In Moroccan culture, the word for "bread" is the same as the word for "life." This seems very fitting, because, as History.com's Sarah Lohman notes in an article about the history of bread, bread has been sustaining us and making civilization possible for nearly 30,000 years. From daily sustenance to intricate celebrations, bread is often the meal centerpiece for cultures across the world. Furthermore, recipes for these special holiday breads are often steeped in rich history.
Many have heard of eating soda bread on St. Patrick's Day but might not actually know where it comes from. According to Stella Parks from Serious Eats, soda bread originated in Ireland during the potato famine in the 1840s. With their staple crop wiped out, they had to figure out a hearty but dirt-cheap alternative. Though the Irish had previously been indifferent to bread, it turned out to be the solution during these tough times. Many of Irish descent enjoy this simple fare even in times of abundance to remember their ancestors on special occasions. Below is Parks' recipe:
*Irish Soda Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
18 ounces low-fat cultured buttermilk, well-shaken
Directions: Heat oven to 450 F. Roughly cover the bottom of a deep 10-inch cast-iron or enameled Dutch oven with a sheet of parchment paper; no need to trim. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and whisk a full minute to combine. Stir in buttermilk until dough is fully moistened and no pockets remain. For extra-fluffy results, stop folding as soon as dough comes together. For extra-chewy results, fold dough about 20 seconds more. Scrape dough into prepared Dutch oven. Score deeply into quarters with a sharp knife or razor, cleaning the blade between each slice.
Cover and bake on the middle rack for about 45 minutes, until well-risen and golden. Remove lid, and continue baking until chestnut brown (about 12 to 15 minutes longer). Invert onto a wire rack, discard parchment, and cool, upright, for 30 minutes. Cut thick slices to accompany hearty soups and stews, or slice thinly for sandwiches.
Compared with soda bread's humble origins, the standard fruitcake might seem excessive. While many cultures have each developed their own versions of this holiday classic, traditional German stollen might be the cure to the fruitcake fear most family members experience near Christmastime. The King Arthur Flour online recipe database offers stollen as a light, fresh and airy alternative to the dense and overpowering brandy-soaked fruitcakes on store shelves. The first record of stollen's appearance was in 1474 at a Christmas market in Dresden. Bite into history with King Arthur's recipe below:
3 cups fruitcake fruit blend
1/3 cup orange juice or rum
1 tablespoon instant yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1 large egg
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup Baker's Special Dry Milk
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
3/4 cup marzipan
2 tablespoons melted butter
Combine the fruits and orange juice or rum. Cover, and set aside at room temperature for up to 12 hours.
To prepare the dough: Using a stand mixer, mix and knead together all of the dough ingredients (except the almonds) to make a smooth, soft dough. Cover the dough and let it rise until puffy, about 60 to 90 minutes.
To make the filling: Divide the marzipan into three pieces and shape each into a flattened 7-inch log.
To assemble the stollen: Knead the fruit and almonds into the dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface. Divide it into three pieces, and shape each piece into an 8-by-6-inch oval. Place one piece of marzipan down the longer center of each oval, and fold dough over it lengthwise, leaving the top edge of the dough just shy of the bottom edge. Press the top edge firmly to seal it to the dough below. Place the loaves onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover them, and let them rise for 45 to 60 minutes, until puffy.
While the stollen are rising, heat the oven to 350 F, with a rack in the upper third. Bake the stollen for 30 to 35 minutes, until it's golden brown and its internal temperature reads 190 F on a digital thermometer. Remove the stollen from the oven, and brush them with melted butter. After 5 minutes, dust with confectioners' sugar. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Wrap airtight and store at room temperature for up to two weeks. Freeze for longer storage.
All over the world, holiday breads bring families and friends together. Whether you're interested in a simple favorite or a complex sampling from history, enjoy knowing that you're sharing your holiday bread making with bakers across the globe.