Lisa contacted me about Christmas Tree Bread last week after she read a Note at 9rules. In the Note, I said it’s just not Christmas without Christmas music from the Andy Williams Christmas Deluxe album that my natural father brought home from Japan around 1968, or the Christmas Tree Bread that my mom’s been baking for 40 years. I’ll bet Lisa thought I forgot about her or I made the whole thing up or something, but no. Yes, Lisa, there really is a Christmas Tree Bread recipe!
The recipe is from Sunset Magazine, and it’s really the biggest reason that I have a KitchenAid mixer. It’s a huge recipe, calling for about nine cups of flour, and it’s just difficult to do in a regular size mixer. Usually, I make the bread dough around the 23rd of December, so that I can shape it and bake it on Christmas Eve and it’s ready to eat on Christmas morning. Nobody gets one tiny bite until Christmas morning, but around the 27th, when we’ve plowed through all three loaves from the first batch, I usually make more so that we can continue to enjoy it for breakfast (and sometimes lunch) until New Year’s Eve at least. In the past, ITMan and the kids have asked me to make it for other holidays but I’ve refused, wanting to keep this a special Christmas-only thing.
I thought about making a batch early this year, so I could take pictures and all, but then I’d have to decide whether to let everybody dig in or freeze it until Christmas. In the end I decided not to tear holes in tradition around here, because if I do it once, they expect me to do it again, and I like tradition just the way it is! Recipe follows!
Christmas Tree Bread (Sunset Magazine)
1/2 c warm water
1/2 tsp Saffron
2 pkgs. or 2 tbsp yeast
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 2/3 c evaporated milk (1 large can)
1 1/2 c sugar
1 c melted, cooled butter
1 tsp salt
9 c flour, approx.
Whole candied cherries (optional)
Add saffron to warm water, let steep. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water (add a pinch of sugar to proof yeast). Add eggs, evaporated milk, saffron, salt and sugar. Beat with mixer or whip until saffron is diffused. Gradually add 4 1/2 cups flour, beating until dough is smooth and elastic. Stir in butter until blended. Add 4 cups more flour, or enough to make a stiff dough. Sprinkle 1/2 c flour on board turn dough out, cover with bowl, and let rest 15 minutes. Knead until smooth and elastic; add more flour sparingly if needed. Put dough into greased bowl, turn to grease top, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or longer. Divide into 3 equal portions. Makes 3 loaves.
For each tree, roll strands of dough approximately 3/4″ in diameter; shape tree on greased cookie sheet, cover and let rise approximately 25 minutes in a warm place. Decorate with dried cherries and brush with beaten egg if desired. Bake at 400° 25 to 30 minutes. *
Branch tree: divide dough for one tree into 16 equal pieces; roll each piece into a 12″ strand. Cut two 5″ pieces from first strand to form top pair of branches; curl one end of each and bring cut ends together at center to form top of tree. Save excess dough. Arrange succeeding pairs of branches so each curled end extends 1/2″ beyond last curl and just touches it. Make 8 or 9 pairs. Roll 8″ long strand of dough to vit below last row of branches – leave ends uncurled. Roll saved dough into three thin strands about 20″ long; braid for trunk.
Spiral tree: divide dough into 22 parts. Roll each piece into a 6″ strand. Turn 21 strands into snail coils; arrange coils into pyramid, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Curl remaining strand into “S” shape for trunk. **
Scroll tree: roll pieces of douch into 1 each: 6″, 8″, 10,” 12″, 14″, and 16″ lengths, reserving trimmings. Curl both ends of each strand. Shape 6″ strand into tree top with ends just slightly curled. Place next longest strand beneath first so that curled ends just touch first and extend approximately 3/4″ beyond. Repeat with each succeeding strand until all are used. With reserved dough and trimmings, make “S” shaped trunk and place at base of tree. Also curl “snails” and center between branches.
*Big note here: I bake at 375° for 18 minutes otherwise it’s overdone! I have no idea why it’s so different from the recipe, but there it is. Sub note after Mom’s comments (below): Mom bakes hers at 350° for 15 minutes!
**Another big note: The Spiral Tree is the only shape I ever make. I don’t have pics of any of the shapes, and the article that might have had pics is long gone. Maybe I can get my mom to send digitals this year so I know what I’m trying to do with the other shapes! Once I make my batch, I’ll at least update this post with a picture of the Spiral Tree.