Nevermind shopping days until Christmas – I’m counting down the baking days before Christmas. There are some things that can only be made during the holidays – mince tarts and shortbread December is an excuse to make rich breads with eggs and butter, loaded with dried fruit – like a yeasted fruitcake you can slice and toast and spread with butter and eat with your coffee.
I’ve made stollen for the past few years, but thought I’d take the leap over to panettone (a quick trip from Germany to Italy) once I realized that those Weck jars I’m in lust with are oven safe up to 450F, and thus perfectly stylish vehicles for small, buttery loaves. (One batch of dough stretches much further this way than the typical two loaves of stollen folded over themselves.)
Every year I intend (at least) to bake vast quantities of fruited loaves on Christmas Eve, then hop in the car and deliver them to people I like, thinking that they might then wind up nibbling them under the tree on Christmas morning. This year I was inspired to bake them early, sharing them in a Herald story and have been nibbling on them all month.
The wee jars are just another reason to give them away, really, but if you can’t get your hands on some, you could go the traditional coffee can route, or make individual ones in buttered muffin tins, or bake the loaf like you would stollen, in a big oval, one side lapped over. Or shape and bake them like hot crossed buns, then dust with icing sugar on top.
And then wrap yourself in the holidays, snuggle with your loved ones, celebrate the people in your life and eat well. And thank you for being here! You’ve been the best part of my year.
½ cup milk, warmed
½ cup sugar
1 pkg. (2 ¼ tsp.) active dry yeast
3 large eggs
grated zest of an orange or lemon (optional)
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra if needed
½ tsp. salt
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups dried fruit: raisins, cranberries, candied citrus zest, currants, chopped dried apricots
1 egg, for brushing
icing sugar, for dusting
Put the warmed milk in a large bowl and sprinkle a big pinch of the sugar and all of the yeast overtop; set aside for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is foamy.
Add the remaining sugar, eggs, orange zest, about half the flour and salt and beat until thick and sticky. Add the remaining flour and the butter, cut into pieces, and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic – it should be tacky, but not overly sticky. Stir or knead in the dry fruit.
Transfer to an oiled bowl, turn the dough to oil all over, cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours.
Meanwhile, butter 4-6 Weck jars, panettone moulds or a muffin tin. Punch the dough down and pull apart into pieces big enough to come halfway up the jars or tins; loosely cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside for another hour, until the dough rises slightly, making the containers about ¾ full. (Alternatively, slow the rise by refrigerating overnight; leave at room temperature for an hour before baking.)
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the tops with a little beaten egg and bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on size, or until deep golden. Cool in the pans on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar before serving.
Makes 2-10 loaves, depending on the size of your jars or pans.