By Melissa Bahen

One of my favorite things about winter is the many opportunities to give gifts. The December holidays are the natural time to give gifts, but Valentine’s Day is also a great time to show your love for those in your life. I love the whole gift-giving process: making my list and checking it twice, carefully choosing the perfect present the recipient will love, picking out the perfect wrapping paper to tie it all together. And best of all, I love watching my loved ones open their gifts! It brings me so much happiness to watch the delight that spreads across their faces when they see what I’ve chosen for them.

So, I spend all year trying to come up with the perfect gifts for friends and neighbors, too. In this case, however, the gifts are always homemade and always something delicious to eat. We make plates of cookies like other families, but we always try to think of something else, as well; something extra special to deliver to close friends and to the people who live on our street. One year, we gave (store-bought) English muffins and jars of homemade apple butter. Another year, we gave big containers of homemade granola with almonds and dried cherries. We’ve also given braided cardamom bread sprinkled with Swedish pearl sugar.

Decoratively-shaped breads are great for making and giving. They look amazing, don’t usually take much more effort than regular yeast breads, and most recipes make at least two loaves per batch. This recipe actually makes three loaves—two to give away and one to keep! The stripes of ruby-red raspberry filling twisted between layers of golden dough make for a stunning loaf of bread. The bright, fruity flavor is also a perfect way to celebrate the colors of the season.

Raspberry Swirl Brioche

Makes three loaves

Despite its fancy appearance, this bread is easy to make thanks to a combination of cutting and twisting. Don’t let the freeze-dried raspberries throw you for a loop; you can find them at most grocery stores. They come in handy when you want to add fresh raspberry flavor to something without adding lots of liquid.

For the brioche dough:

1 1/2 cups warm water

2 packets (or 4 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast

a pinch of sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

8 eggs

1/2 cup honey

1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks), melted and cooled slightly

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the raspberry filling:

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups freeze-dried raspberries

1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks), softened

For the sugar syrup and topping:

2/3 cup water

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 cup freeze-dried raspberries

Make the brioche dough:

In a glass measuring cup, combine water, yeast, and pinch of sugar. Set aside in a warm spot for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is activated and the mixture has become bubbly and has grown in volume. If nothing seems to be happening after 10 or so minutes, try setting the measuring cup in a shallow dish filled with very hot tap water. This method always works for me.

Once the yeast mixture is bubbly, put it in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the kosher salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter. Stir briefly with a fork to make sure the egg yolks are broken up. Add the flour and stir until thoroughly combined. Scoop the dough into a large bowl, cover loosely with some plastic wrap, and place in the fridge overnight.

Make the raspberry filling:

Combine sugar and freeze-dried raspberries in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the raspberries are finely ground. Add the softened butter and process until well combined.

Assemble the brioche:

Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray three standard-sized loaf pans with nonstick baking spray. I lined one of my pans with a strip of parchment paper to help remove the cooled loaf from the pan after baking, but it proved completely unnecessary. Divide the chilled dough into three equal pieces, each weighing about 1 1/2 pounds.

Flour your work surface. Roll one of the portions of dough out into a large square or rectangle about 1/4-inch thick, flouring the surface of the dough or your rolling pin as necessary. Use an offset spatula or frosting spreader to spread about 2/3 cup of the raspberry filling evenly over the surface of the dough. Go all the way to the edges on three sides, and stay about 1 inch away from the fourth edge. Starting at the edge opposite the one without filling, roll up the brioche dough the way you would when making cinnamon rolls. You’ll end up with a long, skinny roll of dough.

Using a sharp paring knife, cut the roll of dough in half lengthwise, leaving one end intact. Pick up one piece of dough and twist it until the cut side is facing up, exposing the pretty pink layers. Do the same with the other side. Gently twist the two pieces of dough together, making sure the cut sides are always facing up.

This sounds more complicated than it is. Just pick up the piece on the right, cross it over the piece on the left, and set it down. Pick up the other piece, which is now the piece on the right, cross it over the other piece, which is now on the left, and set it down. Keep repeating until you get to the end of the dough. Tuck both ends of the dough under the loaf, gently pick it up, and place it in one of the prepared baking pans. Loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm spot until the top of the loaf just reaches the top of the pan.

Repeat with the other two loaves.

Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes until golden on top and a skewer stuck all the way down in the center of each loaf comes out clean and without crumbs.

Prepare the sugar syrup and topping:

While the loaves bake, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat and set aside. Put the freeze-dried raspberries in a zipper-top bag, seal it, and lightly crush them with the back of a spoon. As soon as the loaves come out of the oven, brush them with sugar syrup. Brush several coats of syrup on each loaf.

When the sugar syrup has cooled just enough to still be tacky but not completely wet, sprinkle crushed raspberries over the top of each loaf. Wait until the loaves are cool enough to handle before removing them from the pans. Allow the loaves to cool completely before slicing and eating.