Saturday, December 08, 2007

S-Specially for the Holidays

As part of this year's holiday baking, I've been trying some new yeast bread recipes, including those representing other countries' Christmas traditions. It's exciting to learn a little more about how other nations celebrate this time of year and to get a taste for the festive flavors they enjoy.

Since there's no way I can bake several kinds of bread all around Christmas Day itself, I'm grateful that one country in particular begins their holidays earlier in December. In Sweden, Saint Lucy's (or Lucia's) Day, celebrated on December 13, starts the Christmas season. What always intrigued me about the celebration was that the daughter of the family would wear a white gown, a wreath of greenery, and lit candles in the wreath as she carried home-baked treats to her family. (Not that I was planning to do so in my family, of course, but it was a neat idea.)

In my various cookbooks, I found a handful of recipes for Swedish holiday breads and settled on two. The first, a tea ring shaped like St. Lucia's wreath, actually has a place in my family's Christmas traditions, thanks to My Culinarily Challenged Aunt. Yes, that aunt actually had a reputation once upon a time for making several tea rings and giving them to family and friends for Christmas breakfast.

I pulled out the recipe in the hopes of using more of that leftover coffee from the Inn, and, not surprisingly, I tweaked the recipe a bit. I replaced the warm water with the coffee, and though for two of the rings I used the cinnamon and nut filling, for my own wreath I made a filling from chopped hazelnuts, roasted cacao nibs, ground cinnamon, and ground cardamom.

Though you see the unbaked ring here, once it came out of the oven, I covered it with a coffee-and-milk confectioner's sugar glaze -- the perfect crowning touch!

The other Swedish recipe I decided to try was the St. Lucia buns found in my copy of the Betty Crocker International Cookbook. Like many of the other holiday breads, the yeast dough turned out to be a basic sweet enriched dough (enriched with local milk, eggs, and butter), flavored with ground cardamom and freshly grated orange peel. (Other traditional recipes call for saffron, but I didn't have any at hand.)

After allowing the dough to rise, I divided it into 24 sections, stretching and rolling each piece into a long rope.

Each rope, then, curled in on itself to form an ornate S shape. Just coiling the dough like this made me so happy to create something beautiful!

At the center of each end of the S, I placed a raisin -- dried from the Lakemont grapes I found at the farmers' market this year. And once I brushed them first with melted butter and then with an egg wash, I sprinkled the buns with a light dusting of sugar and slid them into the oven.

I don't normally get too excited over a new recipe, but these... well, look at them! Aren't they lovely? And they fit right in the palm of your hand, making them the perfect little snack. They reminded me of a cross between a cinnamon roll and julekage, which means I liked their flavor very much.

I'll be sharing these with several friends soon, and I look forward to trying the next country's holiday bread!


At 12/14/2007 2:19 PM, Blogger Bri said...

They are beautiful! I need to do more holiday baking. My husband and my cousin and I are going to have a truffle and fudge making extravaganza this weekend, but we may need to do some breads or cookies next week as well. Thanks for the inspiration!

At 12/14/2007 2:26 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Not to be corny, but I think the S must stand for Smile because that's what everyone who got one this week did. Grown-ups were just as enchanted as the kids!

I used to make fudge at Christmas years ago... what a lovely treat that will be. Are you sure you don't want to move to Ohio and be my neighbor, Bri??? ;-)

At 12/22/2007 5:49 PM, Blogger Bri said...

Mmmm...California really does have a hold on me at the moment. But if I ever have a pull to Ohio, I'll let ya know. :)

It's not corny. It's such a delight to receive lovingly homemade baked goods. Sure beats the soulless hydrogenated junk at the store.

At 12/23/2007 7:58 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

"Soulless hydrogenated junk"... good way of putting it! And you're right, homemade wins out every time.


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