But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
It doesn’t show signs of stopping,
And I’ve bought some corn for popping,
The lights are turned way down low,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
- Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne, 1945
Will it snow this year? I find it extremely difficult to find that old holiday spirit while the rain beats against the windowpanes, as the hail clatters onto the balconies and the clouds hang low and menacing, the sky a steely gray. The lights glitter, diamonds in the shimmering black puddles, in the inky night, the branches crack and sway, the leaves spatter onto the sidewalk below as the wild wind whips the streaming rain cascading down in torrents across the square. Doors creak, we snuggle down deeper under the blankets; we love the coziness, the storms outside are romantic when one is safe inside, yet the approaching festivities call not for rain but snow! We awake to the gray, dismal morning, no sun appears at noon, and we search, alas, in vain, for that old holiday spirit.
Snow somehow adds the jolly to Christmas, the happy to Hanukkah. Slipping on the boots, buttoning up our warmest, snuggliest coats, burying our chins deep into mountains of scarf and, gloved hand in gloved hand, out we prance through the crunching white, the sun bright and cheerful and tip toe our way into town. Everything looks so sparkling clean, so lovely and festive to a backdrop of snow! The holiday songs carried to us on the wind and piped into every boutique somehow just sound merrier, the window displays more vibrant and playful, our fellow shoppers gleeful, convivial. Laden down with sacks and bags, boxes beribboned, we hurry home, noses red, cheeks rosy, giggling like children on Christmas morning, to curl up together in the corner of the sofa, hands cupped around steaming mugs to watch the snowflakes flurry in the Winter Wonderland on the other side of the icy, misty glass.
Last year furious snowstorms, tempêtes, raged across Europe; images of frenzied white splashed across our television screens for days and days on end, cars buried beneath mountains of immaculate white, families stranded on roads large and small across the continent in droves; hysteria set in as the blizzards seemed to go on forever. Europe, North America: one only had to look at the map to see just how far the fury of Mother Nature reached, every country, every city, every town. Except Nantes. It was if we were on some small, isolated island in the middle of the ocean with temperate breezes blowing gently over just our region. Around us swirled snow, snow and more snow, yet we had….nothing. Every single day all winter long I turned on the television and stared in envy and desperation, stared out the window in disappointment, begging the weather gods to bring me just a day or two of gorgeous, sparkling, glorious white flurries. And nothing. Nada. Niente. Rien.
So, this year I stare forlornly out the windows as the weather does flip flops, torrential rain gives way to a streak of milky sunshine, a flash of brilliance, then to a clatter of hail. The blue skies cloud over just as the shoes, coats and gloves are slipped on, the holiday excitement and the desire to shop flutters around us, then as quickly as it came * poof * the skies turn somber, moody, an obscure mask of grey, leaden, melancholy. This Florida girl dreams of great gusts of powdery snow, winter white that still has the power to charm. Holiday cheer is just not holiday cheer without it.
So, needless to say, we have been slow getting started on the decorating, the shopping, the meal planning. The Hanukkah and Christmas enthusiasm seems to hit us one at a time, the hearty glee overtaking our spirits like a revolving door. We hem and haw and can’t decide, one blathers on, trying to convince the others, infuse the conversation with excitement and mirth, while everyone else slides down into the cushions of the livingroom sofa and shrugs in indecision. Yet, the closer the holidays inch, as Simon’s homecoming draws nigh, as the occasional ray of light breaks through the heavy clouds illuminating our moods, the passion mounts, the holiday fervor begins to take hold, the excitement spreads little by little through the house. Like Santa’s little elves, we begin to draw up lists; like impatient children awaiting the coming of Jolly Old Saint Nick we huddle two by two behind bedroom doors, whispering frantically, getting suggestions and opinions… and I bake.
I spent a couple of days baking cookies for JP to bring to colleagues: Gingerbread Macarons, Chocolate Madeleines and Chocolate Chip Cookies, absolute piles of them. A fabulous Mile High Sponge Cake with Chocolate Whipped Topping from Abby Dodge for a review of her book The Weekend Baker on Huffington Post and a scrumptious Chocolate Meringue Pie from Nancie McDermott’s Southern Pies. And today, being once again in the mood to bake, as JP stood in the doorway, hands on hips, iron eye shifting from me to the pile of sweet baked treats piling up on the edge of the kitchen table, I decided that it was time to go savory. I pulled out my Taste of Home Baking book, which was so generously offered by Taste of Home for our From Plate to Page goodie bags, and found this Garlic Herb Bread. I knew that this would be delightful with soup for a rainy, cold winter evening meal.
