Benedictine Liqueur Christmas Braid

Christmas bread has a lot of different interpretations. The most traditional iterations involve sugar and spice, and often—but not always—yeast, and ultimately have strong cultural associations and country ties. One thing we can all agree on is that Christmas bread is celebratory, whether or not we observe the holiday. From the unleavened matzo of Passover to the German stollen of Christmas, from the British hot cross buns baked on Good Friday to the Russian kolach baked for any special occasion, bread in its many forms brings people together, linking traditions and generations.

The scent of Christmas spices, bread baking, and fresh-cut pine define holiday memories. Generations ago, the rich dough itself – lush with butter, eggs, dried fruit, sugar – relayed a cook’s generosity, her willingness to share the most precious ingredients in her pantry. The time and effort it took to make and bake the Christmas loaves expressed the cook’s devotion and love.

Last year, I was introduced to the liqueur known as Dom Benedictine. After doing much research into this interesting liqueur, I incorporated it in some savory and sweet recipes. We really enjoyed them so this year I was interested in doing a bit of recipe development to create a Christmas bread with it.

The story of Benedictine dates back to 1510 when a Venetian monk of the Abbey of Fécamp, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, created an elixir intended to support good health. It includes a combination of 27 herbs and spices derived from plants from around the globe, including juniper, myrrh, saffron, vanilla, thyme, coriander and more. The liqueur tastes primarily of honey and baking spices, with citrus peel, herb, and stone fruit notes.

So here you have it, my newly created Christmas bread tradition. Hope you can try it and enjoy it as much as Brion & I have.

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Benedictine Liqueur Christmas Braid
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Bread Dough
Lemon Glaze
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Bread Dough
Lemon Glaze
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Instructions
  1. Marinate raisins, candied fruit & cranberries in Benedictine liqueur overnight, Stir occasionally.
  2. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water with 1 tsp sugar. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, sift 2 cups of the flour. Stir in yeast mixture & lukewarm milk. Cover with plastic & let stand in a draft free place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down firmly & work in beaten eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest, vanilla & pieces of softened butter.
  4. Sift remaining 3 cups of flour with salt, cinnamon & cardamom & work 2 cups in to form a soft dough. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead in remaining cup of flour & fruit mixture. This becomes a very soft & buttery dough but is not sticky.
  5. Invert the dough onto a lightly floured work surface & dust with flour. Cut the dough into four equal pieces & then stretch & roll each piece into a rope about 20 inches long. Lay the ropes parallel to one another (vertically). Pinch them tightly at the top, then fan them out.
  6. Begin by taking the strand farthest to the right & weave it toward the left through the other strands using this pattern: over, under, over. Take the strand furthest to the right & repeat the weaving pattern again: over, under, over. Repeat this pattern, always starting with the strand farthest to the right, until the whole loaf is braided, Tuck the ends under to give the loaf a finished look.
  7. Carefully transfer the braided loaf to a parchment-lined 13x18-inch baking sheet, brush with egg wash. Cover the loaf loosely with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm, draft-free spot until about 1 1/2 times the size, about 1-2 hours. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 F. & set an oven rack in the middle position.
  8. Gently brush risen dough again with egg wash. Place in an air-bake pan to prevent the bottom crust from browning too much.
  9. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a nice golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Combine powdered sugar & lemon juice/zest to make glaze. When braid is completely cool, brush loaf with lemon glaze & decorate to your liking.
Recipe Notes
  • To see a more in-depth article on Dom Benedictine Liqueur, check out my blog from December 21/2022 - Benedictine Liqueur Cupcakes.

Blueberry Chocolate Yeast Braid

I’m not sure what it is about chocolate that makes it such a good pair with berries. Blueberries for one, are the perfect match for dark chocolate. Bitter, sweet, fruity and awesome!

Some years ago, Brion & I were in California at a winery sampling some of their wines. They offered us some chocolate covered blueberries and that wonderful flavor has never left me.

Since we are already into December and Christmas baking is up front and center, I thought it might be nice to experiment with a different filling for this yeast braid.

Christmas breads are often more decorative and have celebratory qualities to them, such as the Bulgarian Christmas Bread that symbolizes prosperity for the upcoming year. Other classic Christmas breads from around the world include Panettone or Stollen which are filled with fruits and nuts. Whether it’s for the sake of tradition or you just want to make something new and different, this is the best time of the year to get in the kitchen and whip up some beautiful ‘Christmas bread’.

