My Mom’s recipe intro from her Celebration Breads cookbook
On December 6, the feast of Saint Nicholas, school children in Glarnerland parade through the village, ringing and jingling bells of all sizes – sometimes in rhythmic unison and sometimes in wild abandon. The bells signal to the villagers that a gift is expected from each household along the way. The gifts are usually some good things to eat or drink – fruit, candy, sweet breads and cakes.
Santa Claus plays only a small part during Christmas in Switzerland. The Christkind or Le petit Jésus (Christ child), a beautiful, radiant, angle-like being with wings, dressed in white with a shining crown and a magic wand, is the main focus of the celebration. Children are told that the Christ Child brings their tree and gifts on Christmas Eve.
Usually the parents and grandparents decorate the family tree on Christmas Eve. At the foot of the decorated tree, a crèche is often placed with figures representing the baby Jesus, his parents, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels, sheep, cows, donkeys, and the three Magi or Wise Men. After dinner on Christmas Eve, the whole family, usually several generations, gathers around the tree. They sing songs, read the story of Christmas, and then attend a festive midnight mass.
Birnenbrot is eaten throughout the holiday season and is often given as gifts to friends and family. Traditionally kirsch (cherry liqueur) is used with the fruit, but you can use orange juice as a substitute with a teaspoon of rum extract added.
Birnenbrot-style Apple Raisin Rum Bread
Birnenbrot means 'pear bread' - and I didn't have any pears. So, I used apples. Which means it isn't pear bread, it's apple bread. Instead of calling it Apfelbrot, I have erred on the side of listing several ingredients.
For the filling:
- 2 cups finely chopped dried pears (apples)
- 1 cup finely chopped prunes (dried cranberries)
- 1 cup golden raisins (regular raisins)
- ½ cup fresh orange juice *
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ¾ cup water
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup finely chopped walnuts
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ cup kirschwasser or light rum
For the dough:
- 1 scant tablespoon (or 1¼-ounce package) active dry yeast
- ¼ cup warm water about 110° F
- 1 cup milk about 110° F
- ¼ cup unsalted butter softened
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 4 to 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
For the topping:
- Soft butter optional
Prepare the fruit:
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine pears, prunes, raisins, juice, water, and brown sugar. Cook, stirring often, until mixture is very thick, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add walnuts, cinnamon, and kirsch and stir to combine. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast into water to soften. Heat milk to 110° F. and add to yeast along with butter, zest, salt, granulated sugar, and 2 cups flour. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add remaining flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.
In the mixer’s bowl, sprinkle yeast into water to soften. Heat milk to 110° F. and add to yeast along with butter, zest, salt, granulated sugar, and 2 cups flour. Using the mixer’s paddle, beat mixture on medium-low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add remaining flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Change to the dough hook. Continue to add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to clean the bowl. Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.
By Food Processor:
In a cup or small bowl, sprinkle yeast into water to soften. Heat milk to 100° F. and add to yeast along with butter. In the bowl of the food processor fitted with the dough blade, combine zest, salt, granulated sugar, and 4 cups flour. Pulse 4 to 5 times to combine. With the food processor running, add the liquid ingredients as fast as the dry ingredients will accept them. If you hear a sputtering sound, pour the liquid slower. As soon as all liquid is added, turn the processor off. Pulse until the dough forms a ball then knead exactly 60 seconds.
By Bread Machine:
Put the water, milk, and butter into the bread pan. Add zest, salt, granulated sugar, and 4 cups flour to the bread pan then sprinkle with yeast. Select the “Dough” cycle and press “Start.” The machine stops after the kneading cycle. You may let the dough rise in the bread machine or a bowl.
Put dough into an oiled bowl. Turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about one hour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and divide in half. Roll each half into an 8 by 12 inch rectangle. Spread cooled fruit evenly over the dough leaving ½ inch free of fruit along one 8-inch side. Roll dough into an 8-inch cylinder and place each loaf in a well-greased 8 ½ by 4 ½-inch loaf pan. Cylinders can be placed on a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet.
Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise for one hour.
About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375° F.
Baking and Cooling:
Bake for 35 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190° F. Immediately remove bread from pans and place on a rack to cool. For a soft, shiny crust, rub the tops of each loaf with butter.
This bread freezes nicely for up to six months and can easily be reheated after thawing in a 375° oven by placing the loaf on a baking sheet for 7 to 10 minutes.