Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Bread



by Helen McLoughlin

THE LITURGICAL PRESS St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota


Christ, the Bread of Angels, has been honored by special
"Christmas Bread" in every European country. Most delicious of
these are "Brioche" or French Christmas bread, the German
"Christstollen" whose criss-cross shape reminds us of the Child
in swaddling clothes, and "Melachrino" or Greek spice cake. The
latter our children call Hidden Jesus Bread, because of the
Infant baked in it. Recipes for all three are from Mrs. Berger's
"Cooking for Christ." Her family like ours is large. One half of
her recipe is usually sufficient for a small family. Margarine
may be used in place of butter.

"Brioche," a very light rich bread, is best mixed on Christmas
Eve so the dough can stand before it is baked. Use a very hot
oven on Christmas morning to make the dough rise quickly. The
crust is crisp and brown, the center soft when the dough is
handled lightly.

1 yeast cake 1 tblsp. sugar
1/4 cup warm water 6 slightly beaten eggs
4 cups flour 1 cup butter
1 tsp. salt 1/2 cup milk

Mix yeast with warm water and one cup flour. Cover and set aside
to rise. Mix remaining dry ingredients. Work in butter with your
fingers. Add eggs. Add milk very slowly. (The dough should be
softer than bread dough.) Mix in yeast combination and let rise
one to two hours. Punch down and keep in a cold place until ready
to use. Then shape in loaves. Place in two 6x10 loaf pans. Put in
warm place until dough rises about one third more in size. Brush
with beaten egg. Bake in hot oven (450 degrees) until brown. This
recipe will make two loaves.

Early Christians brought their bread to the altar at the
offertory procession. Some of it was used for the Sacrifice; the
rest received a special blessing after the consecration, but was
not changed into the Body of Christ. It was taken home as Blessed
Bread. Whenever we attend the Byzantine Liturgy at Fordham's
Russian Center, we take part in a similar custom.

The mother of the family may use her powers as a member of "the
royal priesthood" to which St. Peter refers in his First Epistle.
She may sprinkle holy water over the newly-made bread, and pray
Holy Mother Church's official blessing:

Mother: Let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ, Thou the bread of angels,
Thou the living bread of eternal life, graciously deign to bless
this bread as Thou didst bless the five loaves in the desert that
all who partake of it may have health of body and soul. Who
livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.

Eating blessed bread makes such an impression upon children that
no scrap of it is ever wasted "because it is God's special food."

Christstollen needs plenty of room so that the shape of the Child
in swaddling clothes will be surely seen in the folds of dough.

1 cake yeast 1 cup shortening
1 tblsp. sugar 1-1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water 2 eggs
6 cups flour 1 cup raisins
1 tsp. salt 1 cup currants
1/2 tsp. nutmeg 1/2 cup blanched almonds
2 cups scalded milk 1/2 cup chopped citron
1-1/2 tsp. lemon extract

Dissolve yeast and tblsp. of sugar in warm water. Cover and allow
to rise. Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and scalded milk
cooled to lukewarm. Alternate with flour sifted with salt and
nutmeg. Add yeast mixture. Knead until smooth. Add fruits and
flavoring. Cover and let dough rise to double its bulk. Knead
dough again. Shape dough into ropes about one and one half inches
in diameter. For each large stollen make one rope three feet long
and two that are two and a half feet long. Braid the dough. Bring
the braid to a point at either end. Place the braid on a greased
cookie sheet. Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 25 minutes or
until brown. This recipe will make two large Stollen.

After we have received the Eucharistic Bread at Christmas Mass,
we like a favorite sweet bread or spice cake which Mrs. Berger
calls "Melachrino." In Greece it is customary to hide a silver
coin deep in its crust; we bake a tiny figure of the Holy Infant
in the dough.

3/4 cup butter 1/4 tsp. mace
1-2/3 cups sugar 1-1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 eggs 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 cup milk 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1-3/4 cups flour 1/3 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tblsp. lemon juice

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Add milk alternately with
sifted dry ingredients. Stir in lemon juice. Pour batter into a
greased 9x14 loaf pan. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for
45 minutes. While the cake is still hot, ice with:

2 cups confectioner's sugar
5 or 6 tblsp. water
1/2 tblsp. lemon juice

From the Italians comes a quick dessert for that busiest of days,
"Vigilia di Natale," the Vigil of Christmas. It is a "Cassata" or
Cream Tart which may be made with store sponge cake to save time.

10 inch sponge cake 1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups cottage cheese 2 tsp. almond extract
2 chopped squares of bitter

Cut cake into three layers. Beat cottage cheese, sugar, almond
extract and chocolate together. Spread this filling between
layers. Chill cake in refrigerator. When cake is set, ice with

1 egg white 1 tsp. almond extract
1-1/2 cups confectioner's 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
sugar Candied fruits

We go to great lengths in Christmas cooking, but there are two
shortcuts which we take. One is the use of store cake in the
Cassata above and the other the use of prepared mincemeat, and,
on occasion, prepared pie crust.

Mincemeat pie at Christmas was originally made in an oblong
baking pan to remind us of Christ's birth in a manger, while the
richness of its ingredients and the spices remind us of the gifts
of the Magi. We use a standard prepared mincemeat and a standard
pastry recipe for a two crust pie. A 7x11 cake pan utilizes the
dough and leaves enough scraps after the pie is trimmed for a
pastry Infant Jesus. This is cut from a Nativity cookie cutter,
baked separately and placed on the manger-pie. The gingerbread
boy had Baby Jesus for his original model.

As Christmas approaches, the house smells of baking; presents are
wrapped; and the wreaths are hung. The children unveil the
Christ-Candle and set up their cribs. It is then that their Daddy
covers the fireplace mantle with evergreens--Oregon holly when we
can afford it--and centers a Madonna and Child with many vigil
lights as the focus of the room. A spray of evergreen is placed
across the top of every picture in the room; and a piece is wound
around a huge white candle placed on the dinner table to
symbolize the Light of the world for whom we have made these
elaborate preparations. As is the Irish custom, the candle is
lighted by the man of the house after the Angelus on Christmas

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