Vail food feature: Sweet braided valentine bread (recipe) | VailDaily.com

Vail food feature: Sweet braided valentine bread (recipe)

Daily staff report
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For Valentine's Day this year, PBS chef and author Christy Rost has a flavorful approach with her recipe for sweet braided valentine bread. Drizzled with icing and garnished with a bow, this recipe is easy to prepare and provides a fun, family kitchen activity.

"A gift of homemade bread is always a welcome treat, whether for family or friends," Rost said. "When the bread is sweet, almond-flavored, studded with dried cranberries and braided into a heart, it becomes a special Valentine's Day gift. Adapted from a recipe I created for my first cookbook, 'The Family Table,' this slightly sweet yeast bread needs only a single rise, and the recipe makes two large loaves. It's perfect for sharing."

Sweet Braided Valentine Bread

1 cup milk

½ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup water

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5 to 6 cups bread flour

½ cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 packages active dry yeast

2 eggs

½ teaspoon almond extract

½ cup dried cranberries

1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons milk

In a medium saucepan, heat milk, butter and water over medium heat just until small bubbles form around the edges. The butter may not melt completely. Remove the pan from the heat, and set it aside until the mixture is lukewarm.

Combine 2 cups of the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Pour in the milk mixture,, and beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Add eggs and almond extract, and beat well.

Change the beater to a dough hook, and stir in cranberries and enough of the remaining flour to create a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until it is smooth. Divide the dough in half.

Slice each half into three equal pieces, and using your hands, roll the first three into 15-inch ropes. Braid the ropes to form a long loaf, and shape the loaf into a heart, pressing the ends together and tucking them under. Transfer the loaf to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Repeat with the remaining bread dough. Spray plastic wrap with nonstick spray, place it loosely over each loaf, and cover with a thin towel. Set the breads aside in a warm place to rise — about 1 hour.

When the breads have almost doubled in size, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake 18 to 20 minutes (20 to 25 minutes at high altitude), or until the loaves are golden brown. Remove the breads from the oven, and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

When the bread is cool, whisk the confectioners' sugar and milk together to form a thick glaze. Drizzle the icing over the breads in a back and forth motion. Decorate with a bow once the icing has dried.

Yield: Two loaves of bread.