Sugar and spice

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Suddenly the bakeries are full of sweet yeasty treats. We all love them, but they are reserved for this season and maybe that’s what makes them special.

Holiday breads bridge the gap between the heaviness of winter and the light sweet flavours that are so evocative of spring.

Some store-bought pastries and loaves are worth the price, and they absolutely save you time, but the kitchen ritual that is homemade bread is so satisfying I can’t imagine giving it up.

These recipes both start with active dry yeast, not the quick variety, and they are the by-hand versions rather than designed for a bread machine, but if you are experienced with either of the other methods these can be adapted easily.

Lemon breakfast braid

This sweet and tangy bread can be made into a regular loaf, delicious toasted with butter and honey or your favourite jam, but it only takes a few minutes to create from a lump of dough a beautiful table centrepiece.

A number of countries claim a version of this recipe as their own; some include dyed raw eggs pushed into the folds to bake along with the bread, or candied fruit decorating the top, but they all start much like this.

1/3 cup sugar (divided)

1/4 cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1/3 cup warm milk

2 eggs

2 tbsp. soft butter or margarine

grated rind of 1 lemon

2 tsp. lemon juice

2-1/2 to 3 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt (a little more if using unsalted butter)

1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

egg wash — 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. cold water

Stir 1 tsp. of the sugar into the warm water. Sprinkle yeast over top and allow to sit in a very warm place — I pre-heat my oven to 150 F then turn it off and lay the yeast mixture inside — for about 10 minutes or until spongy, puffy and frothy.

Whisk in milk, eggs, butter, lemon rind and juice. Whisk together 2-1/2 cups of the flour, remaining sugar, salt and cardamom and stir in yeast mixture all at once. Mix either with your hands or using the dough hooks of an electric mixer until smooth.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough takes on an elastic quality and has a satiny texture. Add only enough extra flour to attain a tender, slightly sticky, dough. Cover tightly in an oiled bowl.

Place in a warm spot — I use the oven again — until doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down lightly and divide into three parts. Roll into three strips, each about 18 inches long, and braid, as you would hair. Tuck under the ends and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise again — until about double in size — in a warm place, another hour or so. Brush lightly with egg wash and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until golden on top and bottom.

Baking time will vary based on how long and thick you make your braid, so keep a weather eye open starting at 20 minutes.

Serve this bread as is, encouraging people to tear off exactly the hunk they want.

Hot cross buns

Every year I try a new recipe for these, and I’m always looking for a no-knead version that is as good, but darned if I can come up with any shortcuts.

I brew a pot of coffee, clear the counter, take a deep breath and enjoy that moment of kitchen Zen that only kneading dough can deliver.

1/4 cup white sugar (divided)

1/2 cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast (1 tbsp.)

1/4 cup melted butter, cooled slightly

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

1/4 cup evaporated milk

3-1/2 to 4 cups flour

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)

1/2 tsp. salt (a little more if using unsalted butter)

1/4 tsp. each ground cloves, allspice and ginger

1/3 cup currants

1/3 cup candied peel (buy the good one, not the one made from chopped turnip)

Icing:

2 tsp. melted butter or margarine

1/2 cup icing sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. each milk and lemon juice

Dissolve 1 tbsp. of the white sugar in the warm water. Sprinkle yeast over top and allow to sit in a warm place for about 10 minutes or until puffed up.

Whisk in melted butter, egg, egg yolk  and evaporated milk. Whisk together 3 1/2 cups of the flour, brown sugar, remaining white sugar, cinnamon nutmeg, salt, cloves, allspice and ginger and stir in yeast mixture all at once.

Mix either with your hands or using the dough hooks of an electric mixer until smooth. Stir in currants and candied peel.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead eight to 10 minutes, until dough takes on an elastic quality and has a satiny texture, adding just enough extra flour to attain a soft dough. Cover tightly in an oiled bowl.

Place in a warm spot until doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down gently and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll into balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

If you prefer soft-sided buns place them in a greased 9-inch square pan. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise again until about double in size, about 45 minutes. Brush with egg wash and bake at 400 F for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

For the icing, stir ingredients together until smooth, adding a little more milk if mixture is stiff. Spoon into a small plastic bag and cut off the corner. Push icing through hole to form a cross on each bun. If you prefer, ice the tops with a knife, as you would small cupcakes.

 

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments