One of my latest bread obsessions has been the twisty loaf. I’ve been wanting to try making those babka-esque twists that are all the rage these days, because who can resist a little swirly and pretty? Clearly, not me.
Twist breads are great for the holidays. They’re surprisingly easy to shape and faster than making a bunch of rolls; they can be equally appropriate for Christmas brunch or a potluck dinner; they double as decoration. Plus, they’re a chance to flex your culinary creativity — change up the fillings to suit your tastes and/or fridge contents!
After making a fair share of these guys I’ve learned a few tricks that can really help your twist breads shine in looks and flavor! While I did all my testing using my sourdough hokkaido milk bread recipe below, you should be able to use your favorite enriched bread dough (i.e. babka / challah / cinnamon roll / non-sourdough hokkaido milk bread dough, etc.) to make a twist bread. I would recommend a dough that is soft but sturdy enough to be rolled out fairly easily. My trusty pumpkin version of this bread works equally well as a base, and I’ve included a couple other flavor variations below as well.
Twist bread tips:
- Don’t roll your dough too thin.
I tried rolling my dough various sizes, and finally settled on an oval of about 10″ x 12″ as the ideal size for my loaf pan. I follow a process very similar to this one. You can roll your dough thinner to get more of a swirl, but (at least for my recipe) the bread will be more dense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; but personally I prefer fluffier bread to more swirl. The nice thing about the oval shape is that the ends don’t get too thick when you tuck them under. (I never bother trimming the ends.) It’s also easy-peasy to fit the loaf into the tin; no double-helixing / multiple criss-crossing required.
- Don’t rush the proofing. Enriched breads take extra long to proof, whether or not it’s sourdough. In my room-temperature kitchen, this recipe takes at least 6 hours for the final proof. I’ve tried rushing it and the texture just wasn’t the same. I know mine is ready when the loaf has puffed to fill the pan almost to the top.
- Thick, strongly flavored pastes work best for fillings. For ease of rolling and the best swirl effect, a thick paste works better than lots of chopped up ingredients. I tend to not measure my filling ingredients; but in general I use roughly 1/2 a cup of filling per loaf. Again, I opt for a less-is-more approach here: too much filling can weigh the bread down, making it more dense and cakey. You may have to experiment a bit to find your ideal filling-to-bread ratio, but that’s half the fun.
A few ideas for fillings: fruit and nut butters, thick jams/compotes, cream cheese + fruit curd, pesto, grated cheese, etc. This is a great place to use up some of those half-eaten jars of jams and spreads. If I want to do a fruit filling (such as cinnamon raisin), I’ll rehydrate dried fruit in boiling water for an hour or so, drain, then pulse in a food processor with a healthy amount of cinnamon sugar and softened butter. I do find it helps to incorporate the butter into the paste rather than layer it, especially if you are doing a sweet loaf. Otherwise the sugar can turn into syrup and leak out, resulting in a sticky bun situation.
- Bake and cool fully. It can be a bit tricky to judge when these loaves are finished, as the filling can hide bits of uncooked dough. Your best bet is to check the internal temperature: it should register at least 195F. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out cleanly. Also keep in mind that if you’ve rolled out your dough thinner to start with and/or used a lot of filling, your bread will take longer to fully cook. When in doubt, let it go a few minutes longer, and tent with foil to keep the top from burning.
Also, cool your bread fully to room temperature before serving. This helps the bread fully set and avoids that icky gummy taste that comes from slicing too early. Better to fully cool, then gently rewarm for 5-10 minutes than cut too soon.
- Glaze it! A healthy dose of simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part water) applied to your loaf right after baking adds an attractive shine and keeps your bread tasting fresher for longer. Be generous — about a 1/4 cup for sweet loaves, a little less for savory. Warmed jelly or honey also works (you won’t need as much), but if you’re planning on having your loaf around for more than one day simple syrup is your best option. Right after glazing is also a good time to add any garnishes: toasted seeds / nuts, finely chopped herbs, pearl sugar, etc.
Time to get twisting!
Sourdough Hokkaido Milk Bread
Adapted from The Fresh Loaf | Makes one 8.5″ x 4.5″ / 9″ x 5″ loaf
- 18 g mature sourdough starter (100% hydration)
- 30 g milk
- 56 g bread flour
Mix and ferment at room temp (73F) for 10-12 hours. When ready it should be puffy and domed and you should see large bubbles if you pull back the top.
Final dough ingredients
- 276g bread or AP flour (I used half bread flour and half AP flour for a balance of chewiness and volume)
- 45g granulated sugar
- 34g softened unsalted butter
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 6g fine grain sea salt
- 101g whole milk, room temperature
- 86g cream, room temperature
- 20g milk powder
- All of the levain
- Egg wash (1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp water or milk), for brushing
- Filling of choice, approximately 1/2 a cup
- Simple syrup, for glaze
- Optional garnishes (toasted nuts, seeds, herbs, etc.)
- Mix together all final dough ingredients except the salt and butter until just combined. Cover and autolyse (rest) for 30-60 minutes.
- Add salt, and knead dough until gluten is moderately developed. The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Add butter in two batches, mixing the first completely before adding the second. Continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test as demonstrated here. The dough should be smooth and supple (and quite lovely to handle!). This will take quite some time, especially if done by hand. Consider it your arm workout for the day!
- Transfer to a clean bowl, cover, and bulk rise at room temp (73F) for 2 hours. The dough will be noticeably expanded, but not doubled. Fold, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, take the dough out and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Rest for one hour, covered by lightly oiled plastic.
- Grease and line a 9×5 loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of at least 2 inches on the long sides (for easy removal later).
- On a lightly floured surface (I prefer a Silpat), roll out the dough into an oval roughly 10 x 12 in. Spread your filling evenly over the surface, leaving a 1/2 inch border along one short edge. Turn the dough so the short end without the border is facing you. Brush the opposite end with water, and gently but tightly roll up like a jelly roll. Once rolled up, roll gently back and forth a few times to seal. Transfer the log to the fridge or freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up (optional).
- If desired, trim about 1/2 an inch off each end (I don’t bother because I don’t mind if the ends don’t have filling; but if you do, trim them). Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise. Place the two sides next to each other, cut side up. Gently pinch the tops together and twist the two together, keeping the cut sides up. Transfer twist to the prepared pan. (See here for a some helpful pictures.)
- Cover with plastic and proof for about 6 hours at room temperature. When ready, the dough should look very puffy and have risen to the top of the loaf pan.
- When the loaf is nearly finished rising, preheat the oven to 400F and prepare the egg wash. Just before baking, brush the surface lightly with egg wash.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 400F, then turn the oven down to 375F, rotate the pan, and bake for about 15 more minutes or until the loaf is well browned and registers at least 195F in the center. If the loaf is browning quickly, tent with foil. (I cover mine for the last 10 minutes or so.)
- Immediately after taking the loaf out, brush all over with simple syrup and top with garnishes, if desired. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
- Matcha: replace 10g of flour with 10g culinary grade matcha powder. Pairs well with chocolate and black sesame fillings.
- Eggnog: replace the milk with full-fat eggnog, decrease the sugar to 34g, and add some freshly grated nutmeg to the dough. Pairs well with cinnamon sugar and cranberry fillings.