Robin Sloane’s novel – Sourdough – inspired me to think about favorite bread recipes. The fragrance of the baking bread is second only to the pleasure of beating the dough into submission.
Since I have no friendly neighborhood chefs who can give me a starter for sourdough, I am giving you my recipe for Christmas morning yeast rolls. I usually make them the night before while “the children are nestled all snug in their beds,” form the dough rolls into a Christmas tree, and refrigerate overnight. I pull out the pan to come to room temperature on Christmas morning while the coffee is brewing and wrapping paper is flying off presents.
Christmas Tree Buns
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1 cup sugar
6 to 8 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mace
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks, plus extra for garnish
2 cups whole or 2% milk, warmed
1 cup chopped blanched almonds, plus extra to garnish
1 cup currants, plumped in warm water and drained well
Mix the yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and half cup warm milk. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to bubble. Add the the eggs, egg yolks, remaining sugar, and milk to the yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly.
In a separate bowl, work the flour together with the softened butter. Stir in the salt and mace.
Mix in the flour-butter mixture with the egg mixture. Add the almonds and raisins. The dough will be smooth but still a little sticky.
Knead by hand for 7 to 8 minutes — just until the dough is smooth. Clean out the bowl, lightly oil it, then transfer the dough back into the bowl to rise. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper. Roll the dough into balls, arranging them, touching, in the form of a tree, starting with one ball at the top, two below, three below, and on. Finish bottom with one ball as the trunk.
Lightly oil the tops and cover loosely with parchment or waxed paper, then plastic wrap, and finally a towel. Let rise for an hour. Then, place in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, take the dough out, uncover, bring to room temperature and let sit for about twenty minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Just before baking, brush the loaf with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle chopped almonds on top.
Bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes; serve warm.