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Christmas Breads

compiled by Catherine Fournier

Bread is basic to every culture, and so it is to be expected that every culture would have a special bread, enriched with raisins, spices, extra sweetening and butter, for celebratory occasions too. The aroma of baking bread says 'Home' to many people, the aroma of these breads bakings sings 'It's Christmas, come celebrate!' The following recipes are some of our favorites. Send us your favorites, and we'll add them to the list.

Pulla

A delicious Finnish coffee bread

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water (100 F.)
  • 5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Directions:
  • Scald milk. Pour the milk into a large bowl and add the sugar, salt, butter and cardomon. Stir until butter melts. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the eggs.
  • Meanwhile, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand for 10 minutes. Then stir briskly with a fork. Add softened yeast to lukewarm milk mixture. Stir.
  • Beat in 2 cups of the flour, beating well until the dough is soft and stretchy. Add another 3 to 31/2 cups of flour
  • Work in last of flour with a rotating motion of the hand. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead 8 to 10 minutes. Shape into a smooth ball and place in a greased bowl, rotating dough to grease surface.
  • Cover and let rise until doubled (about 2 hours). Punch down, and divide into 3 parts.
  • Shape each part into three 15-inch rolls and braid together. Place braided loaf on greased baking sheet. Repeat to make 3 loaves. Cover and let rise again until doubled (about 1 1/4 hours).
  • Bake in preheated 375o F. oven for 30 to 35 minutes. As soon as bread is removed from oven, brush with a glaze of 2 tablespoons sugar dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot coffee. Sprinkle with granulated sugar

After bread is several days old it makes delicious toast - just slice 3/4 inch thick and toast in preheated 350 o oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes 3 loaves.


Makiwnyk

A sweet-dough bread traditionally served at Christmas by those of Ukrainian origin.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water (100o F.)
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 3 eggs and 3 egg yolks OR 4 whole eggs, beaten well.
  • 6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour.
Directions:
  • Scald milk. Cool to lukewarm. Meanwhile, dissolve sugar in warm water and sprinkle with dried yeast.
  • Let the yeast stand for 10 minutes. Then stir briskly with a fork. Add softened yeast to lukewarm milk. Stir.
  • Beat in 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Cover bowl. Let stand in warm place until light and full of bubbles (about 1 hour).
  • Stir in sugar, salt, butter, lemon rind and eggs.
  • Add 2 cups all-purpose flour. Beat vigorously. Add another 4 to 41/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Work in last of flour with a rotating motion of the hand. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead 8 to 10 minutes. Shape into a smooth ball and place in a greased bowl, rotating dough to grease surface.
  • Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch down and divide into three parts.
  • Roll each into a l/2-inch-thick rectangle. Spread with Poppy Seed Filling. Roll up each rectangle like a jelly roll. Pinch seams to make edges secure. Place on greased baking sheet. Cover, let rise until doubled. Brush with cream.
  • Bake in preheated 350o F. oven for 1 hour.

Makes 3 loaves.

Poppy Seed Filling
  • Scald with boiling water 1 pound poppy seeds. Let stand for 1 hour.
  • Drain and dry thoroughly, preferably overnight.
  • Grind in poppy seed grinder or through finest blade of food chopper. Stir in 1/2 cup granulated sugar.
  • Beat 3 egg whites until stiff
  • Fold into poppy seed mixture along with 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

Hutzelbrot (German Fruit and Nut Bread)