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Blueberry Chocolate Yeast Braid
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Sweet Dough
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Sweet Dough
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Instructions
Sweet Dough
  1. In a small dish, heat milk to lukewarm. Add yeast & 1 tsp sugar; let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine.
  2. In another bowl, whisk flour & salt. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture 1 cup at a time, combining after each addition. Once the flour has been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes.
  3. Lightly grease the large bowl, place dough in it & cover with plastic wrap & a tea towel. Allow to rest for at least one hour, in a draft free place until dough has doubled in volume.
Blueberry Filling
  1. In a saucepan, combine blueberries, sugar, cornstarch & lemon juice. Heat mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, for several minutes until it thickens. Remove from heat & cool until ready to use.
Cream Cheese
  1. Slice cream cheese in about 1/8-inch thick & about 4-inches in length. Lay out on a piece of plastic wrap to form a rectangle about 10 X 4-inches in size. Lay plastic wrap with cheese on a tray & place in refrigerator until ready to use.
Assembly/Baking
  1. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll risen dough into a rectangle 13 X12-inches in size. With a straight edge, mark it in thirds lengthwise. On the two outer pieces, mark 1-inch strips. At the top & bottom you will need a 1 1/2-inch piece. The center rectangle should be 10 X 4-inches in size. Cut out the 4 corner 'wedges' as it will make a nice clean braid this way. ( I just made a couple of little sweet dough buns with a bit of jam filling with this excess dough.)
  2. Start with the cream cheese layer. Using the plastic wrap, flip it in the center rectangle. Next, top the cream cheese with blueberry filling then lay the chocolate bar over all to complete the third layer.
  3. Cut the strips on either side of the braid. Pull the end dough pieces up over the filling then start to braid with the side strips until you reach the other end. Using the parchment paper, lift the braid onto a baking sheet. Cover with a dry tea towel & allow braid to rest & rise for about 30 minutes in a draft free place.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F. before the braid is finished rising.
  5. Carefully brush braid with egg wash & bake for 30 minutes until it is browned nicely.
  6. Remove from oven & cool slightly before serving. If you have leftovers for another day, warm the bread slightly so that the chocolate will be soft & runny. Yum!

Sweet Red Bean Buns/ Anpan

Many people are often surprised to hear that beans can be enjoyed as dessert. But ‘anko’, a paste made from red beans called ‘azuki’, is a staple in traditional Japanese confectionery, and has been enjoyed by Japanese people for centuries. Anko, or sweet red bean paste, is the equivalent of chocolate in the western world. 

The origin of red bean paste dates back to the Heian period when Chinese travelers visited Japan with recipes for steamed buns. Japan adopted the recipe and incorporated meat and vegetables; however, Buddhist priests were unable to eat the meat-filled buns, so they opted for a substitute of boiled azuki beans. The beans only began to be sweetened during the Muromachi period when Dutch traders started importing sugar to Japan.

Anpan is a sweet roll that was first made in 1874 by a samurai named Mr. Kimura. He lost his job due to the dissolution of the samurai as a social class back in Meiji period. During that time, Japan was becoming more westernized, and bakeries started to appear. His new job was as a baker.

Soon after Mr. Kimura founded the well-known bakery called ‘Kimuraya’, which still exists today. Kimura created a bread that was more suited to Japanese tastes. He replaced the traditional Japanese red bean mochi (a Japanese rice cake made from short-grain glutinous rice) with western bread instead of mochi and it is here where anpan, the traditional soft Japanese bread roll filled with red bean paste, was first invented.  

Anpan, derived from anko red bean paste, and pan, taken from the French word for bread (pain), is undoubtedly one of Kimuraya’s most famous products, and one of the most popular types of bread in Japan. Like true artisans, their original recipe has not changed since their first conception. Kimuraya have also not patented their recipe, allowing other bakers to make the same product as they please.

You can find anpan in bakeries and convenience stores all throughout Japan. Anpan is almost always filled with azuki bean paste in varying textures. Some are smooth, and others are chunky. Zunda beans (green beans) and white soybeans are common fillings. Other non-azuki bean paste flavors are pumpkin, chocolate, and cream, to name a few.

Red Bean paste comes in many shapes and forms, but one thing is constant: the ingredient is a special and meaningful component of different East Asian cultures. With its creamy texture, red bean paste is suitable for a multitude of desserts. Its flavor is sweet and savory at the same time, with notes of chocolate and walnuts.

Just for fun, I thought I would try making some anpan buns to see if we would like them. Of course, what’s not to like …. there sweet and soft!!

