I always make braided bread at Christmas… because what would a Ukrainian Xmas Eve be, without a steaming warm loaf decorated with ancient baubles handed down from our great grandmother?
But if you’re looking for directions on making bread from scratch, read no further. For this project, I have always bought frozen bread dough at our local grocery store. I usually have to ask at the cake counter, and someone disappears behind humungous stainless steel doors and emerges with the five stone-hard loaves I need. Easy!
This post is all about the presentation. Your results will look as mouth-wateringly delicious as the warm, fresh bread tastes.
My timing is off, I apologize. But as I post only once every week or two, it’s taking me a while to document our family’s favorite Christmas recipes.
Take it to heart
However… who says these delicious loaves can only be served at Christmas? In honor of Valentines Day, I’m making one in a heart-shaped pan. How about you?
It’s easy. All it takes is time, most of which you can spend reading a good book or doing your exercises.
Three festive breads
Makes three loaves
- 5 loaves frozen bread dough
- Thaw them by leaving the loaves in the fridge overnight.
- If you forget, preheat your oven to 175F then turn it OFF. Put the frozen loaves on a cookie sheet and slide them into the warm oven. Put a pan of boiling water into the oven at the same time, or cover the loaves with a damp tea towel. Leave them there 1-2 hours, until the dough is soft enough to handle.
- 1 large angel food pan, 8.5″ x 10″ (i.d.)
- 1 small bunt pan, 6″ x 8″ (i.d.)
- 1 loaf pan, 3″ wide x 12″ long or heart-shaped
- Oil all pans lightly with canola oil, using a bit of paper toweling to spread the oil evenly. Set aside.
Loaf #1 – Large braided bread for Xmas eve
- Use 2 1/2 loaves of frozen dough, thawed
- Cut each of three loaves lengthwise, twice. Each loaf yields 3 strips, for a total of 9 strips.
- Roll three of the strips, one at a time, between your palms to make three long, thin stands of dough (start at one end, then invert the strip and roll the other end). Place the three long strands on the counter. Squeeze the three strands together tightly at the top. Fan out the ends. Then braid the strips tightly (pass the right stand over the middle one, placing it in the middle. Then pass the left strand over the middle one. Alternate until the braid is finished). Squeeze the bottom ends together tightly.
- Repeat with three more strips to make a second braid. This time leave the strands open at the bottom end.
- Cut the three remaining strips in half horizontally to make 6 short strips. Roll three of them between your palms the make three short strands. Attach these to the loose ends on your second braid and keep braiding. Squeeze them closed when you get to the end.
- Save the three short strips that are left over for Loaf #2.
- Using the large angel food pan, wind the longer braid around the outside edge, once. Press the two ends firmly together where they meet.
- Wind the shorter braid around the post, placing it on top of the first, but keeping it close to the center.
- Cover the pan with a damp, clean tea towel. Set the pan in a warm place where the dough can rise (on the fridge top or on a table in the sun, near the fire or over a heating grate).
- Leave the bread to rise for an hour or two until it has doubled in size and stretches over the top of the pan.
- Make loaves #2 and #3 while you wait.
Loaf #2 – Decorative braided bread
This loaf holds a candle and decorates the coffee table over the Christmas season. It dries out and becomes squirrel food.
Use 1 1/2 loaves of frozen dough, thawed
- Cut the fourth loaf of dough into three strips and braid it as described above.
- Wind it around the center post of the small bunt pan, going around once and pressing down to even it out in the pan. Face the braided pattern upwards, not sideways, for best effect.
- Create a short braid out of the three short pieces left over from making loaf #1.
- Wind the short braid tightly around the post of the bunt pan and seal the ends together.
- Cover the pan with a damp, clean tea towel. Set the pan in a warm place to rise.
Loaf #3 – Cinnamon bread for Xmas morning or Valentine’s Day
- Use 1 loaf of frozen dough, thawed
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- With clean hands and a rolling pin, flatten the fifth loaf into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick, 10 inches wide and 12-14 inches long.
- Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the surface and press it in lightly.
- Roll the load up tightly, beginning at one of the shorter ends. Pinch all the seams closed and place in a long loaf pan with the sealed edge down. There should be an inch to spare at either end of the pan.
- If using a heart-shaped pan, fold the sugary rectangle in half, seal the edges, then press it roughly into a heart shape smaller than that of the pan.
- Cover with a damp, clean tea towel. Set in a warm place to rise. As the dough rises, it fills the pan.
Baking the loaves
- 1 egg white
- 1 teaspoon water
- poppy seeds to sprinkle
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- When the dough has risen to the top of the pans, brush it with egg-white thinned with water.
- Sprinkle poppy seeds on the large Loaf #1.
- Bake for 30 minutes for the small loaf, 35 minutes for the middle-sized loaf, and 40 minutes for the large loaf. Test by sticking it with a long wooden skewer (it should come out dry). Watch the loaves while they are baking. When they are the desired golden brown color, cover them loosely with foil and continue baking until the specified time has elapsed.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool for ½ hour, then remove bread from pans and cool thoroughly on racks.
- Wrap the loaves you plan to eat tightly in tin foil and freeze them until serving time. I make them a week or so in advance.
- Put loaf #2, the decorative bread, on a round platter and dress it with holly and grandmother’s antique decorations. Put a long candle in a holder in the hole left by the post of the bunt pan. This table decoration lasts two or three weeks.
- On Xmas Eve, put loaf #1, fully frozen, in the oven at 350°F for 30-40 minutes or until heated through. Slice and serve with butter during the soup or salad course.
- For breakfast on Xmas morning, reheat loaf #3 at 350°F for 20 or 30 minutes and serve it with butter and natural jams and jellies. Papaya and sweetened Greek yogurt complement the bread.
Happy Valentines Day to all you sweethearts out there !!!