Thursday, December 23, 2010


This rich Italian Christmas bread has a presence that a platter of cookies just can't approach.  It's perfect to present to friends, as they will appreciate something to accompany their Christmas morning breakfast.  It also makes a lovely bring-along if you have been the happy recipient of an invitation for a Christmas celebration.  I've never sliced one of these up and seen a crumb or crust left behind.  You may tailor the additions to your taste.  Merry Christmas!

Makes one loaf. (I rarely make one of anything. Go ahead and double it. Beautifully efficient.)

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 c. warm water (110 degrees F)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c. plain nonfat yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
(when I use almonds, I add 1 tsp. of almond extract, too)
a little lemon zest - I use way less than the 1 tbsp. called for. Not my thing.
1/4 tsp. salt
4 c. flour, plus more to add during kneading process
1/2 - 1 c. additions - this can be dried fruit, chocolate morsels, nuts...
1 tbsp. confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp. melted butter

Grease and flour an 8" cake pan.
Mix yeast, water, sugar in a large bowl, and let stand 10 minutes. It will froth up satisfyingly. If not, your yeast is dead, and you need some new yeast.

Add eggs, yogurt, vanilla, zest, and salt to yeast mixture in bowl. Stir gently until just incorporated.

Stir in flour gradually - a cup or less at a time.

Turn onto a floured surface. Have nearby a bowl filled with some more flour. You'll likely need it.

Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary. If it sticks to your hands in a wet fashion, it needs more flour. However, it shouldn't be dry! Once well kneaded, it will hold in a nice smooth ball and it should feel like a freshly bathed 7-month-old's cheek.

Grease another large bowl (I usually just wash the one I just used and use it again), put the nice dough ball in the bowl, and turn it over so it is moistened all over by the grease from the bowl.

Cover with a fresh, lightweight cloth, place in a draft-free spot, and let rise 1 hour. While you wait, sprinkle your additions of choice with the confectioner's sugar, and toss gently to coat.

After the hour's up, go peek at it! It's huge and puffy! Now, you get to punch it down, pfffft, gather it up and place it on your floured surface again, and knead a little bit more, this time incorporating your goodies - nuts, fruits, chocolate, what have you. Knead just until the dough is dotted rather evenly with your additions. Smooth into a ball and pat it into your prepared pan. Cover with your cloth again, and let rise 30 minutes.

During this time, preheat your oven to 350. Once the 30 minutes has elapsed and your dough is puffing out of the pan nicely, brush it with the melted butter, and bake 45 minutes, till golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. You can tip it out of the pan once it has cooled just a few minutes.
Share and enjoy!  This will bring a smile to faces!

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