Star bread is a festive, pull-apart style sweet bread traditionally served around the holidays due to its unique appearance. Although traditional star breads are filled with cinnamon sugar, I made mine with Nutella and topped it off with a simple syrup in the style of babka—jump to the recipe! Although this Nutella star bread recipe looks incredibly impressive, it’s actually a breeze to make thanks to tools from my partner, OXO. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High running!
What is star bread?
I know that I’m late to the party, but Erlend and I finally finished The Great British Bake Off (er, The Great British Baking Show, as it’s known here in America—but I started watching it way back in 2012 when my British friend first introduced it to me, so its British name is forever seared into my mind… sorry guys)! I’m the kind of person who can’t stand any kind of suspense, so I made Erlend wait until all episodes of GBBO were available to watch. We then spent the weekend binging on the episodes all at once (healthy, I know, lol).
On this season of GBBO, the bakers were challenged to make a “tear-and-share” bread during Bread Week. I hadn’t heard of “tear-and-share” bread before, but as the bakers discussed their recipes, I quickly realized that they were talking about what’s known as “pull-apart” bread in the US, lol. Many of the bakers opted for a star bread, similar to the recipe I’m sharing with you guys today.
Star breads were a big deal this time last year—I kept seeing different versions pop up on Instagram. I even attempted my own one night by casually shaping my go-to cinnamon bun recipe (okay, that post is from 2013—you can find an updated version of the recipe in my cookbook, Weeknight Baking) into the bread’s signature 8-point star shape. The result wasn’t great; it kinda looked like a Georgia O’Keefe painting, if you know what I mean.
After doing some research and comparing various recipes, I finally figured out why my cinnamon bun recipe (which I had successfully turned into a pull-apart loaf, knots, and a braided wreath in the past) didn’t quite work. It all came down to the recipe’s ingredients.
Nutella Star Bread Ingredients
To make a star bread, you need to start with a sweet dough that is soft but sturdy enough to be molded into the bread’s intricate shape. After trying a handful of recipes, my favorite dough ended up coming from King Arthur Flour’s recipe, which uses two special ingredients to make them extra soft and fluffy. Most star bread recipes available are traditionally flavored with cinnamon and sugar. But I wanted my star bread to be distinct, so I opted for a classic flavor combination: chocolate hazelnut. Here are the notable ingredients of this star bread recipe:
Potato flour is a favorite of serious bread bakers because it contains more starch than all-purpose flour. This starch attracts and holds water, leading to a moister baked good. The starch also gives the bread a soft and almost squishy feeling. If you’re lucky enough to have a Shake Shack in your city (WHY WON’T THEY OPEN ONE IN PORTLAND?!), note that Shake Shack’s burger buns are made with potato flour and have this very distinctly squishy texture I’m talking about. In a pinch, you can substitute the potato flour in this recipe with all-purpose flour.
Nonfat Dry Milk Powder
This is another ingredient that bread bakers use in buns to make them soft and fluffy since the milk fat acts as a tenderizer. The sugars in the milk also enhance the browning of the bread, giving the crust an especially sweet and almost caramelized texture.
I used Nutella, the much beloved chocolate hazelnut spread, to achieve the chocolate hazelnut flavor of my star bread. I love baking with Nutella—it’s the perfect consistency and makeup for baking, and doesn’t tend to leech oil like homemade chocolate hazelnut spreads. I used to think that this was just my personal preference, but one of my favorite professional bakers, Uri Scheft of Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv (and known as the man who popularized babka in New York City) uses Nutella a lot in his baking for this reason, too!
Speaking of Tel Aviv, one of the things I loved about my time there was how most restaurants and bakeries just drenched their sweet breads like babka and challah in simple syrup. It made everything extra sweet and moist, and gave the bread a really pretty, distinctive shine. I decided to do the same for my bread—most star breads have you pull out the bread from the oven and leave it at that, but in my recipe, I instruct you to drench this Nutella star bread in simple syrup! It’s delicious, trust me.
