The cornucopia (or “horn o’ plenty”) is one of the most iconic images that comes to mind for Thanksgiving (second only to the turkey, I think). It is a symbol of abundance and food, which makes it perfect for a gut-stuffing holiday like Thanksgiving! You can find cornucopia centerpieces just about anywhere, but this year I challenge you to join in the Chica family tradition and make your own out of bread dough. I admit this is not one of my easier projects, but the results are so awesome that it’s worth it.
The main ingredient for this masterpiece is simple refrigerated bread dough. Get two (or maybe three) cans of “french loaf” dough, which you can find in the biscuit section at your grocery store. You’ll also need a bunch of aluminum foil. Start by crumpling the foil up until you get a nice cornucopia shape. It should curve a little and come to a point at one end, and be flat on the other.
When you’ve got the shape the way you want it, you want to make the surface as smooth as possible, so pull out three long sheets of foil, layer them together, and wrap them around the cone shape.
The form should be smoother now, which will help later when removing the bread. Go ahead and squish it down a little bit so that the bottom of it is flat against the table. This will keep it steady and prevent it from rolling around on you as you work.
Now open a can of bread dough and plop it onto a large cutting board. Find the seam that will surely be there. Use your fingers to gently pull back at the seam, and begin to unroll the dough.
Unroll the dough all the way, and use a sharp knife or a pizza wheel cutter to cut the dough into strips about 1 inch wide.
Now put your foil mold on a cookie sheet and stand it up on its fat end for a minute. Smear it with vegetable oil or spray it with cooking spray, which will help immensely with removal of the bread later. Take a strip of bread and wrap it around the pointy end of the mold, to create a nice dough base to start from.
Take two more dough strips and attach them on either side, and overlap them in a V in the center. Then add two more, and cross them again. Then lay the mold down on its flat side, so that it is in its finished position, which will make it easier to work with. Carefully lift the strips you’ve added so far and weave the last two underneath. Add two more strips and continue with the weaving.
At this point things are going to get a little trickier, but keep on adding strips of dough, lifting and tucking them as needed to weave them among the other strips. If a strip tears, don’t worry about it — just add another one. Try to keep them pretty close together, but remember that the dough will rise a little as it bakes, so small gaps will get filled automatically. Just be patient here and keep weaving until the top of the foil mold is completely covered in dough.
Now to take care of the dangling dough bits all around, use your hand to tuck them under the foil mold and out of sight. Your cornucopia doesn’t need to have a full bottom (and you’d never get it off the mold if it did, anyway) but it should at least LOOK complete, and tucking the ends under will accomplish that.
Now go to the big round end of the mold and use your fingers to pinch and tuck the ends of the dough strips, to make a clean edge.
For a finishing touch, use any dough scraps you have leftover to make a long braid, and attach it along the edge of the big, round end of the cornucopia. If it doesn’t want to stick, use a tiny bit of water as “glue”.
Looking good! We’re just about ready to bake it now, but first one crucial step — an egg wash. Just beat an egg in a bowl with a fork, then use a brush to apply it liberally all over the surface of the dough. This egg wash will make the baked bread shiny and lustrous.
Now put the whole thing in a 350 F oven and bake it until it’s a deep golden brown, checking on it every 5 minutes so that it doesn’t burn. Just look how pretty it is!
Let the bread cool for about 10-15 minutes, then CAREFULLY remove it from the foil mold. Start by loosening the bottom edges (see that dough we tucked under?) and then slide your hand in the top, between the bread and foil, and work it gently until it’s free.
Your bread shell should stand on its own now, but still be warm and susceptible to bending or breaking. So, place it back on the foil form just to support it while cooling, and let it cool completely.
Now it’s time for the most fun part — decorating it! Gather a bunch of appropriate fall goodies, like apples, pomegranates, mini pumpkins, grapes, and whole nuts. Then raid your yard for some pretty fall leaves, and if you’ve got fresh herbs (I still have sage growing), grab some of that too. Put the bread cornucopia on a large platter.
Start by tucking the leaves under the cornucopia, all around the platter. Then add the fruits inside, and sprinkle the nuts all around.
Finally, tuck in some sprigs of herbs, and then stand back and marvel at the beauty!
I make one of these every year for my family, and while it makes the perfect centerpiece for the kitchen table during Thanksgiving Day, the reason my family loves it so much is that we get to eat it that evening! After a full day of gorging on heavy foods like turkey and potatoes, we love to satisfy our nighttime hungries with something light, and bread and fruit are just the ticket. We tear into the bread and add a little butter, then snack on the fresh fruit. What a perfect way to finish off the day!
P.S. The bread will be tastiest if you make it the day you want to serve it, but if you are afraid you won’t have time Thanksgiving morning, you can make it the night before, and wrap it with plastic wrap to keep it fresh.