And the bread was a stunner! It came together so quickly and easily – this is a wonderful bread for beginners and baking novices! And rising time was so fast I wondered if it would actually work! But the braided dough doubled in size faster than it takes to write a letter to Santa; I popped it into the hot oven and in 25 minutes I had an incredibly perfect, gorgeous braided loaf, filling the kitchen with the marvelous aroma of yeast, garlic and herbs. Slicing through the loaf revealed the perfect springy, light yet moist texture of a Challah or egg-enriched bread, a lovely pale yellow flecked with the jade of dried basil, dill and rosemary. One bite and I knew that this bread would be made over and over again, each time with a new combination of herbs or maybe chopped sun-dried tomatoes, bits of feta…or even dried fruits; the perfect loaf for either savory or sweet! Just the perfect homemade, freshly baked bread! Easy and fast, worry- and fuss-free – the ideal recipe for your holiday table!
This month’s Bread Baking Day #45 – the monthly bread baking event created by Zorra, is being hosted by wonderful Cindystar and, of course, this month is the Christmas Edition. I would love to share this wonderful Garlic Herb Bread for Bread Baking Day #45! Everyone should have one or two beautiful braided loaves on their holiday table.
I am also sending it to my lovely, talented friend Susan of Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting.
And a warm and festive Thank You to Taste of Home for the kind and generous support and sponsorship of our Plate to Page Workshop – I love both this gorgeous cookbook and my red Taste of Home apron! To all of my readers: this Baking cookbook is a must have for every home baker and makes a wonderful holiday gift!
GARLIC HERB BRAID for the holidays
From Taste of Home Baking *
Yield: 1 loaf
* my changes are in italics
4 – 4 ½ cups (approximately 560 – 630 g) all-purpose flour (I only needed a total of about 3 ½ - 490 g flour)
3 Tbs sugar
2 packages (1/4-oz each / total 14 g) active/quick-rise (or traditional) dry yeast
2 tsps dried basil (I used a rounded 1 tsp)
1 ¾ tsp dried dill weed (I used 1 tsp)
¾ tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1 ½ tsp salt
¾ tsp garlic powder
¾ cup (200 ml) lowfat (2% fat) milk
½ cup (scant 125 ml) water
4 Tbs (57 g) unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg
1 – ½ Tbs (15 – 22 g) butter, melted (I used salted butter)
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 ½ cups (210 g) of the flour, the sugar, yeast and the seasonings (the dried basil, dill and rosemary, the garlic powder and the salt). Place the milk, water and cubes of butter in a small saucepan and heat gently to about 120° - 130°F (50° - 54°C) (I didn’t use a thermometer, just heated until the butter was just melted and the liquid was just hotter than body temperature – I could feel a comfortable heat on the back of my hand). Add the very warm liquid – not hot – to the dry ingredients in the large mixing bowl and stir or beat just until moistened and smooth. Beat in the egg (I used a wooden spoon for all the blending and beating) until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 4 – 6 minutes, adding more flour little by little if the dough is sticky. Form the dough into a ball, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
Lightly grease a large baking sheet – or line with parchment or oven paper. Evenly divide the dough into thirds. Shape each piece into a long rope – 15 – 18 inches (38 – 45.5 cm) long and places the ropes on the prepared baking sheet. Braid (rather tightly). Pinch the ends of the dough to seal and tuck them underneath the loaf. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap and then the clean kitchen towel and let rise until doubled, 25 – 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to to 375°F (190°C). Remove the kitchen towel and the plastic wrap and bake the loaf in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes until risen and the loaf is a deep golden brown. Melt the butter over low heat. Remove the braided loaf from the oven and quickly but thoroughly brush all over the top and sides with the melted butter. I allowed the bread to cool and brushed the loaf with melted butter a second time as well. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.