I had bought a box of almond powder, hoping to take the easy route to home made marzipan for a another recipe I wanted to work on, as my usual grocery haunts had not thought fit to stock marzipan for 3 months, for some reason, despite my um.... gentle reminders.

Once home, the box sat in my pantry cupboard for about 5 weeks before I decided enough procrastinating and to hell with marzipan; I'm going to dump the whole box straight into my flour. Did I ever tell you how impatient I am? Or how. very. lazy?

The inspiration for this came partly from Natalie at Cook Eat Live Vegetarian who did her own take on one of my recipes, Panko Berry Sweet Bread. I was also inspired by a French sweet bread called gibassier and by my favourite Christmas bread - stollen. I wanted all three but couldn't pick one so here is my combination/mutation.

Because hubs has the most achingly sweet tooth I have ever seen on a grown man, I always use soy milk for any sweet bread that calls for milk, as he has issues with lactose, though butter gives him no grief. Use dairy milk if you prefer, and I was thinking, yoghurt or buttermilk might make things here, very, very interesting.

Though these look like gibassiers, I can't bring myself to call them such, as I haven't made this the traditional way, with a sourdough starter or even a sponge starter. They also lack olive oil, eggs orange flower water and because I couldn't find anise seed, I used fennel instead.

The amounts I used for the candied peel and fennel seeds far exceed what you will find in most gibassier recipes and impart a real "kick up the a** " flavour, but, in the words of one truly wise man, "That's the way ah-ha, a-ha, I like it, ah-ha, ah-ha" Be warned; after two of these, your mouth will be atingle with sweet fennel and sharp citrus.

The results were in hubby's own word "scrumpelicious" I have to agree. I ate comb, after comb, after comb, after comb *eeeeeek* with coffee. Just before dinner. Good God! The life of a food blogger :P  It was a little like brioche (inside) a little like stollen (outside) and a lot like amazing (everywhere!) The rich almond scent, the citrus tang and the sweet, spicy bite of the anise-like fennel all wreaked havoc with my olfactory receptors. I want to make more, really soon!

Prep 5 hrs     Cook 20 mins     Makes 16

450 g (4 1/2 level teacups) white bread (high protein/high gluten) flour
150 g (1 level teacup) sweetened almond powder
1 1/2 level tsp sea salt
3 level tsp instant yeast
350 ml (1 3/4 teacups) milk (I used lightly sweetened soy milk)
150 g (1 1/4 level teacups) chopped, candied citrus peel
2 Tbsp lightly toasted fennel seeds
100 g (2/3 teacup) soft butter
Extra melted butter for brushing
A large bowl superfine sugar, to coat

Combine flour, almond powder and salt and stir well. Stir yeast through mixture.

Pour in milk and mix on low speed for about 3 minutes. Scrape down, cover with plate and leave to rest (dough will rise slightly) for 30 minutes.

Knead on low speed for 10 minutes. Scrape dough out onto a greased plate or surface. Grease inside of bowl and hands. Shape dough into a neat ball and place seam side down inside bowl. Cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until increased in volume by 2 1/2 times.

Add peel and fennel seeds and mix on low speed until incoporated. Add butter in large chunks, waiting for each addition to be absorbed before adding the next. Knead until everything is thoroughly incorporated and dough is very silky and elastic.

Scrape down dough and form again into a neat ball. Cover and rise in the fridge another 1 1/2 hours.

Turn dough out of bowl and divide into two, then four, then eight equal portions. Form each into a neat ball then snip each ball into 2 half circles. Place each half-circle, cut side down, on sheet or tray.

With scissors, snip 3 radiating cuts in centre of each half circle, equal distance apart. Make 4 more snips flanking each of the 3 earlier cuts, around the edge of the half circle, about a third as deep as the earlier cuts. You should have a total of 7 cuts for each piece - 3 large cuts inside and 4 smaller cuts around outer edge of the half circle.

Cover llightly with a clean sheet of plastic and leave to rise for about 45 - 60 minutes or until just doubled in size and inner cuts have filled in. Preheat oven at 185 C (360 F) midway through final proof. When sufficiently proofed, bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

Remove  from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Brush tops generously with melted butter and toss in superfine sugar until coated. Allow sugar to set slightly before serving.

Note : If you can't find sweetened almond powder, use 80 g (3/4 teacup) very finely ground almonds and 70 g (1/2 teacup) fine sugar.