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Sweet Red Bean Buns
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Sweet Red Bean Filling
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Sweet Red Bean Filling
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Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast & 1 tsp sugar in lukewarm milk. Let stand for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture, stirring to combine.
  2. In another bowl, combine flour & salt. Add flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, combining with wet mixture. Once all flour has been added, knead dough for about 2 minutes until smooth & elastic consistency, Place dough in a greased bowl & cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about an hour.
  3. Lightly butter 2 muffin pans using only 20 cups total.
  4. Punch the risen dough down & transfer to a lightly buttered work surface. Divide the dough into 20 equal portions with about 50 grams each. Take one portion of the dough, shape it round, flatten it with a rolling pin, put a ball of red bean paste and seal it properly. Shape the ball, use a rolling pin to flatten (not too forceful or it will break the dough) it into a rectangular shape, use a sharp knife to cut 4 lines in the middle of the dough about ½-inches apart.
  5. Roll up, starting at the longest side of dough, twist & attach ends together. Place each bun in a muffin cup.
  6. Brush egg wash over tops of buns & sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cover buns with a tea towel & allow to rise for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden in color. Remove from oven. Take buns out of pans & cool on wire racks.
Recipe Notes
  • If you prefer your bun dough a bit sweeter use 1/4 cup as opposed to 2 Tbsp as I did.

Ube Bread Pudding w/ Ube Cream Cheese Drizzle

Ube (pronounced OO-bay), is a purple yam native to the Philippines and other areas of Southeast Asia. Ube is a very versatile ingredient. It is not a purple sweet potato or taro, it is a purple yam. Its special taste reminds one of vanilla, pistachios or chestnuts. The vibrant purple color inside and out is uniquely photogenic.

Ube has been used for decades in Filipino cuisine and has now caught on in North America, especially in the form of desserts.

When I first tried using it sometime back, it was in some sweet rolls that were filled with ube ‘halaya’ or jam and topped with Edam cheese. We absolutely loved them. My next adventure was some ube cheesecake for Easter (2019). Both of these recipes have been published here on the blog.

Now, I’m taking it another step further and making an Ube Bread Pudding. This dessert is best made over two days due to that fact that you are making the ube bread from scratch. Should be interesting!

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Ube Bread Pudding w/ Ube Cream Cheese Drizzle
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Ube Halaya (jam) Filling for Bread
Ube Bread Pudding
Ube Cream Cheese Drizzle
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Ingredients
Ube Halaya (jam) Filling for Bread
Ube Bread Pudding
Ube Cream Cheese Drizzle
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Instructions
Ube Halaya
  1. In a medium, heavy saucepan, melt butter. Add coconut & condensed milks; stir until heated. Add thawed, grated ube & stir everything together. This process takes about 40-50 minutes until the ube is cooked. The mixture will be thick & sticky. It is important to stir the mixture often during cooking to prevent it from forming a crust. Transfer the ube halaya to a container & set aside.
Ube Bread
  1. In a small dish, heat milk to lukewarm. Add yeast & 1 tsp sugar; let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine.
  2. In another bowl, whisk flour & salt. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture 1 cup at a time, combining after each addition. Once all the flour has been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes.
  3. Lightly grease the large bowl, place dough in it & cover with plastic wrap & a tea towel. Allow to rest for at least one hour, in a draft-free place until dough has doubled in volume. Grate cheese & set aside in refrigerator until needed.
  4. Grease 2 loaf pans. Punch dough down & divide in half. Roll each piece out to about 7x7-inch (18x18 cm) square. Spread ube halaya over each one leaving about 1/2-inch border all the way around. Sprinkle each square with Edam cheese then roll up in jelly-roll style. Pinch to seal seams & place seam side down in loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap & a tea towel. Allow to rise for an hour or until doubled in size.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake bread for about 50 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven; cool for just a few minutes then pat with butter. Sprinkle with more grated cheese.
Ube Bread Pudding (ON THE FOLLOWING DAY)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Cut thick slices of ube bread into 1-inch cubes & spread out in baking dish. In a saucepan, melt butter into milk on medium-high; do not let it boil. Remove from heat when butter is melted.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk eggs & coconut extract together. Slowly pour egg mixture into butter/milk mixture & begin whisking immediately to avoid scrambling the egg mixture. Pour custard over the ube bread pieces; use a spoon to work liquid between the pieces.
  3. Bake for about 30-45 minutes or until the top is springy. While the bread pudding is baking, make the ube drizzle.
Ube Drizzle
  1. In a bowl, using a mixer, beat butter for 2 minutes then add cream cheese & beat for another minute. Add powdered sugar slowly then beat thoroughly; add vanilla. Mix in ube halaya until well combined. Add enough milk to make a drizzle consistency. Either drizzle bread pudding before or after cutting into serving pieces.
Recipe Notes
  • You will have extra Ube Bread & Ube Halaya but it will no doubt be eaten before you have a chance to freeze it. Other than just enjoying it by the slice, it makes great French toast as well.

