Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Christmas Wonder

So I still think this blog was not the best idea I ever had. But then again, I have no one to talk to about food. My husband sure likes to eat it, and wants to know what it is; but any details beyond that and his eyes glaze over. This Christmas however, a small miracle happened. I complained of nostalgia. (Hardly a surprise that I'm complaining, bear with me). I miss Christmas at home, with all the stuff of my childhood - specially the desserts I have no clue how to make. I looked up a bunch of recipes for this sweet bread, sort of a panettone, and set out to make it happen. Now this thing requires a lot of kneading, and while I make most of my doughs in my processor, this recipe calls for 2.2 lb flour, which is beyond its capacity. After kneading it by hand for about 20 minutes I was dead tired, my wrist hurt and my arm tingled. Enters Christmas miracle: my husband continued kneading, proudly and quite fiercely, for another good 20 mins. He says he's ready to do it again anytime.

It's difficult, for me, translating a recipe from the metric system. I was fortunate to remember the right texture and consistency this dough is supposed to have, or else this would have been a great failure. Twice a year my grandma would make it, for Christmas and Easter, and I would hold her bowl so she could knead with both hands. Unfortunately her recipe is now lost, and that's why I had to search the web for this one.

For the dough:
7-7 1/2 cups bread flour
1 fresh yeast cake
1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon set aside
2 cups + 2 tablespoons milk
2 stick unsalted butter, minus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon salt
5 egg yolks
zest of one orange
zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons flavoring, like vanilla, rum, coconut

I kept saying to myself, this can be made. I can make it. But as always, when I'm trying a recipe for the first time and I really, really, want it to be a succes, my heart was trembling, second guessing every step. I sifted the flour with the salt in my biggest bowl. I made a well in the middle. I combined the yeast with the reserved sugar and added a bit of the warmed milk. Let that bubble, or mix instant yeast in the flour. Fresh yeast is best, (one cube) but I didn't have it. Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk. Melt the butter and cool it. Mix the yolks well with the citrus zest. Time to rock and roll: add the wet to the dry, the sweet milk, the perfumed yolks, and half the melted butter. Keep the other half handy. This mixture will be very sticky and annoying, so as you knead it you'll butter your hands from time to time and that will help a great deal. Knead. Knead. It's worth it, my stubborn crave sings to my tired hands. Keep going for 30 to 40 minutes, if you don't have a husband to offer sweet salvation half way in. The dough will only be barely sticky and easy to work with when it's ready to proof. It has to be not too firm. If you shake your bowl from side to side it should jiggle. Early on if it's stiff add more milk, 2-3 tablespoons at a time.
This dough needs a warm, draft-free spot to proof for about 2 hours. The warmest room in my house is the downstairs bathroom, but as I pictured this herculean labour of love sitting on top of my toilet, a loud alarm went off in my head. (Have I mentioned we're potty-training a toddler?) Instead, I warmed my oven low temp for 20 minutes, left the door open for 5, and put in the dough. Took it out one hour later because it had no more room to grow, as I left both racks in. Only leave in one, at the lowest setting.
In the meantime, prep the filling. I did one with walnuts, to quiet my craving, and the other with raisins, for my husband.
All you need, for the raisins: about 1 1/2 cups, steeped in hot water + 1 teaspoon rum, and about 4 tablespoons nutella/melted chocolate/jam, enough to make a thin layer over dough sheet.
The walnuts have to be fresh. They spoil quickly, so I preffer to buy them whole and crack them myself. [Actually, I like it when my husband does the cracking]. About 1 lb, whole, or 1 1/2 cups for the meats. Grind them finely and mix with 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa or nutella and 1 egg white beaten to a froth.
Line 2 loaf pans of 4 lbs capacity each with parchment paper. These will come out weighing 5 pounds each, so make 4 if necessary. Preheat oven to 350.
When the dough is ready, spread a thin layer of vegetable oil on your workspace. Do not use flour. Divide into 4. Put 2 aside. Roll the other two into 1/2 inch thick sheets, and spread filling over them. Roll them up, and then braid them to make a single roll. Of course, if this looks like trouble, just roll once. Bake for about 50 minutes until nicely browned on top. Cut when completely cooled, several hours later. Have a mug of hot chocolate ready when you do so. And sit by the tree. Bite into a slice and have peace in your life, if just for that moment.


  1. La multi ani!
    Eu fac cozonaci aproape de fiecare sarbatoare (Craciun sau Pasti), dupa o reteta a matusii mele din Iasi. Fac, nu pentru ca imi plac la nebunie, ci pentru ceea ce inseamna si... imi place sa-i fac! Imi place si sa-i framant, dar mai ales imi place cum miroase in casa cand se coc.
    O veste buna: anul asta, dupa multe incercari, :o) chiar mi-au iesit foarte bine!!!
    Eu dau vina pe cuptorul care ardea. Un prieten mi-a adus anul trecut niste tigle niste tigle... S-au facut perfect!

    Un 2010 fericit!! :o)

  2. Salut Vlad!
    Ai dreptate, nimic nu se compara cu aroma cozonacului in cuptor, plus rasina de la bradul proaspat impodobit. am simtit ca-i craciun, de-adevaratelea.
    pentru prima data au fost chiar buni, pufosi si aromati dar categoric tre sa-mi cumpar un cantar care sa-mi arate si grame...
    an nou fericit, cu poze multe si maiastre!


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