Pandoro and Friends

2012, be warned: 2011 is a tough act to follow. The beautiful and exciting things that came my way in 2011 are too numerous to count, but Number Two on the list has to be the trip Jay and I took to Morocco and Venice in November (with Number One being our wedding a month later). And while the highlights of that trip are also too numerous to count, our day in Verona is on that list for sure.

The charming city of Verona is an easy 80-minute train ride from (equally charming) Venice, and we thought it would make a lovely day trip. Jay was thinking history, culture, architecture, photography. I — obviously! — was thinking Pandoro pans. I have been coveting genuine Italian pans for this star-shaped golden holiday bread forever, and they just can’t be found in the US. But Pandoro originated in Verona, so I was sure I could find some there.

And find them I did, but that wasn’t the best part. The best part was how I found them. I remembered that the lovely and talented Cinzia also hails from Verona, and when I emailed her to ask about where I might buy the pans, she not only came through with the name of a shop (Plurimix), but she came into the city to meet us! Over lunch and a slice of Nadalin (another Veronese holiday bread, reportedly the forerunner of Pandoro), I found Cinzia to be every bit as warm and delightful as her blog.

And that, my dear friends, is the real pleasure I derive from writing this blog: connecting with wonderful people all over the globe, whether face-to-face or through virtual pathways.  I can’t think of a nicer way to observe BreadBakingDay — the monthly event that celebrates baking and breaking bread together — than with Pandoro dedicated to Cinzia (who happens to be hosting BBD this month, too!), Zorra (creator of BBD), and all of my bread-baking friends everywhere.

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Stollen

Today is December 16, 2011. Is this an important date because …

A) It’s the posting (and my hosting) day for the Bread Baking Babes

B) I get married today

C) Both of the above, and by the time you read this I will have pulled the Stollen from the oven, dusted the flour off my dress, and made my way to City Hall to exchange vows with my beautiful, brilliant, sweet, funny, gentle, loving…

Ahem. Back to the Stollen. A perfect choice for this month, because it practically makes itself, leaving us Babes to occupy our minds with… whatever other things we may wish to occupy them with.

Stollen is one of my favorite holiday breads, and quite easy to make. It is a traditional bread from Dresden, Germany, and the shape is said to represent the swaddled child in the manger. You kind of have to use your imagination to see this.

Mixing the dough is simple if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, although it takes some time. Just throw the ingredients in the mixer, turn it on, and go buy a wedding dress or something.The dough will be ready when you get back.

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Gibassier

Gibassier-wild-yeast

When I was a student at SFBI, if you had asked any of us for a short list of our favorite sweet breads, Gibassier would have been on it every time. To get an idea of our collective response to the mere mention of this regional brioche, delicately flavored with orange and and anise and enriched with olive oil, think Les Simpsons en Provence: “Mmmm…. Gibassier!”

There seems to be some disagreement about whether Gibassier and Pompe à ‘Huile — one of the thirteen Provençal Christmas desserts — are the same thing. I don’t know the answer, but why quibble? I’m pretty sure no one will complain if this bread winds upon your dessert table — at Christmas time or any other time, with or without twelve other sweets — or on your breakfast table or your coffee table.

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Tsoureki

I adapted the recipe for this lovely Greek Easter bread, Tsoureki, from Anissa Helou’s wonderful book, Savory Baking from the Mediterranean. Helou suggests that if you cannot find mahlep, the spice that traditionally scents these soft, rich loaves, you can leave it out. This would, however, be a most unhappy omission, and if you take my word and try it, you’ll know why.

Mahlep (variously know as mahlepi, mahleb, mahlab) is common in Greek and Middle Eastern baking. Made from the kernels of wild cherry pits, it tastes bitter on its own, but lends the bread a delightful, delicately sweet, nutty, cherry-almond fragrance. I found the spice in my neighborhood Middle Eastern market, but it’s readily available online.

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Lemon Anise Snowflakes

As with the lemon that studs them, these loaves are one of those breads I thought would be one thing, but of its own accord (with maybe a little bit of gentle and experimental nudging from me) it turned out to be another thing. Sometimes it’s fun to just let things unfold and see where you end up.

The thing I thought it would be was gibassier, a French olive oil brioche traditional during the Advent season, scented with oranges and anise seed, shaped in flat round loaves. It is an amazingly good bread, and ranks among favorite sweet breads for nearly everyone I know who has tasted it.

But thanks to my generous crop of lemons just now, my bread asked for candied lemon peel rather than orange. Because I had lots of lemon syrup as a byproduct of the candying of the lemon peels — and also because I was out of orange blossom water — the bread wanted the syrup to stand in for both the sugar and the orange water in a traditional gibassier recipe. Because I love putting candied ginger in things, this bread begged to be loved that way too. And the shaping was just me playing around to see what showed up, and perhaps longing for the December snow(flakes) I used to know in Vermont but rarely see anymore.

The result turned out to be something slightly less sweet and less citrus-y than gibassier, and a fine way to enjoy a delicately-flavored sweet bread with your morning coffee or tea. The ginger is very subtle, and I might add more next time.

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My New Thanksgiving Cranberry Bread

This is the recipe I said I would not post. At least, it’s the recipe for the cranberry bread I’ll be serving for Thanksgiving this year.

Three years ago I wrote (and re-posted for the two years following that) about why I never changed Thanksgiving dinner, why it had been the same reliable cranberry bread for years (along with the same turkey, the same stuffing, and the same potatoes), and would be for years to come. It was the recipe from the back of the bag of Ocean Spray cranberries; you could get it there if you wanted it, and I wasn’t about to go messing with it.

So this year, I messed with it, a little. Added some whole wheat flour. Took away some sugar. Made the loaf a little bigger. Converted everything into grams because that just feels better to me. Call it fine tuning.

In the scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal. And by the scheme of things, I mean that for the past year — and for the first time ever in my life – my household has consisted of just me. Throw a new home, graduating from baking school, and becoming adept at toilet repairs into the scheme, and messing with a cranberry bread recipe is just not that big a deal.

It’s all good, because even really fine, reliable traditions can use a little fine tuning every once in a while, and even really fine lives can withstand some major turbulence.  Because even when the bread changes, the house changes, the life changes, and the plumbing breaks, I still have so much to be thankful for. (And if it makes anyone feel any better, I didn’t change the stuffing recipe at all.)

Have a beautiful Thanksgiving, everyone!

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