Blackberry Dampfbuchteln

When I was growing up, I remember my mother making something she called ‘dampfnudeln’. The taste was wonderful and as I recall, these were sweet yeast dumplings in a vanilla custard sauce. I’m not sure if they had anything in the center or not.

Dampfnudels have been a pretty big deal in Germany since the 1600s. As legend has it, during the war, a hungry Swedish army arrived in Freckenfeld, a small town in Germany. The army had threatened to murder everyone there and destroy the town, however, they agree to leave in peace if they were fed. That was the moment town baker, Johanes Muck, rose to the occasion and along with his wife and apprentice, made 1,286 dampfnudels. To honor his heroic efforts, Johanes’ grandson, built a gate known as Dampfnudeltor, made with 1,286 little stone bumps.

The people of Freckenfeld still celebrate the origins of the dumpling and the heroic baker 400 years on with an annual festival. The Dampfnudeltor is even featured in the town’s coat of arms. And if that isn’t enough not only is there a song about them, but a film too – the Dampfnudel Blues!

Traditionally, cooks steam dampfnudel dough as it bakes. Once these ingredients are mixed, they are formed into tight balls of dough and placed close together in an iron pan. The pan is covered with a lid and placed in the oven to cook. The lid is required to create the soft, noodle-like texture associated with this dish. By the time the dish is done, all the liquid will have evaporated from the dish.

Depending on whether the dish is served as a meal or a dessert, dampfnudel may have a sweet flavor. As a dessert, this dish is typically topped with a sweet vanilla sauce, or served with a rich custard. It can also be eaten with stewed fruit. As a main dish, this dough is typically served with vegetables or sauerkraut. It can also be used as side to dip in stews or soup and may even be steamed in chicken broth when served in this manner.

It seems there are endless recipes and preparations, variations on recipes and variations on variations …. ROHRNUDELN, HEFENUDELN, GERMKNODEL, DAMPFNUDELN, BUCHTELN and on and on. Basically, they are all yeast dumplings, sweet (or savory) but the preparation varies somewhat. Some are poached in a milk/sugar liquid, whereas others are baked. Some are filled, some not. Most seem to be served with a vanilla custard.

For mine, I’m trying to incorporate some blackberry compote in a soft, sweet yeast bun with some vanilla custard. I think I’ll call them ‘dampfbuchteln’. Buchteln are a typical Bohemian dish from the region in the middle of Europe that was formerly German. It was from there, that recipes like this made their way into German and Austrian kitchens. That name seems fitting, having the characteristics of both kinds of buns.

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Blackberry Dampfbuchteln
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Course dessert
Cuisine German
Servings
Ingredients
Blackberry Compote
Sweet Roll Dough
Vanilla Cardamom Sauce
Course dessert
Cuisine German
Servings
Ingredients
Blackberry Compote
Sweet Roll Dough
Vanilla Cardamom Sauce
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Instructions
Blackberry Compote
  1. In a saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch & salt; add juice & stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, simmer until thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Immediately remove from heat. Gradually fold in blackberries. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. I found it easier to make the compote a day ahead of the buns.
Dough
  1. In a small dish, heat milk to lukewarm. Add yeast & 1 tsp sugar; let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together flour & salt. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture, 1 cup at a time combining well after each addition. Once the flour has all been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes.
  3. Lightly grease the large bowl, place dough in it & cover with plastic & a tea towel. Allow to rise for at least 1 hour in a draft free place until dough has doubled in volume.
  4. Punch dough down & turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal sized pieces & roll each into a ball. Place under a tea towel so they won't dry out. Take one ball & shape it into a flat circle large enough to hold a spoonful of compote.
  5. Fold over & pinch the edges, then carefully shape into a ball again. Place in a buttered 12-inch spring form pan, seam side down. Repeat with remaining dough balls. Cover with tea towel & let rise for another 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake buns for about 20-25 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven; cool for just a few minutes then pat with butter. When completely cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish.
Vanilla Cardamom Custard
  1. Sift together cornstarch, flour & cardamom. Using a whisk, combine the beaten eggs & the flour mixture until powders are dissolved. In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together milk, sugar & salt. Once sugar & salt are dissolved, add in the egg mixture & keep stirring everything until the mixture is thickened. Remove from heat & stir in butter & vanilla. Nice to serve warm under the blackberry dampfbuchteln.