How to Make Nutella Star Bread
Although this bread looks difficult and intricate to make, it’s actually a breeze. Its shape and pattern comes from twisting the dough in a very specific way (which we’ll discuss more in a hot second, I promise). But in general, making Nutella star bread can be broken down into the following steps:
Make the Dough and Proof it for the First Time
In general, when making a shaped bread, you’ll need to proof the dough twice: once after mixing all the ingredients together, and again after shaping the dough into rolls, knots, stars, whatever. Doing so can quickly turn into an all-day-long baking project as you sit around and wait for the bread to rise again and again. As a result, I always do the first rise overnight—specifically, I make the dough the night before I’m planning on baking and serving the bread, and stick it in the fridge. After a good night’s sleep, it’s ready to be baked first thing in the morning! Doing this cuts down your waiting time a LOT.
Shape the Dough
After the first rise, you’ll need to punch the dough down and divide it into four portions. These portions are then rolled into four distinct circles, layered, filled, and sliced to make our star bread.
Proof the Shaped Dough for the Second Time
After you’ve molded the dough, it’ll need to rise in its new shape. You want the shape to look puffy—this is the sign that your bread is going to bake wonderfully in the oven.
Bake the Dough
One of the best things about baking sweet breads is that they generally don’t need to bake for that long. This particular recipe only takes about 15 to 20 minutes to bake!
Tools and Steps to Make Nutella Star Bread
Now’s the fun part: I’m going to talk about how we actually get the Nutella star bread’s shape.Its shape comes from a specific way of layering and twisting the dough to get the distinctive twirls and points. It’s worth investing in the following tools to help you with the process:
You’ll need a good, heavy rolling pin to roll the dough into thin, flat circles. Because the dough is a little bit sticky, be sure to cover both your counter and the dough with lots of flour before rolling it out. I also recommend finding a nonstick rolling pin like this OXO Good Grips Non-Stick Rolling Pin—it’s been a lifesaver in my kitchen!
Silicone Pastry Bag
The recipe instructs you to portion out the dough into four balls, and then roll those balls into a very specific 10-inch circle. To help me get the EXACT size, I used this OXO Silicone Dough Rolling Bag. You can also use a ruler, but the rolling bag was kind of a dream come true: I simply put the dough in the bag with a handful of flour and rolled it out to the perfect size, thanks to the bag’s guidelines. But the real magic is that the flour stayed in the bag—there was no need for me to wipe down and clean my counters after! I simply shook the flour out over a trash can and moved on with my life, lol.
After rolling out the dough into the circles, you’ll need to stack the circles like you’re making a crepe cake. But first, you’ll need to layer each with a good portion of Nutella.
Cookie Dough Scoop
Because of its sticky texture, Nutella can be hard to scoop and scrape out of its jar—it gets messy fast! I like to minimize the mess by using this OXO cookie dough scoop; it has a lever that can press to drop the Nutella out of the scoop (similar to an ice cream scoop), saving you the hassle of scraping it out each time!
To spread the Nutella easily over the dough, I used this offset spatula. Because the dough is so delicate, anything less specialized like a butter knife or the back of a spoon might cause it to tear. An offset spatula is specifically designed for spreading frosting across delicate baked goods like cakes and will help prevent any issues.
I mentioned in Weeknight Baking that a bench scraper is the baker’s MVP tool in the kitchen. It can function as a cutting tool (use it to divide doughs and chop up crumbs), a cake decorating tool (use it like an offset spatula to scrape frosting), and a cleaning tool (use it as a brush to sweep your counters). Look for one with a dishwasher-proof handle like this one by OXO for easy clean-up!
In this Nutella star bread recipe, I use it to cut the dough to make the strips and twists for the star points:
To get the Nutella star bread’s distinct shape, you’ll need to cut the dough circle into 16 equal strips. The easiest way to do this is to first cut the dough into four even quarters, then cut each quarter in half, then cut each of those wedges in half too—you can see the process in the GIF above.
After you cut the dough, you’ll need to twist each strip to give the Nutella star bread its distinct striped appearance. Pick up two strips at a time and twist them away from each other twice before pinching the ends together to make a point. You’ll end up with 8 points total for your Nutella star bread.
