Holiday yeast breads sweeten the air and the memory

November 26, 1995|By Susan G. Purdy | Susan G. Purdy,EATING WELL United Feature Syndicate

A strand of tinsel on the attic stairs, a tangled string of colored lights -- the telltale signs of the season.

But you know Christmas is really at hand when you catch the homey scent of cinnamon or the exotic essence of cardamom wafting from yeasty rolls packed with sweet fruit. These cozy aromas linger in happy holiday memories from year to year.

The best way to fill the house with this particular magic is to bake yeast breads. Whether you create a Christmas crown, bejeweled with pineapple and apricots, or a batch of honey-glazed sticky buns, you will have plenty to give to friends or to save in the freezer to cure midwinter blues long after the Christmas glitter has been packed away.

All the breads in this collection have been updated so they take less time and contain less fat. By using quick-rising yeast and other time-saving techniques, you'll have more time for things that cannot be rushed -- writing Christmas cards or trimming the tree.

Susan G. Purdy's Swedish saffron buns

Makes 12 buns

1 cup dark raisins, plus additional for decoration

4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose white or bread flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 packages quick-rising yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably canola oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1/4 cup pearl sugar (see below), optional

In a small bowl, cover 1 cup raisins with warm water and set aside to soak for 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast and salt; set aside.

OC In a saucepan, combine milk, oil, butter and saffron. Stir over

low heat until very warm -- an instant-read thermometer should register 115 to 120 degrees.

Add the warm liquid to the dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Add 1 of the whole eggs and egg yolk; stir until well-blended.

Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough becomes too difficult to stir. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead, gradually incorporating more flour as necessary to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth and slightly elastic, about 10 minutes. Be careful not to add too much flour. (Alternatively, the dough can be kneaded in a stand-up mixer fitted with a dough hook.) Slightly flatten the dough; drain the raisins and sprinkle them over the dough. Knead in the raisins.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled large bowl, turning to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise for 20 to 30 minutes.

Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat it with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Gently punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. To form the traditional "S" shape, roll each piece into a 9-inch rope and shape it into an "S" with coiled ends.

Place a raisin in the center of each coil. To form buns, roll each piece into a 2-inch ball.

Place the rolls on the prepared baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Cover with plastic wrap and return to a warm place to rise until nearly doubled, about 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with 2 teaspoons water to make a glaze. Lightly brush the tops of the risen dough with the egg glaze and sprinkle with pearl sugar, if using. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. (The buns should sound hollow when tapped.) Transfer to a rack to cool.

Pretty pearl sugar has large crystals that won't melt during baking. It is often used to decorate Scandinavian baked goods. To order pearl sugar, call the King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalogue, (800) 827-6836. A 1-pound bag costs $2.75 plus shipping.

305 calories per bun; 7 grams protein; 6 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat); 56 grams carbohydrate; 218 milligrams sodium; 42 milligrams cholesterol

Susan G. Purdy's Christmas bread

Makes 4 loaves, 10 slices per loaf

1 cup dried cranberries, dried cherries or raisins

1 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup slivered almonds (2 ounces)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (2 ounces)

5-6 cups all-purpose white or bread flour

3/4 cup sugar

2 packages quick-rising yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon low-fat milk

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably canola oil

2 tablespoons molasses, preferably unsulfured

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

2 large eggs

1/2 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

candied red or green cherries, cut in half, for garnish (optional)

blanched almonds for garnish (optional)

In a small bowl, cover dried cranberries, cherries or raisins with warm water and let stand for 30 minutes to soften. Drain well and combine with golden raisins, almonds and walnuts; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

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