Polish Easter Placek

I always enjoy researching and baking traditional Easter breads. Maybe its because I have such fond memories of my mother’s Easter bread which wasn’t fancy but just ‘to die for’. This year I decided to try my hand at making some Polish Easter bread called ‘placek’.

Just for the sake of interest I wanted to post some of the various countries and their traditional Easter breads.

  • Babka (Poland, Ukraine, Belarus): a tall, cylindrical bread often baked in a Bundt-type pan and containing raisins and/or candied citron or orange peel, optionally with icing on the top, thus making it much sweeter than Paska, a broad, round, rich, white bread decorated on the top with symbols, including crosses, flowers, braids, wheat, or other designs representing aspects of Orthodox (Eastern) Christianity—made only for Easter to celebrate the rising of Christ from the dead.
  • Placek (Poland): refers to a sweet yeast bread topped with sugary crumble, with or without golden raisins served on Easter. (Pronounced plah-sek)
  • Cozonac (Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia): a slightly sweet yeast bread containing raisins and walnuts or pecans—a type of Stollen.
  • Folar (Portugal): a bread that may be either sweet or salty and is traditionally offered to godfathers, and priests at Easter in imitation of Jesus’ distribution of bread to his disciples at the Last Supper.
  • Hornazo (Spain): a yeast bread meat pie stuffed with pork loin, spicy chorizo, and hard-boiled eggs
  • Hot Cross Buns (Great Britain): a spiced sweet bun containing currants or raisins (and sometimes other dried fruits), marked on top with icing in the shape of a cross, and traditionally eaten on Good Friday.
  • Kalach (Serbia, Hungary): similar to brioche and usually baked in a braid arranged to form a circle.
  • Mazanec (Czech Republic): a sweet bread eaten throughout Holy Week made of dough containing rum soaked raisins and dried fruit, baked as a round loaf, with slivered almonds on top and a decoration made of icing or powdered sugar in the shape of a cross.
  • Osterbrot (Germany): a yeast bread containing raisins and slivered almonds and usually cut into thin slices, spread with butter, and enjoyed at breakfast or at teatime.
  • Paasstol (Netherlands): a fruit-bread containing raisins and usually filled with almond paste (also made at Christmas).
  • Pasca (Romania, Moldova): a sweet bread served with sweet soft cheese that may also be decorated with fruits, nuts, or chocolate.
  • Pasqua (Italy): a cake containing candied peel but no raisins and topped with pearl sugar and almonds before being baked in the shape of a ‘dove’.
  • Pinca (Croatia, Montenegro): a sweet bread loaf with the sign of a cross carved on top before being baked and eaten at the end of Lent.
  • Tsoureki (Greece, Armenia): a sweet holiday bread commonly seasoned with orange zest, mastic resin (from the mastic tree), or mahlab (an aromatic spice made from the pits of the Mediterranean “St. Lucy’s” cherry tree).

Hope you enjoyed reading this info as much as I did.

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Polish Easter Placek
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Course Brunch
Cuisine European
Servings
Ingredients
Sponge
Crumble Topping
Course Brunch
Cuisine European
Servings
Ingredients
Sponge
Crumble Topping
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Instructions
Sponge
  1. In a bowl, dissolve yeast in lukewarm milk with sugar & allow to stand until foamy, about 15 minutes. Stir in the flour, then cover the bowl & let the sponge rise until doubled in size, 30 minutes to an hour.
Dough
  1. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter & sugar, then add the eggs in one at a time; beat until fluffy. Add in the salt, nutmeg zest & 1 cup of flour; beat well. When the sponge is risen, add that to the creamed mixture along with the last cup of flour & the raisins. Knead dough until a very smooth, elastic, sticky dough forms.
  2. Using greased hands, place dough into a greased or buttered bowl. Cover the bowl & allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.
Crumble Topping
  1. Cut butter into sugar & flour until it is fully mixed in & crumbly, then stir in the almonds.
Assembly
  1. When the dough has risen, use greased or wet hands to place in greased baking pans. Sprinkle the crumble over the dough, pressing in lightly. Cover the pans, then let the dough rise until doubled or until almost risen to the top.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  3. Bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown on top. Let the bread cool on a wire rack,
Recipe Notes
  • I used one 12" x 5 " loaf pan & one 5" x 2" round spring form pan for this amount of dough.

