is going to look after you anymore and skipping uni just results in getting insanely behind. One of the sad truths of growing up, I think.
If I could make something now though, it would be these cinnamon, date and walnut brioche. A soft, tender enriched brioche dough is wrapped around a sticky, nutty filling, warmly spiced with cinnamon and topped with a snow-like dusting of icing sugar. Individual servings mean you get a whole brioche to yourself to pull apart and devour, piece by piece, working in from the crusty outer edges to the pillowy soft centre coated in sweet walnut-date paste.
They have been our family’s routine Christmas breakfast for years, pulled hot from the oven just as presents are opened in the morning. But don’t think I must be waking in the early hours to prep them – Christmas is for sleep-ins, after all (unless you are under eight, in which case you wake up a 4am to try and figure out what Santa brought) – the brioche dough takes about fifteen minutes to prep the night before, then just needs to be left in the fridge overnight to prove. The next morning, dump it on the bench and roll it out into some semblance of a rectangle, smear with the date-walnut-cinnamon filling, form into scrolls, prove on top of the oven for another 20 minutes and then bake. In the next ten minutes the house fills with the smell of warm bread and cinnamon, family and friends gravitate towards the source, and before you know it sounds of appreciation and sticky fingers fill the kitchen as they are devoured.
The filling is my absolute favourite: walnuts, sticky sweet dates and cinnamon sugar combine in a buttery paste that you whiz up in a food processor. If you are prone to eating things (i.e. cookie dough) before they end up in the oven, I would recommend making extra or you might not have much left for the brioche – it is THAT good.
This Christmas talk is not to say they can’t be made year round – remember, in New Zealand Christmas falls in summer (so all you people in the Northern hemisphere have no excuse not to make them now!), but when I made these a few weeks ago it was cold and overcast, in the middle of an Auckland winter, and eating a warm brioche scroll with a cup of good coffee was like a little pocket of perfection.
- 250g unsalted butter
- 500ml (2 cups) milk
- 1 tablespoon active dried yeast
- 4 large eggs
- ½ cup caster sugar
- ½ tablespoon salt
- 900g high grade flour
- 1¼ cups walnut pieces
- 1 cup dates, chopped
- ⅔ cup brown sugar
- 90g unsalted butter, diced
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Melt the butter in a medium pot. Add the milk and heat until warm (but not hot as it will kill the yeast)
- Sprinkle over the dried yeast, cover and set aside in a warm place for a few minutes to allow the yeast to activate.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt in a large bowl until the sugar has dissolved and the eggs are getting frothy.
- Pour the yeast mixture into the eggs and stir to combine.
- Add the flour to this mixture and stir to combine. This step you can either to by hand or with the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer. If by hand, vigorously stir the mixture with a metal spoon for about 10 minutes until it become glossy. If using a stand mixer, mix on a low speed for about 8 minutes until it becomes glossy.
- The dough will be very wet at this stage, but don’t worry - you shouldn’t be able to knead it by hand. You may add a tablespoon or two extra flour near the end of mixing, but resist the urge to add much more flour! By the end of mixing, it should just start to occasionally pull away from the sides of the bowl, but will still be very sticky and will not hold together in a ball.
- Loosely cover the bowl with glad wrap and leave in the fridge overnight to prove and double in size.
- The next morning, preheat the oven to 180° and grease 12 texas muffin tins.
- In a food processor, blitz the walnuts, dates, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon until the ingredients are all finely chopped and fully combined - it should have a sticky, coarse breadcrumb-like consistency.
- Empty the dough onto a floured bench and gently roll and press it out into a large rectangle just under 1cm thick so the longer side is facing you (about 60cm long).
- Spread the walnut-date mixture over the dough, spreading right to the edges.
- Roll up the dough into a log, starting from the longest side closest to you. Slice it into even pieces with a serrated knife - about 5cm wide or enough to end up with 12 scrolls. Place each scroll in a muffin tin. Often my log is thicker in the centre (oops!) so I put the biggest scrolls in one tin and the smaller ones in the other tin, so when they are cooking I can take the small ones out first if they need a little less time.
- Leave the tins in a warm place (like on top of the preheated oven) for 20 minutes to prove the dough. Check by poking the dough gently with your finger tip it should be puffy and spring back slowly.
- Meanwhile, make the egg wash by beating together 1 egg and a tablespoon of milk. Just before baking, lightly brush the tops of each scroll with the egg wash.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Take the brioche out of the tins while still warm to prevent the sugary mixture from sticking them to the bottom of the tins.
- Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately!