Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Bread

   OK, I admit it, I was never the cookie mom when my kids were small.  They knew better than to ask me to bake for the class.  It just wasn't my thing. 

 But I could bake a mean loaf of bread and this particular recipe became a family favorite.  I've been making this bread at Christmastime for as long as any of us can remember.

 Where the original came from is lost to history. I have this written on an index card with enough wear and tear on it to have come from the Civil War, except for the fact that it is written in ball-point pen!

Bread making is a somewhat lengthy process and requires some skill in working with the amazing qualities of the living organism known as yeast.  I admit to having made several brick-like loaves before  I got the hang of it.  This is one of the easiest, most fool-proof recipes I've used and it is delicious!

  There are two parts to the recipe, the basic ingredients and the special add-ons which flavor the bread in various ways.  

   Here's how I do it:

 *** Gather the ingredients and start the bread early in the day.

 ***Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add it to 1 cup of old-fashioned rolled oats in a large bowl.  Add 2 TBS of butter, 2 & 1/2  tsp of salt and 1/2 cup of honey or molasses.  Let this sit for 1/2 hour.

 *** Add 2 packages of yeast to 1/3 cup of lukewarm water. let this sit for 5-10 minutes.

 ***Add the yeast to the oat mixture and stir.

 ***Add the special ingredients if using.
Choose one:
   * 1 cup of raisins and 1-2 tsp of cinnamon
   * 2 tsp rubbed sage,2 tsp caraway seeds, 1 tsp marjoram
   * 1/4 tsp thyme, 2 tsp summer savory,  1/2 tsp dried parsley, 1 tsp basil, 1/2 tsp anise seed
   * 3/4 cup of citron
   *or use 1/2 cup of orange marmalade and only 1/4 cup of molasses.

 Now you are ready to add the flour.  You need about 6 cups of flour give or take a 1/2 cup.  I use  half whole wheat and half white flour.  Stir in the first four cups of flour, mixing with a spoon. Add the last 2 cups of flour a little at a time and begin mixing with your hands once you can't stir anymore.  Keep adding the flour and kneading as you go.  As soon as the dough becomes sticky, add more flour.

Keep kneading.

Eventually(after about 10 to 15 minutes of kneading) the dough will take up all the flour and begin to have a slight sheen to it.   Kind of velvety.  That's when you've kneaded enough and you are ready to let the dough rise. Cover with a clean towel and place in a warm spot . In 1& 1/2 to 2 hours the dough will go from this:
 To this:

Now punch it down, divide in half and form 2 loaves.  Cover again and let rise for about 1 hour.
 When the loaves are peeking over the side of the pan they are ready to be baked at 325 about 4 inches from the bottom of the oven for about 40 to 50 minutes.

When they come out of the oven take the loaves out of the pans and place on a cooling rack.  Paint the top of the hot bread with butter to make the crust shiny and resist the temptation to devour the entire loaf before it cools a bit!

This recipe, depending on which 'special ingredients you choose, can be perfect with a cup of afternoon tea or as an accompaniment to a turkey dinner, or  for making a sandwich of leftover turkey.   I try to always have the cinnamon raisin loaf for our breakfast on Christmas morning. Toasted heaven!

Some hints for successful bread-making:
           ** Check the date on the yeast package to make sure it is fresh.
          ** Yeast needs lukewarm water to begin to work its magic.  Not too hot please!
          ** Yeast rises best in a warm kitchen free of drafts.  I usually put my dough into a (cold) oven with a pan of hot water under it.  This seems to be a perfect environment for the dough to rise.  Replenish the hot water as it cools.
           ** Don't be afraid to knead, knead, knead.  The flour has to break down for the bread to rise properly and the kneading promotes that.
Thought for today :  There are few aromas more wonderful than baking bread.  It seems to fill the house with love!


  1. Oh man! I just woke up and looked in the microwave (our fancy modern breadbox) - no bread for toast. Think I'll make your bread today! Thanks, Barbara! Today's my birthday ... what a nice present you've given me!

    1. Happy Birthday! Hope you enjoy the bread!

  2. I was that mom whose little boy always had his hand in the air...when the teacher needed a mom to make cookies. I got so tired of making cookies during those years...I just wanted to bake bread..and I did a few times. Now, we aren't supposed to eat so much bread because of health issues, but this recipe is one I'll try. I would love a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread on the table Christmas morning. Thanks for the detailed instructions for this lovely loaf of goodness.

  3. ah so true on the smell of bread...there is a bakery downtown and all weekend they were baking...the whole market area smelled amazing...and i was so hungry...haha

  4. This looks wonderful!!! I am gluten free these days, but I really do miss homemade bread

  5. Great recipe, Barbara. I love the various choices--herbs, spices, dried fruit, candied fruit, fruit jam. WOW!


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