Hot Cross Bun French Toast/Buns

CELEBRATING GOOD FRIDAY!

I find the aroma of the hot cross buns baking, is so intoxicating. Brion & I have always loved these soft, spicy little buns. Each year, at Easter time, I really enjoy making some version of Easter bread or buns (of course, trying to make it just a bit better than the year past). While I was giving this some thought, I read a comment where someone was complaining that they had too many hot cross buns leftover from Easter. Is there really such a thing as having too many hot cross buns … seriously!

For me, brunch is never an afterthought, especially on a holiday. I think a decadent French toast made with light and fluffy hot cross bread, in an orange and vanilla scented milk bath, topped with raspberry compote and Greek yogurt is the perfect Easter brunch idea.

While hot cross buns are now sold and enjoyed throughout the year, they were once reserved for Good Friday alone. There is no one clear explanation … some theories rest in Christian symbolism while there are also more than a few stories that indicate hot cross buns were baked on Good Friday for superstitious reasons.

Since I have become a huge fan of Dom Benedictine Liqueur not only as a drink but in sweet & savory recipes, I’m using it in this hot cross bun bread to kick it up one notch higher. I think it will be the perfect choice for an amazing Easter brunch French toast.

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Hot Cross Bun French Toast/Buns
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Course Brunch
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Hot Cross Bun/Loaf Dough
Icing for Hot Cross Buns
Orange Scented Milk bath for French Toast
Raspberry Compote
Course Brunch
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Hot Cross Bun/Loaf Dough
Icing for Hot Cross Buns
Orange Scented Milk bath for French Toast
Raspberry Compote
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Instructions
Hot Cross Bun/Loaf Dough h
  1. Marinate raisins & candied fruit in Benedictine liqueur overnight. Stirring occasionally.
  2. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water with 1 tsp sugar. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, sift 2 cups of the flour. Stir in yeast mixture & lukewarm milk. Cover with plastic & let stand in a draft free place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down firmly & work in beaten eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest, vanilla & pieces of softened butter.
  4. Sift remaining 3 1/3 cups of flour with salt, cinnamon & cardamom & work 2 cups in to form a soft dough. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead in remaining 1 1/3 cup of flour & fruit mixture. This becomes a very soft & buttery dough but is not sticky. Invert the dough onto a lightly floured work surface & dust with flour. Cut the dough into 2 equal portions.
  5. With the first portion, roll out the dough into a 9x12-inch rectangle. Roll dough up in jelly-roll fashion & place in a 12 x 5-inch cylinder baking pan. With the second piece of dough, cut into 12 pieces & form into balls to make hot cross buns. Place in a 9-inch round baking pan. Brush loaf & buns with egg wash.
  6. Cover both loosely with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place until 1 1/2 times the size, about 1-2 hours. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 F. & set an oven rack in the middle position.
  7. Gently brush risen dough again with egg wash. Bake 30-35 minutes or until both loaf & buns are a nice golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Icing for Hot Cross Buns
  1. To pipe a cross on the top of the buns, wait until the buns have cooled. Whisk together the lemon juice & some of the powdered sugar. Keep adding powdered sugar until you get a thick consistency. Place in a plastic sandwich bag. Snip off a small piece from the corner of the bag and use the bag to pipe crosses on buns.
Orange Scented Milk Bath
  1. Heat pan or skillet over medium heat. Mix eggs, milk, vanilla and orange zest in a shallow flat bowl or dish until well combined. Dip the bread in the egg mixture allowing the bread to soak up some of the mixture. Turn the bread and repeat on the other side. Grease preheated pan with butter. Fry toast until golden brown on one side. Flip toast and fry until golden on remaining side. Serve immediately with raspberry syrup.
Raspberry Syrup
  1. In a small pot, combine the syrup ingredients. Place over a medium heat & cook for 5-7 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved & the raspberries have become syrupy. Press through a sieve. Serve with French toast along with yogurt if preferred.
Recipe Notes
  • The story of Benedictine dates back to 1510 when a Venetian monk of the Abbey of Fécamp, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, created an elixir intended to support good health. It includes a combination of 27 herbs and spices derived from plants from around the globe, including juniper, myrrh, saffron, vanilla, thyme, coriander and more. The liqueur tastes primarily of honey and baking spices, with citrus peel, herb, and stone fruit notes.