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup pitted prunes
  • 1 cup dried peaches, pears or apricots
  • 1/2 cup dried figs .
  • Note: if above ingredients are unavailable, use 2 1/2 cups mixed dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup unbleached white flour .
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey
  • 1 cup liquid from cooking,fruit or fruit juice, such as orange, pineapple, or apricot nectar
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
  • 5 cups unbleached white flour, approximately
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • Confectioners' sugar, blanched almond halves, candied cherries (optional)
  • If any of the dried fruit is hard, simmer it in water to cover about 10 minutes and let sit a half-hour. If it is reasonably soft this is not necessary. Drain well any of the fruit which you have cooked. Chop all the fruit (except raisins) and toss fruit, including raisins with 1/4 cup flour.
  • In a large mixing bowl combine the yeast, warm water and 1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey. Let sit until bubbling. Add 1 cup liquid (either that in which fruit is cooked, or juice); the liquid may be warm but not hot.
  • Add the anise seed, cinnamon, salt, lemon peel, cloves, honey and melted butter. Beat well to mix. Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour and beat at least 200 strokes by hand or 2 minutes with an electric mixer. Stir in the nuts.
  • Gradually add more flour until the dough holds together and leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, adding a little more flour as necessary but trying to keep a soft dough. Put the dough into a buttered bowl, turn to coat all sides or brush the top with melted butter. Cover with a towel and let rise until dou-bled in bulk.
  • Punch the dough down, turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead a few times and press the dough out into a large oval with your hands. Sprinkle the surface with some of the chopped fruit. Fold the dough in half and press out again into a large oval. Sprinkle with more fruit.
  • Repeat this process until all the fruit has been incorporated. Don't be surprised if the pressing becomes a bit harder each time. Ignore any flour that is left in the bottom of the fruit bowl.
  • Cut the dough in half with a sharp knife, cover with the towel and let rest 10 to 15 minutes. With your hands form each piece of dough into an oblong, something like a meatloaf. Place on buttered cookie sheets and brush the tops with melted butter (if you put them both on one sheet be sure there is room in all directions for ex-pansion). Cover with a light cloth and let rise until not quite doubled.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 o F. Bake loaves 40 to 45 minutes, or until bottoms sound hollow when thumped. Cool on a rack.
  • When cool, glaze with an icing of confectioners' sugar and milk, if you wish, and decorate with blanched almond halves and candied cherries.

Christopsomo (Greek Christmas Bread)

Ingredients
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sweet butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed, bruised with the back of a spoon (or 1 1/2 teaspoons if you prefer a more definite flavor)
  • 6-7 cups unbleached white flour
  • 9 perfect walnut or pecan alves
  • 1 egg white for glaze
Directions:
  • In a saucepan scald the milk. Add the butter, honey and salt; stir and let sit until lukewarm.
  • In a large mixing bowl combine the yeast, warm water and 1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey. Wait until this mixture is foaming, then add the cooled milk, eggs and anise. Beat thoroughly. Add 3 cups of the flour and beat at least 200 strokes by hand or 2 minutes with an electric mixer. Gradually add more flour until the dough clings to-gether in the center of the bowl.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, adding a little more flour if necessary. This should be an easy dough to knead and should lose its stickiness early, although it will feel somewhat oily because of the butter.
  • Place the dough in a buttered bowl, turn to grease the top or brush with melted butter, cover with a cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk.
  • Punch the dough down, turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead a few times to press out air bubbles, and cut off two pieces of dough, each the size of a small apple. Cover the dough and pieces with a towel and let rest about 10 minutes.
  • Shape the large hunk of dough into a smooth ball (press out with hands into a flattened round, tuck all the edges underneath and seal together at center bottom, coax the dough with your hands into a nice round ball, then press again to flatten slightly; it should still swell in the middle). Place on a large, buttered cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.
  • Roll out each small piece of dough with your palms into a thin rope about half again as long as the diameter of your flattened ball. Try to make the rope even in thickness. Use a sharp knife to split the rope in half for 4 inches on each end. Repeat with the other rope.
  • Carefully place one of the ropes across the large loaf so that it intersects it across the middle, leaving equal amounts of overhang on either end. Place the second rope at right angles to the first one so that they form a cross on top of the dough. Curl each split end away from the center to make a small circle, which lies on the slope of the large loaf. Now the end of each rope will look like an anchor. It will help if the anchors are formed high enough up on the loaf so that they don't collapse down over the sides during baking. Tack each curlique in place with pieces of raw spaghetti. Brush the dough with melted butter and let rise, covered with a light cloth, until almost doubled in size.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 oF. Brush the entire bread with an egg white beaten with a tablespoon of water. Place a walnut or pecan half in the hollow of each curlique (two for each "anchor") and at the center of the cross. Press gently so they will adhere.
  • Bake 40-50 minutes. Raise loaf carefully with a pancake turner to tap bottom for doneness, or plunge a cake tester into the side. Cool on a rack. Cut in wedges or slices.

