An offering: Holiday Bread

I am struck dumb these days. Most of what busies my days either cannot be talked about in a blog, or has already been talked about by me in previous posts. I am not about to start whining, so it's easiest to remain silent. Suffice to say, the work is going as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

I can't write about my knitting either, since I am mostly knitting gifts for people who read my blog. Posts will have to wait until after the items have been finished and given away.

I do have something to offer, however: my recipe for holiday bread. I am making a batch tonight to take tomorrow to Cape Cod, where we will celebrate one of the best holidays of the year with my father and stepmother. I do love Thanksgiving, because all we need to give is a hearty appetite and appreciation for the wonder that is our lives, right now and right here.

This recipe has evolved from the one my mother used to make a wreath kuchen every year for Christmas breakfast. Once I learned how to make bread and had a kitchen of my own, I asked her for the recipe. I immediately started tweaking it. The recipe has evolved from all white flour to half whole wheat, from candied citron to dried fruit, to different spices, to more fruit and nuts and less fat. At this point, I feel that the recipe is my own contribution to the world of eating. We eat it every year for Christmas breakfast, and I bake it as gifts for friends. I offer the recipe as my gift to the world at the beginning of this holiday season.

Ingredients:



2 scant Tbsp rapid rise yeast
1 c. warm water
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. sugar - I prefer brown
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 1/2 c. unbleached flour
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. chopped mixed dry fruit
1 c. chopped mixed nuts

Step 1: Make a sponge.

Whisk together warm water, yeast, and one cup unbleached flour. Cover and put in a warm place to rise for about one half hour.

When it's ready, it will look very bubbly, like this:




Step Two: Chop fruit and nuts.

Chop up whatever appeals to you, or whatever you have in your cupboard. The mixture this year: organic raisins, dried cranberries, dried figs, walnuts, almonds, and pecans.




I tend toward a polyglot little-of-everything approach to fruit and nuts. Sometimes I wonder if simplicity would yield an interesting, more focused flavor. What about dried cherries and almonds? Or cranberries and pecans? Maybe I'll try that next year. This year, I am into diversity.


Step Three: Mix and knead the dough.

You can start this step while you are chopping the fruit and nuts if you are using an electric mixer.

Beat the butter until soft.
Beat in sugar gradually.
Add eggs, one at a time.
Add salt, ground coriander, and ground ginger.
Add lemon juice. Note: the main purpose of this is to acidify the dough, and enhance the development of gluten. This helps the bread to rise, especially when using whole wheat flour.
Add the sponge. Beat until all ingredients added so far are well blended.
Gradually add 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour. Beat for a while after all has been added, until you can see strands of gluten forming.
Gradually add whole wheat flour.
Add fruit and nuts.
Turn out on a bread board and knead until the dough is smooth, and the fruit and nuts are evenly distributed. The dough should be slightly sticky. Try to add as little additional flour as possible.

The finished dough:




Let rise, covered, about 1/2 hour.


Step Four: Shape and bake loaves.

The recipe makes two wreathes, four loaves, or one wreath and two loaves.

For a wreath, divide in half, then divide the half into three pieces.

For loaves, divide in half, then in half again, then into three pieces.

Roll each piece into a long rope with your hands. When you have three ropes, braid them together. Try to tuck pieces of fruit on the surface underneath, so that they do not overbake.

For a loaf, tuck the ends of the braids under to make a smooth finish at the ends.

For a wreath, bend the braid into a circle, and join the ends together. If you are careful, you can join the braid so that the join is not noticeable.

Place the braided breads on greased cookie sheets.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the oven is hot, in about 15 minutes, put the loaves in.

Bake thirty minutes, rotating the loaves half way during the backing time for even browning.

Remove and cool on racks.

Here is the finished product! First, the loaves:




These are great for gifts for friends with small families, or as hostess gifts when going to a party.

And the piece de resistance - the wreath:




The original recipe glazed the bread with a powdered sugar glaze. I prefer to give and eat the bread without the frosting. It pushes the flavor away from sweetness, and towards richness. You can eat it with brie, with cream cheese, with butter - and with nothing added.

I am thankful that I will not show up at the feast empty handed. I will take bread with me as well when we visit our family in Rochester next weekend. I hope that the pleasure of eating matches the pleasure of making and of giving,

Comments

  1. That looks wonderful, Anita. I am working on an egg- and dairy-free braid. 'Can't put nuts in it either, so my filling will be fruit and perhaps a sprinkling of chocolate chips. Fingers crossed that this will not be disappointing. The dough is not rich, so I will drizzle some glaze on the finished loaves.

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    Replies
    1. I'm fortunate, Judy, that I don't have to bake for people with food allergies or sensitivities. I don 't offer the bread to people who tell me that they don't like nuts.

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