Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Christmas Bread

Jessica came home last weekend and she and I stayed in the kitchen for a good part of her time here. She wanted to learn how to make these yeast-raised coffee cakes that I have been baking for years. Her lucky co-workers are getting these today for a Christmas treat.

This recipe is based on one I found in a booklet I ordered from Fleischmann's in 1984. That little booklet is wonderful. The pages in mine are brittle and crumbling. I really should scan each page while I can. All of the recipes are great. It is an education in different ways to mix yeast breads. Brown 'n serve, dough for the freezer, rapid mix, cool rise. Who knew there were so many ways to mix a dough?

This is most likely the longest recipe I'll ever post here. But it's a good one. And a couple of folks have asked for the recipe. I only make it at Christmas. It typically is part of our Christmas breakfast. Over the years, we have taken it to junior high teachers, to security guards, to friends, to pastors, and to our choir director. I even made it for bake sales.

I love it because it's delicious. I love it because it is beautiful. And I love it because it is "brown 'n serve." That means you can make it up to a week ahead of serving it or gifting it. You pop in into the oven for a few minutes to finish browning it at the last minute.

It really isn't that hard to make, but it does take time. I often use Rapid Rise yeast and that shortens the process by about an hour. (*Directions for using Rapid Rise yeast is at the bottom of the recipe.) The recipe makes two coffee cakes. But I have also divided the dough into thirds before shaping and made three smaller "cakes" when I needed to give more than two.

When you get to the shaping part, you can do it any way you like. The braid is the most labor intense, but it's lovely. You can also use other fillings instead of cinnamon-sugar and nuts. The original recipe called for toasted coconut and brown sugar.

If you use PAM to grease your bowl for rising, spray the top of the dough with PAM also. If you use oil to grease the bowl, just turn the dough over in the bowl to grease the top.  This is to keep the dough from drying out while it rises.

To test to see if the dough has risen enough, lightly press your fingertip into the dough. If it springs back, it needs to rise a little longer. If the dent stays in, it's ready for the next step.


4 to 5 cups unsifted bread flour
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
2 packages Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter (that's 1/2 stick)
2 eggs, at room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
chopped nuts (I just stir some in--the mix is mostly sugar/cinnamon)
melted butter, for brushing the strips
powdered sugar (about 1 cup) for the glaze

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix 1-1/4 cups of the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and undissolved dry yeast.
Combine milk, water, and 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan. Heat over low heat, until liquids are very warm (120-130 degrees F.) Butter does not need to melt. Gradually add to dry ingredients and beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Add eggs and 1/4 cup flour. Beat at high speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.

Stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto lightly floured board; knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning dough to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm place, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Mix filling and set aside:  Combine 3/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and chopped nuts.

Punch dough down; divide in half. (Cover the dough that is "waiting" with a towel so that it doesn't dry out.) Divide first half into three equal pieces of dough. Roll each ball of dough between hands to make a “rope.” Roll each rope-shape with a rolling pin to flatten into a strip.

Brush strip generously with melted margarine, leaving edges dry, then spoon the cinnamon-nut mixture down the center of each strip. Pull dough up over cinnamon-nut mixture and pinch dough together to seal. (You are making a "cinnamon sugar-filled rope.") On your work surface, put ends of all three filled strips together, seam-side down. Loosely braid the strips. Tuck under each end of braided loaf and pinch to seal. Carefully place braided loaf on a greased baking sheet. Cover with a towel. Repeat with other half of dough. 

Let rise in warm place, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Bake at 250 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks. Wrap well in plastic wrap. Store in refrigerator up to 7 days.

When ready to serve, place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees about 12 minutes, or until browned. Remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks. 

While bread is cooling, mix glaze: Mix together about 1 cup powdered sugar, adding water a spoonful at a time, until you reach desired consistency. Drizzle over top of each cooled loaf.  Remember, this has no preservatives like most bought breads, so eat it quickly!

*You can use Rapid Rise yeast to eliminate the first rising.  Mix according to recipe up through the kneading. Instead of putting dough in a greased bowl to rise, leave the dough on the work surface, cover with a towel and let it "rest" for 10 minutes. Proceed to the shaping step and continue with the recipe as written.

For Christmas giving, I like to decorate with candied red and green cherries. Cut a green cherry into four pieces and place 2 or 3 pieces around the red cherries, like leaves. Before Christmas, you can find candied cherries at the supermarket with the fruit cake ingredients. 
After reading all of this, I know your eyes are glazed over. Later, I will give you instructions—maybe even diagrams—for some other ways to shape this dough. I think all of the other ways I know to shape this are faster than the braid. All the shapes taste the same, of course, but I love this braid at Christmas time. Maybe I should learn to love one of the faster shapes. 



  1. This bread looks fabulous, and I bet it tastes just as good as it looks!

    1. Thanks, Barb. I really ought to just skip the braid part and make them more than once a year. My family would be happy.


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