Makes 1 large loaf.


Saffron Braid

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup boiling orange juice or water
  • 3/4 teaspoon saffron threads (if you can't find the threads, use 1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron)
  • 1/ cups milk
  • 1/2 Cup honey
  • 1/2 cup sweet butter (1 stick)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey
  • 1 egg
  • 6-7 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 -1 cup gold raisins
  • Egg for glaze
Directions:
  • In a large mixing bowl pour the boiling orange juice or water over the saffron threads and let steep.
  • Scald the milk in a saucepan. Add the butter, honey and salt. Stir to melt and let sit until luke-warm.
  • Meanwhile, test the saffron water with your finger or a thermometer. When it has cooled to warm (not over 110 o F.) add the yeast with the l/2 teaspoon sugar or honey. Stir and wait until the yeast is bubbly.
  • Add the cooled milk mixture and eggs and beat well. Add 3 cups of the flour and beat at least 200 strokes by hand or 2 minutes with an electric mixer. Stir in the raisins.
  • Gradually add the remaining flour, or enough to make a dough too stiff to beat that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, adding a little more flour as necessary. Try to keep the dough on the soft side
  • Place the dough in a buttered bowl, turn to coat all sides or brush the top with melted butter. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in bulk.
  • Punch the dough down, turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead a few times and, with a sharp knife, cut in half. Cut each half into three equal pieces, cover, and let rest about 10 minutes.
  • Butter two large loaf pans. Take the pieces of dough one at a time, leaving the rest wrapped in the towel, and roll them out with your palms into a rope that is more or less uniformly thick and about half again as long as your loaf pan. Braid three of the ropes, pinching the ends together to seal and tucking them under. Repeat with the other three ropes. With your hands, gently compress or stretch the braid to make it the same length as your loaf pan. Place the braids carefully in their pans, trying not to squash any of the strands in the process. Don't worry if they're a little misshapen; they will improve as they rise.
  • Brush the tops of the braids with melted butter, making sure it gets into the creases and crannies. Cover with a light cloth and let rise until not quite double.
  • Preheat the oven to 375oF. Bake about 35 minutes or until the bottoms of the louves sound hollow when tapped. About 10 minutes before you expect the loaves to be done, remove from the oven and brush the tops with a glaze of whole egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk or water. Alternatively, you can make free-form braids on baking sheets, in which case the baking time will be slightly less. Cool on racks.

Makes two large braids.


Julebrod (Norwegian Christmas Wreath)

