Worldwide Family Christmas Bread

Time from start to warm bread:  4-5 hours

Type:  yeasted bread

Bake:  40 minutes at 350

Yield:  4 rounds

Ingredient                     4 loaves           8 loaves           12 loaves

Bread Flour*                 1000g             2000g             3000g

Milk                              360g               720g               1080g

Water                           120g               240g               360g

Salt                                 1T                 2T                    3T

Sugar                           200g              400g               600g

Butter                           ¾ c                  1 ½ c               2 ¼ c

Eggs                             3                      6                      9

Yeast                            1 T + 1 ½ t     3 T                   4 T + 1 ½ t

Fresh-grated Nutmeg   ¼ t                   ½ t                   ¾ t

Grated lemon rind        1 lemon           2 lemons          3 lemons

Citron                          ½ c                  1 c                   1 ½ c

Currants                      ½ c                  1 c                   1 ½ c

Candied cherries          ½ c                  1 c                   1 ½ c

Chopped almonds       ½ c                  1 c                   1 ½ c

Lemon juice and powdered sugar for thick icing as needed

Whole blanched almonds for decoration

*Let’s start out with the disclaimer.  This is my grandmother’s recipe, which has only the cryptic note, “enough flour to make dough”.  When I’ve made this I used around 7 cups, adding more until the dough was satiny and would cling to my hands temporarily but not stick and tear away when I took my hand off.  See how 1000 grams works and add more if needed.  It’s much easier to add flour than to add liquid!

Happy holidays!  Wherever you are in the world, a holiday is coming up soon.  Whether you’re celebrating Diwali, Hannukah, Eid, Samhain, Christmas, or Festivus, you’re expecting family and friends to swarm your house like a plague of hungry ants.  What to feed them?  Worldwide Family Christmas bread and lots of it.  We really are all part of the same family, and this can be the bread to unite us in celebration.  Onward!

First mix together your flour, yeast, salt, sugar, lemon rind, almonds, and nutmeg.  Melt your butter and mix in the milk, water, and eggs.  Pour this soupy mixture into the flour and mix it together until it just starts to form dough.  Now it’s time for a break.  Go on, you deserve it.  Fix yourself a cup of tea or coffee and find something to read.  Try to ignore the plaintive wails of your hungry guests—remind them they will get their bread in good time and to not disturb the baker.

Once at least fifteen minutes have gone by, come back to the bread and begin to knead.  With your currants, cherries, and citron at hand, begin to knead these into the dough.  As you incorporate the fruits, you’ll be helping the gluten strands form.  Once all the fruit is well into the dough, continue kneading until the dough becomes satiny and can pass the windowpane test.  This means you gently stretch a thin membrane open with your fingers and it holds together well enough to allow light to pass through, rather than tearing apart.  Just a coin-sized aperture will do to determine if the dough’s kneaded enough.

Now take the dough and tuck the sides to the bottom until you have a beautiful ball, then place it in a large oiled bowl, cover it with a cloth, and put it somewhere warm.  Make sure your dough only fills about half the bowl because you want the dough to double in size.  Depending on the temperature it may take up to four hours, but just give it time, it’s just sluggish with all that fat and sugar.  You will be too once you start eating it!

Once the dough has doubled, remove it from the bowl, gently squeeze the air out, and divide into four equal portions.  Form these into balls on parchment paper, cover, and put somewhere warm again to rise.  This time it’ll go just about an hour.  Bake them at 350 or less so they don’t burn.  With this bread, your baking should be low and slow.

When they are out and cooled off, mix up the icing with lemon juice and powdered sugar until it’s a paste, spread it on top, and add a cross of blanched almonds with a cherry in the middle.

Slice and serve to your holiday guests and enjoy the ancient tradition of breaking bread in good company.  Happy holidays, my worldwide family!

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