Peach Melba Bread

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Today as we celebrate Mother’s Day, many special memories come to mind. My mother passed away in 1978 but even after 44 years, time has changed nothing. I still miss the sound of her voice, the wisdom in her advice, the stories of her life and just being in her presence. I miss her today as much as the day she left us. At the time of her passing a friend said to me, ‘your mother is always with you’. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what she had meant but as the years have passed it has come clear to me.

We are fortunate to still have Brion’s mother, Dolores, in reasonable health. It is with loving thoughts we celebrate her today for her loving and kind ways. Even though covid hasn’t allowed us to spend time with Dolores, to still be able to hear her voice on the phone is precious.

I wanted to post this article today that I had saved from many years ago. It certainly clarifies the meaning of my friends comment.

Your mother is always with you * She’s the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street, she’s the smell of certain foods you remember, flowers you pick, the fragrance of life itself * She’s the cool hand on your brow when you’re not feeling well, she’s your breath in the air on a cold winter’s day * She is the sound of the rain that lulls you to sleep, the colors of a rainbow, she is Christmas morning * Your mother lives inside your laughter * She’s the place you came from, your first home, she’s the map you follow with every step you take * She’s your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy, but nothing on earth can separate you * Not time, not space … not even death.

On this Mother’s Day, I would also like to acknowledge my sisters, Loretta, Marilyn & Rita, who give so much of themselves to be the great mom’s they are.

I thought this nice sweet bread would be fitting for a Mother’s Day brunch.

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Peach Melba Sweet Bread
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Sweet Dough
Egg Wash
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Sweet Dough
Egg Wash
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Instructions
  1. In a small dish, place lukewarm milk, 1 Tbsp sugar & yeast. Allow to sit 3-5 minutes until frothy.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter, oil, eggs & 2 Tbsp sugar. Add flour & mix until well incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap & a towel. Allow to rise in a draft free place for about an hour.
  3. NOTE: Be sure to roll out and shape the dough on parchment paper for easier transferring. Generously dust parchment paper with flour, add the dough. Add more flour to the top of the dough.
  4. Gently roll out the dough into a rectangle about 16x10” in size, adding more flour as needed so the dough doesn't stick to the rolling pin. The dough will be slightly sticky.
  5. Spread dough with a thin layer of peach preserves. Using a piping bag, pipe seedless raspberry preserves on top. Fold dough over, from the short end, in half.
  6. Starting about an inch down from the fold, make 6 slices. Twist each slice then roll dough into a loaf starting with the uncut folded end, rolling towards you.
  7. Transfer bread with parchment paper to a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Whisk together egg and water, carefully brush top of bread. Allow bread to rise 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes, until the top of the bread is golden.
Recipe Notes
  • You notice this bread does not have a lot of sweetener in the dough because of the fact you are using jam or preserves for the filling. For something special, I used a St Dalfour product that uses only grape, dates & pineapple concentrate to sweeten the jam. It was definitely not oversweet so it comes down to personal taste.

Blueberry Lemon Poke ‘Bread’

The ‘poke cake‘ is an advertising invention of the late 1970s, when Jell-O created it to increase sluggish sales. The Jell-O salads of the ‘50s and ‘60s were outmoded and on the wane so this was a way to bring it back. These cakes were colorful and easy to make. A fork, chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon is used to poke deep holes all over the top of the baked cake. Next, it is topped with a colorful Jell-O syrup, which trickles into the cake looking like brightly colored streamers.

But, like all successful desserts, even the poke cake has undergone numerous reinterpretations over time. Starting from the base no longer cooked only in vanilla flavor but also made with coconut, lemon, chocolate, with fruit & yogurt, arriving at the holes that are filled in other choices such as chocolate, cream, jams, etc. etc.

Although it would seem like poke cakes are a phenomenon born in corporate American kitchens, drenching cake in flavorful liquids is not new, or an entirely an American creation. England’s sticky toffee pudding, a single layer date cake, is poked all over while still warm from the oven with a fork or skewer and drenched in sticky butterscotch sauce. Genoise, the classic French sponge cake, is almost always soaked in sugar syrups spiked with liqueur, not just for flavor, but to keep the cake fresh and prevent it from drying out. Pastel de tres leches, or ‘three-milks cake’, is a beloved Latin American classic. Made from sponge cake soaked in a milky syrup combining evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream. All three called for this hole-poking action long before the 1970’s.