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 4-5 cups unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup mixed candied fruits and peels (optional)
  • 1/2 cup gold raisins
  • Egg for glaze
Directions:
  • In a saucepan scald the milk. Add the honey, butter and salt and let sit until lukewarm.
  • In a large mixing bowl combine the yeast, warm water and 1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey. When bubbly add the cooled milk mixture, egg, cardamon, mace, ginger and
  • orange peel. Beat well to mix.
  • Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour and beat at least 200 strokes by hand or 2 minutes with an electric mixer. Stir in the fruits and raisins. Gradually add more flour until the dough clings together and leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, adding a little more flour as necessary but striving to keep a soft dough.
  • Put the dough in a buttered bowl, turn to coat all sides or brush top with melted butter, cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down, turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead a few times to press out air bubbles and cut into three equal pieces. Cover and let rest about 10 minutes.
  • Work the pieces one at a time with your hands into long ropes. This takes some strenuous rolling with your palms. It also helps if you have a large surface to work on.
  • The ropes should be skinny, of equal thickness, and about 30 to 36 inches long. This will seem quite long but they shrink a great deal when braided. Pinch the three ropes together at one end and braid them, not too tightly. When you've finished see if the braid will form a circle; if not, undo it and roll the ropes longer or braid them more loosely. Curl the braid into a circle on a buttered, large baking sheet (be sure there is room around the edges for expansion). Try to join the ends of the wreath together neatly by tucking them in and pinching together on the underneath side; don't worry as long as they are touching and no loose strand is poking out; they'll grow together.
  • It is helpful to put a jar in the middle of the wreath (butter it and the dough first) to maintain the hole in the center. You might also put a buttered springform collar around the outside to en-courage the braid to rise up rather than out (it should be a bit larger than the wreath). Brush the wreath with melted butter, getting some into all the nooks and crannies. Cover with a light cloth and let rise until not quite double.
  • Preheat the oven to 350oF. Remove the jar and/or springform before baking. Bake about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and brush all over with a glaze of whole egg beaten with two tablespoons milk. Return to the oven for about 10 more minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the side comes out clean.
  • With two pancake turners carefully lift the wreath to a large rack to cool (or slide it off if your sheet has no sides). Drizzle with icing made of confectioners' sugar and milk and sprinkle with slivered almonds or, for a trompe l'oeil effect, decorate with sprigs of real holly and berries or candied red cherries, sliced in half.
  • If you don't want to bother with a wreath, simply make two round loaves and bake on cookie sheets until the bottoms sound hollow when tapped.

Makes one wreath or two loaves.


Panettone (Italian Christmas Bread)

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup candied mixed peel
  • 1/2 cup candied citron
  • 8-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 6 eggs
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp each grated orange and lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1-l/2 tsp Salt
  • 1-l/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
Directions:
  • IN SMALL BOWL, combine raisins, candied peel and citron. Add 2 tbsp of the flour, toss to coat. Set aside. In saucepan, heat milk with 1 tsp of the sugar to lukewarm (110 to 112oF/ 43 to 44oC), remove from heat. Sprinkle in yeast, let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy.
  • MEANWHILE, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, orange and lemon rinds and vanilla until combined; stir into milk mixture. In large bowl, stir together 4 cups of the flour, remaining sugar and salt. Stir in egg mixture all at once. Add butter all at once; stir with wooden spoon until blended.
  • GRADUALLY STIR IN remaining flour to make soft, somewhat lumpy dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface; knead for about 8 minutes or until soft, smooth and elastic, using up to 1/3 cup more flour if needed. Lightly dust with flour; cover with tea towel and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • FLATTEN INTO 15-inch circle; top with raisin mixture. Fold dough over mixture; pinch to seal. Knead for 2 to 3 minutes or until raisin mixture is evenly distributed. Place in large greased bowl, turning to grease all over. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, 1-l/2 to 2 hours.
  • GREASE TWO 2 lb (1 kg) coffee cans or panettone moulds. If using cans, line bottoms and sides with parchment paper to extend 1 inch (2.5 cm) above top; wrap outsides and bottoms with double thickness of foil. Punch down dough; divide in half. Roll each into ball; place, seam side down, in can. Cover with towel; let rise in warm place for 1-l/2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
  • WITH SHARP KNIFE, cut X on top of each loaf. Place on baking sheet; bake on lowest rack in 350 oF (180oC) oven for about 1 hour or until knife inserted in centre comes out clean, covering tops lightly with foil if browning too quickly. Let cool in cans on rack for 1 hour. Remove from cans by gently pulling paper; let loaves cool completely on rack.

Panettone Recipe is from Canadian Living, Holiday Baking December 1997.

Pulla and Makiwnyk recipes are from the Canadian Cookbook, McClelland and Stewart Ltd, 1967.

The remaining bread recipes are from The Garden Way Bread Book, by Ellen Foscue-Johnson, Garden Way Publishing, 1979

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