My mother was a wonderful baker. Every Christmas holiday, the aroma of fresh baked bread filled the air as she made gifts for the “front-line workers” in our lives. When I was young, the “front-line workers” included the rural postal carrier, Mr. Heatwole, who delivered mail in his own car, the school bus driver and various teachers in our schools. As a young child, I always wondered why our mother would want to give a gift to the postal man. However, Mr. Heatwole was an important service employee; he daily drove his Rural Route #1 for 30 years. I was fascinated that he drove while sitting in the middle of his front seat so that he could pass the mail to the boxes on the passenger side of his car. (I always wanted to try that.) Mr. Heatwole smiled which he got the loaf of bread. I guess it is those “Gifts from the Heart” that make things worth it. The “front-line workers” have changed over the years, but the idea of showing appreciation for their unpublicized work is still the same. So, let’s make “Christmas Wreath Bread.”
When I was a kid, “Christmas Wreath Bread” was also known as a “Swedish Tea Ring.” The yeast bread is a wonderful sweet and rich dough and it is filled with cinnamon sugar. It is shaped in a circle (or ring) like a wreath and cut along the circle to expose the cinnamon sugar filling. After baking, the bread is iced with confectioner’s sugar (don’t skip the icing) and decorated. It is a nostalgic recipe which was popular in the 1940s thru 1970s and is found in vintage magazines and cookbooks. So I went to my mother’s very worn copy of “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book”, 1950 first edition, for the recipe.
In additional to the “front-line” workers, our mother often made this bread on Christmas morning for brunch. There is nothing more appetizing than the aroma of fresh baked bread and this holiday be an extra special one and wolderful aromas perked in the kitchen. I’m glad that I continued the skill of baking bread. It does take some practice to make bread–kneading the dough and keeping things at the proper temperature– but it is worth the effort.
Making the bread
This bread is uses the same recipe as cinnamon rolls. It is a soft, sweet and rich dough similar to challah and broiche. It is a versatile recipe.
To make the bread, first the dissolve the yeast in warm water (110 to 115 degrees) and let it percolate. This is a critical step. If the water is too hot, the yeast dies, if the water is too cold the yeast doesn’t wake up. You should be able to just dip one of your fingers in the milk and it should feel nice and hot — but not so hot that it might burn your finger.
Next, In a large glass bowl, mix warm milk, sugar, beaten eggs, melted cooled margarine and salt. Then add the yeast mixture. Mix in flour in two additions. First, stir in just enough flour so that the dough pulls away from the edges of the bowl.
Then transfer to a pastry board and knead by hand. The dough may be a little sticky, but don’t add too much flour.
Transfer the dough to a bowl. Oil and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rise in a warm place until double in size — this may take one to two hours.
Punch down and roll into a long rectangle. Brush on margarine and cinnamon sugar.
Roll up and bring the ends together for form a circle — pinching the edges together.
Use a kitchen fork to make cuts at one inch intervals through the dough, but don’t cut completely through the circle. Spread out the cut edges so the cinnamon sugar filling shows.
Bake in a hot oven until the top is browned. Cool slightly. Make a glaze out of confectioner’s sugar, almond extract and milk (or water). Drizzle on the icing and decorate with maraschino cherries, raisins and almond slivers. Work quickly as the glaze dries quickly and the decorations won’t stick on.
Delicious bread! Share with your family and also “front-line workers.” Gratitude is appreciated!
Christmas Wreath Bread
Ingredients for bread:
- 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees)
- 2 pkg dry yeast
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup margarine, melted
- 3-1/2 to 4 cups flour
Ingredients for filling:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tsp cinnamon
Ingredients for icing and decoration:
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 to 2 Tbsp milk, water or cream
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1 Tbsp almond slivers
- 2 to 4 Tbsp raisins
- red maraschino cherries
Method and Steps:
- Add yeast to warm water (110 degrees). Let set, without stirring, for 5 minutes.
- Add yeast mixture to large bowl along with milk, sugar and salt. Stir.
- Add beaten eggs and melted margarine. Stir.
- Add the flour in two additions. Mix with spoon first, then by hand. When the flour begins to leave the sides of the bowl, turn onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and shiny. Try to use as little flour as possible.
- Transfer to oiled bowl. Cover with damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 1 to 1-1/2 hour.
- Punch down and transfer back to floured board.
- Roll dough into a 9″ x 18″ rectangle.
- Spread with two Tbsp softened margarine.
- Mix together the sugar and cinnamon.sprinkle over margarine.
- Sprinkle on raisins.
- Roll up tightly, beginning at wide side.
- Transfer to lightly oiled baking sheet.; cut side down.
- Bring ends of together to make a ring and seal edges.
- Using kitchen scissors, cut 3/4 the way through, at 1″ intervals. Turn each section on its side.
- Cover and let rise again, until double in size (35 – 40 minutes).
- Bake in 375 degree oven until golden brown and baked through, about 25 to 30 minutes.
- Let cool to room temperature.
- Make icing: Mix together confectioners’ sugar and 1 to 2 Tbsp milk or water to make a thick, yet pourable icing. Drizzle on icing and decorate with almond slivers red maraschino cherries (work quickly before the glaze dries.)