This vegan chocolate wreath bread is a babka in a festive shape, perfect for a special holiday breakfast or as a food gift, or just to have in the winter when orange season is at its peak. The chocolate orange combo is delicious and you wouldn’t guess that this sweet bread is free from refined sugar and dairy.
It’s been a while since I shared a new bread recipe, but what better time than Christmas? Working with yeasted doughs is my favourite kitchen pastime, especially making sweet breads like this one. I grew up baking bread and started before I hit double digits, using one of my mom’s cookbooks (the bread bible? I can’t remember and can’t seem to find it) and making loaves like basic honey and oat, cinnamon buns, and trying baguettes. When I hit my teens my interest in using whole grains started to grow, and I had some real flops trying to substitute whole wheat flour 1:1 in cookbook recipes. Experimentation was key and while I’m always learning new methods and concepts, I’m pretty confident in working with bread these days.
I know that sourdough is healthier and all the rage right now, and we do eat almost exclusively sourdough – I make a version of this recipe with my starter every week. Every once in a while I want to make something with standard yeast, though, and usually use store-bought yeast for sweet loaves. I have a bit of difficulty using lower gluten flours like spelt with sourdough for breads that need to be carefully shaped, like this one, and have some difficulty digesting plain white flour. If you’re not too familiar with making bread, this really isn’t a bad place to start. If you’re unsure of your abilities to make a wreath, it’s not too hard, but you can also roll the dough and cut it into buns, instead, and make a wreath out of them or do a simpler design like this one. I’m thinking about doing that if my omi asks me (as usual, hah) to make cinnamon buns at some point over the holidays. There does seem to be a bit of a block with vegan sweet breads, like cinnamon buns, but you can easily make them dairy free without having to use margarine or other highly processed ingredients.
If you’re looking for food gifts, or fancy holiday breakfasts, this has you covered. The bread keeps well in a sealed container for up to three days, although I would try to gift it on the day it’s made. Chocolate and orange is obviously a perfect combination but I also threw a little cinnamon and coconut sugar in there for an extra boost, and I could not stop eating this. I gave half away and I think Graham got one piece, although he said he’s sick of chocolate now anyway, that heathen. The crumb in the bread is really nice and I’d gift/serve it unreservedly to vegans and vocal non-vegans alike. They won’t be able to tell. If you’d like, chopped hazelnuts or walnuts would be an excellent addition to the filling. This loaf was inspired by my chocolate banana babka – head that way if you’re looking for an oil-free recipe.
It looks like a complicated recipe, but it isn’t, just thorough. If you have any additional questions please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer quickly.
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Chocolate Orange Wreath Bread
- 250 ml / 1 cup milk*
- 50 grams / 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 60 ml / 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
- 60 ml / 1/4 cup orange juice 1 orange
- Zest of 2 oranges
- 21 grams / 1 tablespoon yeast**
- 300 - 350 grams / 2 1/2 - 3 cups light spelt flour
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 50 grams dark chocolate finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons coconut cream***
- Zest of an orange
- 60 grams / 1/4 cup dates finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Place the milk and coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat over medium until simmering. Whisk in the maple syrup, orange juice, and orange zest, then pour into a large heat safe bowl. Use a finger to test the heat - it should be just slightly warmer than your skin. If it's too hot then leave it for a few minutes to cool slightly.
Once the milk mixture is at the right temperature, crumble/sprinkle the yeast overtop. Whisk to dissolve, then leave the bowl for 15 minutes for the yeast to activate. It should grow considerably and if you don't see, at minimum, foaminess, you probably need new yeast.
When the yeast has activated, add 1 cup of flour along with the cinnamon and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon, and continue to add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring thoroughly between additions. Once you've reached 2 1/2 cups it should become difficult to stir, and that's when you'll start to knead.
Generously flour a countertop and turn the dough out onto it. Set the extra 1/2 cup of flour to the side and add it in small amounts as you knead to keep the dough from becoming too sticky. If you add all of the flour and it's not yet soft and smooth, continue to knead but use a small amount of oil on the countertop and your hands instead of flour. This should be a soft dough. Knead for about 5-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Avoid over kneading as spelt becomes chewy if over worked.
Place the dough in a clean, greased bowl. Brush a small amount of oil over the dough, cover with a tea towel, and place the bowl in a warm place to rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size. Near a radiator or in the oven with the light on are both ideal.
Once the dough has risen, gently punch it down and turn it out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough out to about 1cm thickness, making a large rectangle. Spread the filling out evenly over the rectangle, then roll lengthwise into a long sausage. Cut this down the centre, lengthwise, all the way through. Place one half over the other, filling-side facing up, to make an X shape. Gently wrap each side over the other, like a two-strand braid, until all of the dough has been plaited. Make a circle and try to tuck the ends underneath to avoid a messy section but don't worry if it's a little imperfect.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Now the tricky part: gently lift the dough wreath and place it onto the baking sheet. It will lose its round shape slightly but you can move it back into place. Do any alterations necessary now as you won't be able to once it's finished its second proof. Cover again and place somewhere warm to rise for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F. Bake the bread for 30-35 minutes, or until golden. Remove and cool on the baking sheet for about half an hour before removing and cooling fully on a rack. Serve warm if you can, but it's just as good cold.
Place the chocolate, coconut cream, and orange zest into a heat-safe bowl. Place over a small saucepan of simmering water (don't let the base of the bowl touch the water) and heat, stirring occasionally, until melted. Whisk to fully incorporate.
Spread the chocolate mixture over the rolled out dough, then top with the dates, coconut sugar, and cinnamon.
• Maybe you can tell from the photos that I did not avoid a messy section! I was interrupted while making the bread and had to get it put together quickly before it rose too much - you could cover it with a ribbon if you're gifting it.
* I used primarily oat milk and mixed in a couple of tablespoons of coconut cream. You want the consistently of whole milk, and oat milk isn't really creamy. Homemade nut milk would be great.
** I've tested with both fresh and dry yeast, both work well.
*** Coconut cream from the top of a can of full-fat coconut milk.