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Baking up a Christmas tradition

As the mother of an elementary school-age child, I am still struggling to establish some Christmas traditions. Now that he’s old enough to care about more than presents, Spencer wants the whole holiday experience: caroling, lights, advent calendars, and huge trees that swallow all the decorations.

But the family does have



one Christmas tradition that predates Spencer’s birth. Almost every year since we met, Tom and I have baked small loaves of bread and delivered them to our friends on Christmas Eve.

Some years the gift is wheat bread, sometimes it’s a fancier, flavored version. Sometimes we accompany the bread with small jars of homemade jam.




One year I went completely crazy and made gift baskets that also included homemade chocolate-dipped candied orange peel, cranberry jelly candies, and cunning little meringue mushrooms. It was exhausting.

Our planning skills are lamentably slim. So Tom usually gets the bug to start making bread sometime after dinner.

This means, of course, that to shepherd the bread through two risings, we have to get up at 2 a.m. and then again around 4 a.m.

I’m no better, of course. This Christmas I decided to make a Southwestern stollen

recipe that I cut out of a magazine years ago. (I estimate I have compiled three binders of recipes, about half of which I’ve never even tried.)

Of course, I waited until early evening to start baking. So that meant I had to set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. in order to ensure the rolls would come out of the oven by 8 a.m. And, of course, that meant I was so ticked at myself that I never got to sleep anyway and was wide awake all night.

But the stollen was worth it, even if three-quarters of it was demolished in under an hour. You might guess that on occasion, not even the delivery of our bread has gone smoothly.

One memorable Christmas Eve, the year we were married, we set off near midnight in Tom’s rattletrap old Subaru. As we headed out into the countryside, we sang along to the carols on the radio.

Miles out of town, we blew a tire, and of course we didn’t have a spare. We jerked to a stop and Tom leaped out of the car.

I watched in bemusement as he danced in frustration and bellowed out some unchristian additions to the song then coming over the airwaves: “It’s beginning to look a lot like

It took a good 20 minutes of hiking along that lonely country road before we caught a ride in the back of a pickup.

I don’t recommend our methods, but I do recommend every one of the following recipes, as great gifts or for your own enjoyment.

Southwestern Stollen

One pkg. dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

4 1/2 cups flour

3 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup butter

3 egg yolks, room

temperature

1 cup warm milk

Whole pecans

Filling:

1/2 cup melted butter

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

3 cups chopped pecans

Glaze:

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp. melted butter

2 tbsp. warm milk

1 tbsp. rum

Stir yeast into warm water and let proof 10 minutes. Mix flour, sugar and salt. Add shortening and butter and cut into flour until mixture resembles cornmeal. Beat together the egg yolks and milk, then add the yeast mixture. Drizzle into dry ingredients. Knead the dough for about one minute, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, divide the dough in half. Roll out each half into an oval about a 1/4 inch thick. Brush with melted butter, then sprinkle each half with 1/3 cup sugar. Dust with cinnamon and sprinkle 1 1/2 cup pecans on each half. Roll up the long way, like a jelly roll, and place on a greased pan. Cover with a towel and let rise 2 1/2 hours. Bake at 325 degrees for about 35 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool 15 minutes before glazing.

Blend glaze ingredients and drizzle over the stollens. Decorate with whole pecans.

Orange bread

3/4 cup warm milk

1 pkg. dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. sugar

3 tbsp. melted butter

2 tbsp. honey

3/4 cup orange juice

1 egg

2 tsp. grated orange peel

1/2 tsp. salt

5 cups flour

1 egg white, beaten

Proof yeast in water. Add milk, 1/4 cup sugar, butter, honey, orange juice, egg, orange peel and salt, and mix well. Add about 4 1/2 cups flour and knead until shiny and smooth, adding more flour as necessary. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled. Punch down and divide into three equal pieces. Let stand about 10 minutes. Stretch and rolls pieces into ropes and braid them together. Cover and let rise about 30 minutes. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Death By Muffin

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup milk

1 cup sundried cherries

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts (or pecans)

1/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut or to taste

Topping:

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, chopped

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

2 tbsp. melted butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together. Make a well in center and egg, butter and milk and stir. Add chocolate chips, cherries, nuts and coconut. Spoon into greased muffin pans and top with streusel. Bake 20-25 minutes. To make streusel, combine all ingredients and stir until mixed.

Liz Kellar, a resident of Union Hill, has cooked at brew pubs, four-star bed-and-breakfast inns and university dining halls. She has catered intimate dinners for 20 and barbecues for 2,000. You can write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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