October is here and Autumn is in full swing, the hedgerows are full of sloes and blackberries, chestnuts are on the trees and all around the colours are changing to those autumnal hues of red, orange and brown. What has been deceptive is the warmth and glorious sunshine, I can not remember such a glorious October, as I write this blog the sun is streaming in and all the French windows at the back of the house have been thrown open to allow the last glorious bursts of fresh air in before we have to hunker down for winter.

My mind is turning to cosy evenings in, we have already started lighting all the candles in the evening and my usual burst of soup making has begun, but I know I need to start thinking about Christmas, many recipes need time to mature and I need to research and try new ones for the blog, so here is a gorgeous recipe for a beautiful advent bread with maple icing that conjures up the cosiness of Christmas so well.

I love making dough, a good bread, iced bun or stollen will win me over anytime, anything with an icing or with marzipan is a sure winner. This Advent Bread is aromatic with the smell of the ground cardamom, sweet and delicious with the maple icing but comforting and perfect to share over a cup of tea or hot chocolate after a lovely winter’s stroll.

I know people find dough a scary prospect, but really its not, the more you work with it, the more you come to know it and unlike many pastry or cake recipes you can be a little rough with it, it just takes time and patience, something that I struggle with when I just want to eat it, but it is worth the time and most certainly worth the effect when you get those few wafts of warm bread baking.

Buon appetito


Advent Bread
250ml whole milk ( I used semi-skimmed as it is all that I had)
75g unsalted butter
300g refined spelt flour (you can use plain flour if you prefer)
125g wholemeal spelt flour (or wheat flour)
70g castersugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon salt
10g fast action dried yeast
1 large free-range egg, beaten
60ml Marsala wine (I used Disaronno, but you can use brandy, rum, what ever you fancy)
150g mixed dried fruit (I used a mixture of dates, raisins and sultana’s, because I had them in, but will use cherries as well next time as I love them)

1 egg, beaten with a fork, to glaze

For the Maple Icing:-
150g icing sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Scald the milk by heating it in a small pan with the butter until it is almost boiling and then leave to cool while you assemble the other ingredients. Scalding the milk makes the finished bread softer. I popped my thermometer in while it cooled, to make sure that it reached 50C before I used it, any hotter and it will kill your yeast.

scalded milk

Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, sprinkle in the dried yeast on top just as you are about to add the wet ingredient so that the salt doesn’t kill it.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Add the beaten egg and then the milk/butter mixture, which should be warm as above. Stir everything together until the mixture comes off the sides of the bowl and looks doughy. I used the dough hook on the Artisan, but either way will work fine.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled plastic bag or cover the bowl with lightly oiled clingfilm.I left mine in the bowl and just covered with my trusty shower cap.

first prove

Leave to rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes or so until doubled in size and springy to the touch. Spelt flour rises really quickly, so just keep an eye on it.

While the dough is rising, pour the sherry or your booze of choice over the dried fruit in a medium-sized bowl, topping up with water if necessary to ensure that the fruit is fully covered. I didn’t add the water, just used a shallow bowl and just gave it a stir now and then so that the fruit absorbed every last drop.If there is lots of left over liquid, just drain this off before adding to your dough.

boozy fruit

Knock the dough back for 10 seconds or so, then add the fruit and mix through by hand so it is evenly distributed. Shape in to a rough loaf shape about 20cm long.

Cover the dough again and leave to prove in a warm place for a further 45-60 minutes of so, until the dough no longer springs back. Test by gently poking it with your finger, if it leaves an indent that stays, it is done.

second prove

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/180°C fan/gas mark 6.

Glaze the risen dough with beaten egg and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-45 minutes until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

When the bread is cool, mix the icing sugar, cinnamon and maple syrup together.
It should form a sticky icing, not too runny. Drizzle the icing all over the bread and allow to set completely. Any left overs can be drizzled as a second layer on later, but if like my household it may not last that long as we have many volunteers that like to lick the bowl!!

Advent Bread