Food: Christmas bread |

Food: Christmas bread

Angela Shelf Medearis and Gina Harlow



2 packages dry yeast (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)

1 1/4 cups warm water (100 F to 110 F)

5 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided

3/4 cup sugar

7 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh orange rind

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

2 1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries

1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Cooking spray

2 tablespoons almonds, chopped finely


1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Lightly spoon 1 1/4 cups flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Add to yeast mixture, stirring with a whisk to combine. Cover; let rise in a warm place (85 F), free from drafts, for 1 hour.

2. Combine sugar, butter, rind and salt in a large bowl; beat with a heavy-duty stand mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add eggs, beating until combined; beat in yeast mixture.

3. Lightly spoon remaining 4 cups flour into dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Add flour to egg mixture, beating at medium speed until smooth. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 3 minutes); add enough of remaining 1/2 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel sticky). Knead in cranberries and ginger until well incorporated.

4. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 F), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.)

6. Coat 6 (1-cup) muffin cups with cooking spray. Cut 6 (5 by 12-inch) strips of parchment paper; place paper in muffin cups to extend 3 inches from the top of the cups. (Lining the muffin cups with strips of parchment makes it easy to remove the Panettones after baking.)

7. Divide dough evenly among muffin cups. Lightly spray each muffin with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with nuts. Let rise in a warm place (85 F), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (You also can prepare this recipe in traditional muffin tins for a yield of 18; trim the parchment paper for the muffin cups to 2 1/2 x 6 inches, and shorten the baking time to 20 minutes.)

8. While muffins rise, preheat the oven to 375 F.

9. After muffins have doubled in size, bake at 375 F for 25 minutes or until muffins are lightly browned. Makes 24 (1/4 muffin) servings.

TIP: To store muffins, line bottom of an airtight container with paper towels, place muffins inside, add another layer of paper towels on top of muffins to absorb any moisture. Seal the lid. Muffins will keep up to four days. Reheat muffins in the microwave for 30 seconds before serving.

When we think of Christmas baking, we usually think of cookies and cakes, and even the tradition of homemade candies. But in Europe, and especially in Italy, sweet luscious breads — doughs enriched with eggs and butter and loaded with dried fruits and cream — have special prominence during the holidays.

While it’s been a long-held custom the world over to mark Christmas with special food, in the 1300s and 1400s in Italy, Christmas treats were especially anticipated. At that time, wheat was a rare commodity, and during the rest of the year, bread was made with harder, poorer-quality grains. In Milan, controls were so strict that the bakers were not allowed to use wheat flour except on Christmas Eve. So it was an extraordinary event indeed when Christmas came and bakers were able to make tender loaves of simple bread from flour made from those soft kernels.

Later, a sweet, buttery, yeasted “cake” began to appear in the same city. Legend says that Panettone is named after a creative, quick-thinking kitchen attendant to the 13th-century Duke of Milan named Toni. He combined leavened dough with butter, sugar and raisins to replace a dessert that had burned. Pan del Toni, the unmistakable yeasty, fruit-studded, heaven-scented bread, has become the Panettone we relish today. During the holiday season, tender, moist loaves of Panettone are shipped to us from across the sea.

The traditional way of making of Panettone is a drawn-out affair and involves using a natural yeast and a two-day dough fermentation process. The extended fermentation gives the bread a long shelf life. This complex process is why preparing and eating Panettone is a seasonal event.

Our recipe for Cranberry Panettone Muffins reflects the unique flavors and opulent tastes of traditional Panettone, but it is more accessible to the home cook.

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Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is Read Gina Harlow’s blog about food and gardening at Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.

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