Artisan Bread: Russian Braid

Russian BraidWhat’s the legacy you want to leave behind? How do you want your children to see you? (I know… this is really deep for a Monday.) I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, buy with Christmas approaching and the dreaded New Year’s resolutions following closely behind.

My favorite part of Christmas is the time I get to spend with my mom, making batch after batch of my grandmother’s famous sugar cookies. Mom does the rolling and cutting and I am in charge of decorating and taste-testing each batch of dough (you know that’s the most crucial part of making cookies). Each cookie is adorned with beautiful sparkling sugar and cinnamon candies. Some are Christmas trees, some are stars, some are reindeer.  Each tray is baked for precisely 11 minutes to ensure a soft, golden cookie every time. They’re perfect. That moment is perfect.

My mom and I have made these cookies ever since I could stand on my own two feet. It is a sacred tradition that I will pass down to my children someday. This is something I will always remember my mother by.

So, what will be my legacy (or legacies)? What will be yours?

One thing that I will share with my future family is making a Russian Braid on Christmas morning. (You didn’t really think I was going to give away my grandmother’s top-secret sugar cookie recipe, did you?)  It is so much fun, incredibly simple and something the kids can take part in. It is utterly perfect…

 

Artisan Bread: Russian Braid

Sweet dough:

1 cup milk, heated to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit

½ cup sugar

1 ½ Tablespoons yeast

½ cup room temperature butter

2 eggs

1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated

½ teaspoon salt

4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Filling:

Cinnamon or cocoa powder

Sugar

¼ cup heavy cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm (NOT HOT) milk, and then add the sugar. Add butter, eggs, lemon zest and salt; mix with paddle attachment until combined. Add the flour and mix at medium speed until a soft dough forms.

Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough in mixing bowl until the dough is soft and supple. Briefly knead by hand to create a ball and transfer to a sprayed bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.

Punch dough down by pulling it sideways and folding into thirds, and then turning and repeating once more. Refrigerate the dough at least one hour or overnight.

Prepare two loaf pans by spraying with non-stick cooking spray and lining the bottom with parchment paper, leaving overhang on each end.

Combine the cinnamon and sugar for the filling. Divide the dough in half and lightly dust your work surface. Roll one half of the dough into roughly a 12” by 17” rectangle. Brush with cream and heavily dust with cinnamon (or cocoa) mixture. Roll the rectangle long-ways into a log and pinch the seam closed. Loosely wrap the log in plastic wrap and place on cookie sheet in the freezer for 15-20minutes (easier for cutting). Repeat this process with the second half of the dough.

Cut each log in half lengthwise, exposing the interior layers. Take the two ends and form a loose twist, making sure not to twist too tightly. Your twist will be longer than your loaf pan, so don’t worry! Fit each twist into a loaf pan, cut side up, and let rise until doubled in size. (The more scrunched the twist is, the more interesting the loaf looks like.)

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until browned, about 45 minutes. Remove from pan immediately.

The Pot (and pan) Party

Pots and pansMy brother-in-law Dan is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. Now, pilule people can be sweet, here they can be agreeable, they can even be nice. But not too many people are kind. Dan is one of those select few.

I met Dan on my first trip to Boston to visit my then-boyfriend-now-husband, Rick. It was pouring down rain and incredibly humid when I met Rick at the airport in Boston. My naturally curly hair that I had straightened that morning began to frizz, curl and resemble Diana Ross. I was a hot mess and so nervous to meet a member of Rick’s family. A bus ride, countless subway stops and a near-mile walk later, we finally reached Dan and Rick’s apartment. When we walked through the door, Dan welcomed me with open arms (literally – that boy knows how to hug you like he means it) and put me at ease right away.

I came back a month and a half later, and what was supposed to be a five-day Boston adventure turned into me staying for an entire month. And again, Dan was kind and generous and let his brother’s girlfriend (along with his own girlfriend and his other roommate’s girlfriend – it was like sleep-away camp!) cramp his style.

During that month, I learned a lot about my new friends and roommates. My brother-in-law worked early hours and long days, so I never really got to see him in the mornings. But I did hear him in those wee morning hours during his breakfast-making extravaganza. This is what his roommates called The Pot Party.

Dan made himself a “gourmet” breakfast every single morning and would use 4-5 pots and/or pans to do so. No one could figure out why he needed so many pans for sausage, eggs and cheese on a biscuit. (But if you’d ask me, I would say that’s a sign of a creative genius.) We’d hear him banging around in the kitchen at 4:45 a.m. (in his defense, the walls were paper thin) and we’d all smell delicious food that would rouse us from our slumber. Some would find this a little less than fabulous, being in the middle of a dream and being awakened hours before your alarm goes off. But I rather liked it. It made me happy to know that he found joy in cooking, in the little things.

But that is just like Dan – to see the beauty in everything and everyone, to make the most of this life in the short time we’re here, to not waste a minute on cereal or cardboard-boxed pastries, but to indulge in a gourmet breakfast and a quiet moment for himself.

This morning, as I reminisce about all the good times we had when we lived in Boston, I’m reminded of living in that tiny apartment with five other people, being awakened by the sounds and smells of an early morning breakfast. Dan, this one’s for you. Welcome to The Pot Party.

 

Honey-Rosemary BiscuitsHoney-Rosemary Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed

¾ cup whole milk

3 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a food processor (you could also make these by hand, without the food processor), combine the flour, baking powder, salt and rosemary. Pulse to blend. Add the cold cubed butter, pulsing until the mixture looks like small peas.

In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and honey. (I used tupelo honey for this recipe because of its dark and more robust flavor, but you can use any honey you have on hand.) It helps if the milk is almost room temperature because the honey will blend much more easily. Pour this mixture into the food processor and pulse just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Spoon out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a couple of times. Then roll the dough out to about ½ inch thick and use a glass or round pastry cutter to cut out the biscuits.

Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until the tops are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Serve biscuits with breakfast sausage patties, scrambled eggs and melted cheese for a real treat (and in honor of my beloved brother-in-law).