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Wreaths You Can Eat

by Lori Grossman

Wreaths are popular decorations, and not just for Christmas. You'll see fancy holiday wreaths on the front grilles of many Texans' cars and pickups. It's just our way of saying "Merry Christmas, Y'all".

Our English word "wreath" comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word writhan, meaning "to writhe" or "to twist." In ancient Greece and Rome, wreaths made of greenery were worn as crowns by people who were believed to have won divine favor. The type of greenery used had a special meaning. Athletic and literary contest winners were given laurel wreaths. Achieving military victory or peace called for olive wreaths.

In the Middle Ages, plants that stayed green throughout the long, dark winters were held in special reverence. Boughs of evergreen were formed into circles, symbolizing the spiritual cycle of life, with no beginning and no end. Many Christians still mark the month-long period before Christmas with Advent wreaths.

Another fact you might not have known – wreaths can be good eating, but not the one on your front door!. Here are two luscious treats made in the shape of a wreath. Enjoy them during the holidays, or any time of the year.



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Almond Breakfast Wreath

You can make this a day ahead, then reheat and serve it on Christmas morning.
  • 1 package quick-rising yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (approximately)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup apple jelly
In large bowl, combine yeast, sugar, salt, and 1 cup flour. In 1-quart saucepan over low heat, heat milk, 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), and 1/2 cup water until very warm (125 to 130°F). Butter doesn't need to melt completely.

With mixer at low speed, gradually beat liquid into dry ingredients just until blended. Increase speed to medium. Beat 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Beat in eggs and 1 cup flour to make a thick batter. Continue beating for 2 more minutes, scraping bowl often. With wooden spoon, stir in 2 cups flour to make a soft dough.

Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Work in more flour (about 1/2 cup) while kneading. Shape dough into a ball and place in a large greased bowl. Turn dough to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (80 to 85°F) until doubled (about 30 minutes).

While dough is rising, prepare almond filling. Reserve 1 tablespoon slivered almonds for garnish. Coarsely chop remaining almonds. In a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in brown sugar, cinnamon, almond extract, and chopped almonds until blended.

Punch down dough and turn onto floured surface. With floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 23x10-inch rectangle. Sprinkle almond mixture evenly over top and press into dough lightly with the rolling pin.

Preheat oven to 350°F. From 23-inch side, tightly roll dough jellyroll fashion. Cut dough lengthwise in half. Keeping cut sides up, carefully twist strands together like a candy-cane. Place on large, ungreased cookie sheet. Shape twist into a ring and tuck ends under to seal. Press reserved almonds on top of ring. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden and almonds are lightly toasted.

In small saucepan over low heat, heat apple jelly until melted. Brush hot almond wreath with apple jelly. Remove wreath to wire rack to cool slightly, then serve warm. Or, cool completely on rack to serve later. Reheat if desired. Makes 16 servings.

Cream Puff Wreath

An impressive finale for any holiday dinner.

Pastry Cream

  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, with wire whisk, beat egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until blended. In 3-quart saucepan, heat milk to simmering over medium-high heat. While constantly beating with wire whisk, gradually pour about half of simmering milk into yolk mixture.

Return yolk mixture to saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and begins to bubble around edge of pan (it won't appear to boil vigorously). Simmer 1 minute. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in vanilla. Transfer mixture to bowl and cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold (at least 2 hours).

Wreath

  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut up
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease and flour a large cookie sheet. Using an 8-inch cake pan or plate as a guide, trace a circle in flour on cookie sheet with finger. With kitchen shears or scissors, cut a 1-inch opening from one corner of a large heavyweight plastic bag.

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat butter with 1 cup water over high heat until butter melts and mixture boils. Reduce heat to low. Add flour all at once and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until mixture forms a ball and leaves side of saucepan. Remove saucepan from heat. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well with wooden spoon after each addition, until batter is smooth and satiny.

Spoon dough into plastic bag and squeeze down to corner with opening. Using traced circle as a guide, pipe dough in a 1-inch-thick ring just inside circle on cookie sheet. Pipe another 1-inch-thick ring outside of first ring. Make sure both rings are touching. With remaining dough, pipe last ring on top and along center seam of first two rings. With moistened finger, gently smooth dough rings where ends meet.

Bake wreath for 20 minutes. Turn oven control to 375°F and bake 25 minutes longer, or until golden. Remove wreath from oven. Poke sides in several places with a toothpick and bake 10 minutes longer. Remove wreath from cookie sheet and cool completely on wire rack.

Almond Praline

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar (plus additional for garnish)
Lightly grease a cookie sheet. In a 1-quart saucepan, heat granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water to boiling over high heat, swirling pan occasionally to help sugar dissolve. Boil mixture 5 to 7 minutes without stirring, until golden. Remove pan from heat and stir in 1/3 cup almonds (reserve remaining almonds for garnish). Stir mixture over low heat until it becomes liquefied. Immediately pour mixture onto cookie sheet. Spread with back of spoon to 1/2-inch thickness. Let cool on cookie sheet placed on wire rack for 10 minutes, or until firm.

Break praline into small pieces. In food processor with knife blade attached (or in a blender), process praline until ground into a fine powder.

In a small bowl, whip the 1 cup whipping cream and confectioners' sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold powdered praline into whipped cream. Then, gently fold the whipped cream mixture into the chilled Pastry Cream.

To assemble the dessert, slice the cooled wreath in half horizontally with a long serrated knife. You can discard some of the moist interior of the wreath, if desired. Spoon the Praline Pastry Cream into the bottom half of the wreath and replace the top half. Refrigerate wreath if not serving immediately.

When ready to serve, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and garnish with reserved almonds. Makes 12 servings.

Happy Holidays to all!

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