Once the Nutella star bread is baked and out of the oven, you then douse the whole thing with simple syrup. I like to use this OXO pastry brush to spread the syrup and really let it soak in the Nutella star bread’s craggy texture. Traditionally, most pastry brushes have been a pain to clean—but because this pastry brush has bristles made from silicone, you can just easily stick it in the dishwasher!
Powdered Sugar Wand
Finally, I like to garnish the Nutella star bread with confectioners’ sugar just before serving! This powdered sugar wand is a great tool for doing so.
Best Nutella Star Bread Recipe Tips
- For this recipe, it’s especially important to pay attention to the temperatures listed in the recipe. You’ll be using yeast to leaven the rolls, and yeast is especially sensitive to temperature—adding any ingredients that are too hot will kill your yeast and leave you with a flat bread, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, adding ingredients that are too cold won’t cause the yeast to properly activate and leave you with a flat bread, too! To ensure success, be sure to use an instant thermometer (I like this one by OXO) to measure the temperature of both the water and the butter—you want those ingredients at a temperature between 120° and 130°F when you add them to the rest of the ingredients.
- The recipe instructs you to divide the dough into four balls, and then roll them out into 10-inch circles. The circles will be VERY thin and almost resemble tortillas. After rolling them into circles, you’ll then be instructed to spread Nutella across the surface of each circle. Because the circles are so thin, they can tear easily. Set yourself up for success by warming your Nutella—warmed Nutella will spread without little resistance on the dough. I popped mine in the microwave for between 20 to 30 seconds before spreading it on my dough. I also found that adding the Nutella a dollop or so at a time (as opposed to dumping the Nutella on the dough all at once) in the center of the dough and spreading outwards towards the edges was the way to go.
Get the Recipe: Nutella Star Bread Recipe
For the Dough
- 2 cups 9 ounces all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup 1.65 ounces potato flour
- ¼ cup 1.25 ounces nonfat dry milk powder
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup 8 ounces water, warmed to between 120° and 130°F (see baker’s notes)
- ¼ cup 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- ½ cup 5.15 ounces Nutella, warmed (see baker’s notes)
- ¼ cup 1.75 ounces granulated sugar
- ¼ cup 2 ounces water
Day 1: Make the Dough
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the all-purpose flour, potato flour, milk powder, sugar, yeast, and salt. Knead on low to combine, about 30 seconds. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.
- Pour the water into the well and mix with a rubber spatula until shaggy, 1 minute. Pour in the butter and knead on medium-low for 10 minutes, or until sticky and elastic, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough once or twice into a rough ball. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl to remove any excess dough. Spray the bowl with cooking spray and place the dough back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
Day 2: Shape and Bake the Bread
- Uncover the dough and discard the plastic wrap. Tip it onto a lightly floured counter. Use a bench scraper to divide the dough into four equal pieces, roughly 5.45 ounces each.
- Dust your counter with flour and use a rolling pin to roll one of the dough balls into a thin, 10-inch circle. Place the dough circle on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Use an offset spatula to spread around 3 tablespoons of Nutella across the dough, leaving a ¼-inch border of bare dough around the perimeter.
- Roll out a second dough ball into a circle approximately the same size as the first, and place it on top of the Nutella-covered circle like you would if you were making a quesadilla. Spread the top of this dough circle with another 3 tablespoons of Nutella like you did with the first dough circle. Repeat this layering process with Nutella for the third dough ball, but leave the final dough circle bare.
- Place a 3-inch round cutter in the center of the bare dough circle to use as a guide. Use a bench scraper or a sharp knife to cut the circle into 16 equal strips (see baker’s notes), making sure to cut through all layers.
- Use two hands to pick up two adjacent strips and twist them away from each other 2 times. Repeat with the remaining strips of dough; you’ll end up with eight pairs of strips. Pinch the ends of the adjacent strips to create “points”. You’ll end up with a star shape with eight points. Remove the cutter.
- Cover the star loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
- About 30 minutes into the second rise, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Bake the star bread for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. An instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the bread should register 200°F. Cool on a wire rack while you make the simple syrup.
- In a small sauce pot over medium heat, whisk the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and immediately use a pastry brush to brush the syrup over the still-warm star bread. Serve warm or at room temperature. The star bread can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 day. After that, refrigerate for up to 2 days more.