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SWEET OR SAVORY

Christmas Stollen or Braided Onion-Cheese Loaves

Several years ago, I came up with a magazine food feature for roughly the Memorial Day timeframe, where the menu would work one way if the weather was good for barbecuing, or adapted if it rained and the meal was prepared indoors. When brainstorming features for this magazine, it seemed a fun idea to use a similar approach and look at the same basic food category in a sweet and then a savory application. We've had lots of ideas and loads of fun developing this feature, and we will continue to bring you new ideas and recipes each issue.

During the hectic holiday season, when there's always so much (too much?) to do, it is especially important to use whatever advantages available to stretch time and, of course, be as creative as possible. To this end, we've developed a recipe for a rich, yeast dough that will fill the bill as Christmas Stollen, a traditional fruit-and-nut laden sweet bread. It can be served as a not-too-sweet offering on a holiday dessert table, but itit is most often served on Christmas morning, warmed and spread with unsalted butter.

In its savory form, the loaf the loaf becomes a perfect accompaniment to grace any holiday buffet or dinner table. If invited to a holiday celebration either one of the breads would be a welcome hostess gift.

Sweet

Christmas Stollen

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

Dough:
1 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 cup each diced (1/4 inch) red and green candied cherries*
1/2 cup diced (1/4 inch) candied orange peel
1/2 cup dark or golden raisins
1 1/2 cups brandy or orange juice
6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 eggs
1/4 cup grated lemon peel
1 small egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Glaze:
1 cup sifted confectioner's sugar
4 to 6 teaspoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

1. For the dough, in a medium bowl, toss almonds, cherries, orange peel and raisins with brandy and let stand, stirring occasionally.

2. Meanwhile, in large electric mixer bowl, lightly stir 2 1/2 cups of the flour, the sugar, yeast, salt and cardamom. In a 4-cup glass measuring cup, heat water, milk and 4 tablespoons butter in microwave to a temperature of 120 to 130° F. (60-90 seconds on High).

3. Fit mixer with dough hook. Gradually add heated milk mixture to flour mixture while beating at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup flour, the eggs and lemon peel, and continue to beat at medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with a spatula as needed.

4. Stir in enough flour of the remaining flour (about 3 cups) to make a soft dough, then knead dough at low speed 3 minutes.Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand 2 minutes until smooth and elastic. Place dough into a large, greased bowl, turning dough over to grease top. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

5. Drain fruit and nut mixture. If desired, reserve any remaining liquid for another use. Spread fruit and nut mixture onto a double layer of paper toweling and pat dry. Place mixture in a medium bowl and lightly toss with 1/3 cup flour.

6. Punch down dough and on a lightly floured surface, knead in floured fruit and nut mixture. Divide dough in half. Using a floured rolling pin, roll each half into a 10-inch x 7-inch rectangle; place each on a greased baking sheet. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Brush one rectangle with some of the melted butter. Gently fold one long side of dough over top of rectangle to within 3/4-inch of edge, press lightly to seal; press sides and ends to form a slightly oval-shaped loaf. Repeat procedure with rolled dough on second baking sheet.

7. Cover shaped loaves with kitchen towels and let rise in warm, draft-free place 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350° F. Brush each loaf with egg yolk mixture and, if desired, sprinkle with additional whole or chopped red and/or green cherries.

8. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped on bottom. Remove to wire racks to cool.

9. For glaze, in a small bowl combine confectioner's sugar, vanilla and enough milk to make a smooth mixture. Drizzle over cooled loaves.

10. To serve, thinly slice stollen, using a serrated knife.

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Red and green candied cherries are traditional in this recipe and certainly give a holiday look, but an equal amount of your favorite candied or dried fruit will work as well.

Tossing the fruit and nut mixture with flour will help distribute the mixture evenly through the dough.

Cardamom is a spice that is used in much of traditional German baking. It has a somewhat floral flavor that may be unfamiliar to many. If desired, substitute 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground mace for the cardamom.

You can make the stollen as much as 1 week ahead of serving: Wrap well and freeze to preserve freshness. About 1 hour before serving, remove from freezer, thaw at room temperature.

Savory

Braided Onion-Cheese Loaves

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

1 small onion, chopped fine
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 small egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Directions

1. In a small sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter; add onion and sauté until softened but not browned; set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, in large electric mixer bowl, lightly stir 2 1/2 cups of the flour, the sugar, yeast and salt. In a 4-cup glass measuring cup, heat water, milk and 4 tablespoons of the butter in microwave to a temperature of 120 to 130° F. (60-90 seconds on High).

3. Fit mixer with dough hook. Gradually add heated milk mixture to flour mixture while beating at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup flour and the eggs and continue to beat at medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with a spatula as needed.

4. Stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 3 cups) to make a soft dough, then add onions, Parmesan and Italian seasoning. Knead dough at low speed 3 minutes. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand about 2 minutes until smooth and elastic. Place dough in a large, greased bowl, turning dough in bowl to grease top. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes.

5. Punch down dough and divide into 8 equal parts. On a lightly floured surface, roll each into a 14-inch rope. For each loaf, lay 4 ropes side by side on a greased baking sheet and pinch together or form a knot at top. To braid, pass the left-most strand to the right, under the two strands next to it, then back to the left over the one strand closest to it. Pass the right-most strand to the left, under the two strands next to it, then back to the right over the one strand closest to it. Repeat, alternating sides until 2-inches from end. Pinch ends of ropes together or shape into a knot.

6. Cover shaped loaves with kitchen towels and let rise in warm, draft-free place 30 minutes or until doubled. Preheat oven 350° F. Brush each loaf with egg yolk mixture.

7. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped on bottom. Remove to wire racks to cool.

If the idea of braiding a bread freaks you out, don't worry: The dough is very forgiving, and even if not perfectly braided, the baked bread will look fine—and taste great! If you prefer, use the traditional fold over method as described in the Christmas Stollen recipe.

You can make this bread as much as 1 week ahead of serving: Wrap well and freeze to preserve freshness. About 1 hour before serving, remove from freezer, thaw at room temperature, andif desired, wrap in foil and heat in a 325° F. oven until warmed.

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