Wreath breads

Wreath breads

Two breads for Winter Solstice

Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.”

Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year in Juneau. We get 6 hours, 22 minutes and 29 seconds of daylight. The change happens at 7:49 p.m. Then we’re gaining sun.

Here are two seasonal breads — Italian Chocolate Bread and Wreath Bread — that are always welcome a solstice potluck. Both include sourdough, which gives a subtle flavor and changes consistency in a way that’s hard to describe but noticeable. That said, I’ve made them for years without sourdough so no worries if you don’t have it. Just use a little less flour or a little more liquid.

Many of the Italian Chocolate Bread recipes are in metric and I don’t measure things anyway when baking bread, which wasn’t helpful for this article. So here are the measurements as reconstructed by me dumping things into the bowl and then pouring them back into cup measures to see what they are. Which is a long way of saying that bread is a forgiving organism. You can get away with a lot.

If you don’t bake much bread you might want to halve the recipe and see how it goes. If you like it you can double the recipe and make a whole lotta loaves. There’s enough sugar in there to keep the yeast happy and the last loaves rise as well as the first.

 

ITALIAN CHOCOLATE BREAD

Best served warm with a glass of red wine, by the woodstove. Also, excellent toasted with cream cheese for breakfast. This is a pretty dense bread and a good keeper.

6 cups white flour

1 tsp salt

½ cup Dutch cocoa

1/3 cup honey

¼ cup molasses

2 cups warm water (warm to the wrist, not hot)

1 tablespoon dry yeast

¾ cup sourdough (optional, use less flour or more liquid if omitted)

½ cup sour cream (or ricotta or plain yogurt)

3 eggs beaten (set ½ of one of the eggs aside for egg wash*)

1 cup chopped dried tart cherries (they sell them at the health food store. Expensive. Worth it.)

1 cup chocolate chips

*egg wash is about a third of a beaten egg mixed with a half of the shell of cold water. It makes the bread shine.

Mix yeast with 1 of the cups of warm water, set aside. Combine the other wet ingredients, set aside. Mix salt, flour, cocoa in your favorite bread bowl. Water/yeast will be working by now. Add it to other liquids. Add liquids to dry ingredients — but not the cherries or chocolate bits yet. Knead dough for 10 or 15 minutes, then knead in the cherries, then knead in the chocolate bits. Put in bowl. Cover with damp towel. Let rise in warm place for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Push down. Let rise again for another hour. Push down. Pinch off a loaf size lump of dough. Without tearing, round it into a hearth loaf. Put it on buttered baking sheet. You can arrange two loaves on one sheet. Three if they’re small. Cover with damp cloth. Let rise for 15 to 20 minutes. Brush on egg wash. Bake at 350 F. Check at 30 minutes. Cooking time depends on size.

 

WREATH BREAD

A holiday favorite

6 cups white flour

1 tsp salt

¾ cup ricotta

¾ cup sourdough (optional, use less flour or more liquid if omitted)

1¼ cups warm water

1 tablespoon dry yeast

2 tablespoons melted butter

3 beaten eggs (save a little for egg wash)

½ cup honey

powdered sugar glaze (optional, and you don’t need vanilla in that)

And some kind of filling: I like cranberry sauce because it’s tart and offsets the sweetness of the bread. (We just make our own with cranberries, sugar and water. Takes about 15 minutes while the bread is rising. You do have to cool it to room temperature before you spread it on the dough). Other options: Raspberry jam or orange marmalade both make beautiful breads. If you do a butter/brown sugar/cinnamon filling you can sprinkle on some of those hot cinnamon hearts before you roll it up.

Before baking you’ll want to butter the lower half of a canning jar on the outside.

Add yeast to warm water. Let it work for a few minutes. Mix the dry stuff. Mix the wet stuff. Mix them together. Will be a little sticky at first. Turn onto floured counter top. Knead for ten to 15 minutes adding just enough flour to keep it from sticking to counter. You don’t have to knead it that long, 5 minutes will do, but it relieves stress and it makes better bread. Put in the bread bowl. Cover. Let rise 1 ½ hours. Press down. Let rise again for 1 hour. Press down. Pinch off a loaf-size ball of dough. Sprinkle counter with flour. Roll out dough into a rectangle. Spread out your filling leaving about ½ inch bare all around. Now roll up like you were making cinnamon rolls. Pinch the seams together. Arrange in a circle (seam side down) like a big donut on a buttered baking sheet. Make six cuts cross-wise through top layer of log. Butter the bottom half of a glass canning jar; set that in the middle of the donut. Cover with damp cloth. Let rise for 15 minutes. Brush on egg wash. Bake at 350 F. Check at 25 minutes. At this point it probably has 5 to 10 minutes to bake. Because the glass is an insulator the middle tends to cook a little more slowly. Take your hot pad, twist the canning jar to free it from the dough, then lift it out and let the bread finish cooking. You can make a glaze of a cup of powdered sugar and a few tea spoons of milk.

When you are walking off your bread on Solstice morning you usually see people taking pictures of the sunrise. They know it won’t come up in that spot again until that very day next year. Later there will be bonfires to call back the sun. People have been doing that ever since they’ve been baking bread. And so far, it’s always worked.

Solis Invictus.

Two breads for Winter Solstice
Two breads for Winter Solstice
Two breads for Winter Solstice

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