Of course, getting back to my German heritage, brings to mind a German butter cake or butter kuchen. This classic yeasted cake (actually more like bread), seems to be very closely aligned with the poke cake idea. After the dough has risen and been rolled out, deep impressions are made for the filling to nestle in. I think some blueberries and lemon curd will work nicely here.

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Blueberry Lemon Poke 'Bread'
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Glaze
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Dough
Glaze
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Instructions
Dough
  1. In a small dish, heat milk to lukewarm. Add yeast & 1 tsp sugar; let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine.
  2. In another bowl, whisk flour & salt. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture 1 cup at a time, combining after each addition. Once all flour has been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes.
  3. Lightly grease the large bowl, place dough in it & cover with plastic wrap & a tea towel. Allow to rest for at least one hour, in a draft free place until dough has doubled in volume.
Assembly & Bake
  1. Line a 15" X 10"-inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Place dough on paper & press out evenly in pan. Make about 20 deep impressions in dough with your fingertips. Fill each one with a spoonful of lemon curd & top with a couple of large blueberries. Allow cake to rise 10 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. Bake bread/cake for about 20 minutes or until golden. Meanwhile, combine glaze ingredients. Remove from oven: cool for just a few minutes then drizzle with glaze. Sprinkle with sliced almonds. Cut into 15 serving pieces.

Hot Cross Cream Cheese Braid

Hot Cross Buns, the sweet roll with a mythical history, are an Easter classic. This simple piece of spiced bread decorated with a cross, while not an extravagant treat, is a global food tradition. Given their long running history, it is no wonder there are so many fables surrounding their origin. From warding off evil spirits to cementing friendships, the stories of hot cross buns can be documented back to 6th century Greece.

While hot cross buns are now sold and enjoyed throughout the year, they were once reserved for Good Friday alone. Brion & I are extremely fond of these little gems, so every year I enjoy to come up with a new version but still not straying away from the original iconic bun (or bread) taste.

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Hot Cross Cream Cheese Braid
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Instructions
Marinate Fruit
  1. In a bowl with a lid, marinate prepared dried fruit in your choice of alcohol or orange juice overnight or at least 30 minutes.
Sweet Dough
  1. In a bowl, combine yeast, lukewarm milk & 1 Tbsp sugar; allow to sit until frothy.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, salt, cinnamon, cardamom & ginger.
  3. In a larger bowl, melt butter slightly; add remaining sugar, beaten egg, vanilla, a portion of the marinated fruit & frothy yeast mixture. Combine then add flour mixture & continue mixing to combine all ingredients.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough for about 15 minutes. If necessary, add a bit more flour. Shape into a ball; place in a greased bowl, turn over once or twice to coat the dough with oil. Cover, let rise until doubled, about 1-1 1/2 hours.
Cream Cheese Filling
  1. In a bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla & any excess rum drained off fruit until smooth.
Assembly & Baking
  1. On a lightly floured work surface or parchment paper, roll the dough into a 12 x 14-inch rectangle, ensure an even thickness of 1/4 inch.
  2. Along one long side of the dough make parallel, 4-inch long cuts that are 1-inch apart (like piano keys), with a pizza cutter or sharp knife. Repeat on opposite side, making sure to line up these cuts with those you have already made on the other side.
  3. Spoon all but 1/4 cup cream cheese filling down the center of the rectangle. (Reserve the 1/4 cup of the cream cheese for making crosses on baked braid). Leaving 1-inch on the top & bottom unfilled. Smooth cream cheese mixture then top with remaining marinated fruit.
  4. Begin folding the cut side strips of dough in pairs over the filling at an angle, alternating left, then right, as if you were braiding, until you reach the other end. Tuck the ends underneath the braid.
  5. Transfer to a baking sheet; cover with a loose plastic wrap & a towel. Allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. Just before placing braid in the oven, make the egg wash & lightly brush over the top of the braid.
  6. Bake 20 minutes until golden brown. Check after 15 minutes; if the braid is starting to brown to fast, float a piece of foil, shiny side down, over it. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly.
Decorating
  1. Place 1/4 cup cream cheese mixture in a small piping bag that has been fitted with a small round tip. Make crosses on braid.
Recipe Notes
  • If you would prefer, mix all the marinated fruit right into the dough instead of putting some in the filling.
  • If you would rather not decorate with some crosses on top, use all cream cheese in the filling, your choice.