The ornaments have been taken off the tree and packed away, the twinkling lights rest in their boxes until next year, and the tree is leaning against the picnic table in the back yard, keeping company with several species of birds.
Thus marks the end of another Holiday season replete with family, friends, gifts and, best of all, the sharing of seasonal food.
Now, with the beginning of a new year, my thoughts are turned to the future and what lies in store: A new job perhaps? A few resolutions to set into (and keep in) motion?
But there are a few unfinished items lingering from the holidays that are leaving me with a feeling of loose ends, as I did promise to post a few of the recipes from my Christmas table. I've already given you dessert(s) and one loaf of bread. Here is yet another bread that harkens from my past. Before now, I'd only made it one other time...
I was a very young mother-to-be, had never made bread before, found this recipe in a magazine (the name of which has long been forgotten), and scribbled it onto a piece of paper. On that very day, knowing absolutely nothing about saffron, I bought my first tin of those tiny orange threads and my first box of dried yeast packets.
Once home, I began making this heavenly-scented, slightly sweet, festive bread which I have, this time 'round, adapted slightly from my original scribblings, always trying to lower fat* and carb count.
Holiday Saffron Bread
1/2 cup warm water
2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar for the yeast
2/3 cup Splenda-Sugar Blend for the dough (you could use 1 1/4 cups regular sugar if desired)
1/8 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1 cup egg substitute (or 4 large eggs)
1 13-ounce can low-fat evaporated milk, room temperature (original recipe called for full fat)
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
9 1/4 to 9 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour**
Prepare the Dough:
Combine the water, yeast and 1/4 cup sugar in the large bowl of a stand mixer and let stand 2 minutes.
Add the saffron, Splenda-Sugar Blend, egg substitute, milk, butter, salt and 4 1/2 cups of the flour.
Mix on low speed until smooth, then beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes more.
Gradually beat in 4 3/4 cups more flour, allowing the mixer to do most of the kneading, until the dough is satiny smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, shape it into a ball, cover with the mixing bowl and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.
Uncover the dough. If it sticks to the surface, knead it with your hands, incorporating the remaining flour until it no longer sticks and is shiny and smooth.
Place dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to bring the greased side up. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours.
Turn out onto a surface (the dough will be very stiff) and knead for 1 to 2 minutes.
Compose the Bread:
Lightly grease three large baking sheets.
Divide dough into 3 equal parts. Each portion will make a sheet of bread or rolls.
To make the rolls,using your hands, pinch off a piece of dough and roll out a rope 16 to 18-inches long and 1/2-inch thick.
On a baking sheet, make a tight circle with the rope, pinching the end to adhere.
Repeat with more ropes of dough, forming a pattern of your choosing, until the entire portion of dough is used.
To make a tree, begin by making a 1/2-inch thick rope in each of these lengths:
8-inches, 11-inches, 14-inches, 17-inches, 20-inches, 23-inches, and 26-inches.
Continue to make 9 more 1/2-inch thick ropes that are 6-inches in length.
To assemble the tree (follow the photos above), make the curving branches from the top down and space each branch with a tight circle of 6-inch rope. Braid the remaining 3 pieces of 6-inch rope for the trunk, tucking one end under the lowest branch and the other end under the braid.
To make the trees look even more festive you can press a candied cherry into each of the swirled ends of the branches.
Cover all the bread shapes with a towel or towels and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
Place one large egg in a bowl and beat slightly.
When the dough has risen, brush each of your creations with some of the beaten egg then slide the sheets into the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Brush again with the rest of the egg and bake for 10 minutes longer or until golden brown.
Slide breads onto wire racks and cool completely. Wrap with festive holiday ribbons to give as gifts.
Saffron: Touted as the most expensive, by weight, spice in the world, the threads are used sparingly in savory middle-eastern dishes, Spanish paella, and in some sweet breads. In medicine, anti-carcinogen and anti-oxident properties have been discovered. When combined with a sweetener, saffron not only imparts its lovely orange hue, but a sweet, hay-like essence, as it has done with my breads.
Weekend Herb Blogging is back from its holiday hiatus and is home this week at Kalyn's Kitchen. Kalyn's brainchild, WHB is one of the most popular food blogging events in the blogosphere today. Kalyn will be posting her round-up of entries this Sunday evening, so be sure to stop by to see what herbs, spices, veggies and plants are being offered up by food bloggers 'round the globe. Click on these links to read about the "rules of engagement" and up-coming weekly hosts.
*No getting away from using 1 cup of butter. Sorry!
**Since I had only made this bread one time previous to this Christmas, and that was many, many years ago, I decided not to experiment with using whole wheat flours which can demand more liquid be used in the dough. If I do make this bread again, I'll experiment more freely.