Nathan Wood: Making a Panera holiday classic from scratch

By Nathan Wood, Daily Food Columnist
Published March 28, 2013

There are a few things that draw me back home at least a couple of times every semester, namely my family and friends, a cozy bed and an actual kitchen: You know, that magical place where you can cook or bake with more than just a microwave and cup of Easy Mac (#RAproblems). And while I was home this past weekend, I tried my hand at something I’ve been wanting to taste for a long time: Panera Bread’s Holiday Bread.

All November and December, I walked past Panera on North U and stared at the window-sized photos of the bread being offered “for a limited time only.” On a weathered wooden cutting board laid a sliced loaf of brioche oozing with apple filling and topped with streusel and icing. Cranberries were dashed about and a cup of coffee — artfully set out of focus — sat alongside. I could taste Christmas in my mouth just looking at it.

But I never made time to try it. And now it’s spring and, therefore, no longer offered. How sad.

So from that picture and a list of all the chemical ingredients Panera uses to prepare the bread that I found online, I made it from scratch (without BHT, BHA and Yellow #5, mind you). And it turned out severely delicious, if I do say so myself.

Warning: Making this bread is an all-day affair. Buckle up, kids.

Copycat Panera Holiday Bread

PREPARATION:

Brioche
Ingredients:
• 3/4 cup lukewarm water
• 1 package rapid-rise yeast
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1/4 cup honey
• 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (1 1/2 sticks)
• 4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
• 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
• 1/4 cup dried cranberries
• 1/4 cup golden raisins

Directions:
1. Mix the water, yeast, salt, eggs and honey in a large bowl. Slowly add the melted butter while stirring vigorously so as to not scramble the eggs and/or kill the yeast.
2. Mix in all of the flour (without kneading) — lumps are okay.
3. Allow the dough to rise with a non-airtight lid until it begins to collapse (about three hours). A warm, moist place is best. If your oven has a proofing setting, use it. If not, don’t worry. Either way, place a big bowl of hot water in the bottom of the oven to supply the moisture.
4. Punch down the dough with greased hands.
5. Transfer the dough to a floured cutting board and briefly knead in the remaining ingredients.

Apple-Cinnamon Filling
Ingredients:
• 4 apples, chopped into small cubes
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
• Dash (less than 1/8 teaspoon) freshly ground nutmeg
• 1/8 teaspoon of kosher salt
• 1 1/2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 tablespoon cornstarch
• 2 teaspoons water

Directions:
1. Combine the first seven ingredients in a two-quart saucepan over medium-low heat.
2. Cook covered for 20 minutes or until the apples are soft, stirring periodically.
3. Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl or measuring cup.
4. Add the cornstarch-water mixture while stirring vigorously.
5. When the sauce has sufficiently thickened, remove it from the heat.
6. Add the butter to gloss the sauce. Stir until melted.
7. Cool completely.

Simple Egg Wash
Ingredients:
• 1 large egg
• 1 tablespoon water
Directions:
1. Whisk to combine.

Streusel Topping
Ingredients:
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Mix with a fork until crumbly.

Powdered Sugar Icing
Ingredients:
• 2 cups powdered sugar (sifted, if you can)
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
• Approximately 3 tablespoons milk

Directions:
1. Mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla and one tablespoon of milk.
2. Continue adding milk — one teaspoon at a time — until the desired consistency is achieved.

BAKING:

1. Roll the brioche dough into a rectangle approximately 1/2-inch thick.
2. Spread the apple-cinnamon filling over the middle third of the dough rectangle, starting at one short end and ending at the other.
3. Fold over the long sides of the rectangle so that the filling is covered and there is some dough overlap in the middle.
4. Transfer the loaf to a flat baking sheet and let it rest for an hour and 40 minutes.
5. Brush the top with egg wash (don’t be concerned with using it all).
6. Scatter the streusel topping over the whole loaf (definitely use it all).
7. Bake the bread at 325 degrees for approximately one hour, or until a toothpick inserted under the streusel crust comes out clean.
8. Cool the bread slightly.
9. Drizzle the icing over the streusel. Slice the bread and serve warm.

Whether your family is supposed to bring something to Grandma’s Easter dinner this Sunday, you’re looking forward to finally eating leavened bread again at the end of Passover or you just happen to be going home sometime soon, consider investing some time in this holiday bread. Though it might truly be better fit for winter, so would this weather we’ve been having.

For picturesof the finished product, follow me @UGGourmet.