Whenever I think of Christmas Eve, I don’t think of a jolly old man with reindeer. I think of a jolly old woman with a bear…
When I was little, my family lived in a trailer park next to a sweet, elderly lady named Janie who, despite her age, had a youthful spirit and a quick laugh.
She also had a fabulous doll collection.
One night, after Momma went to sleep, I decided to sneak out of the house and go visit Janie in the hopes that she would let me play with the dolls. Halfway across the yard, however, the porch light suddenly flipped on and my plan was foiled.
I don’t know when the tradition started, but every Christmas Eve, Momma would bring Janie a loaf of coriander-spiced bread baked in the shape of a bear. It was such a small, simple offering, but it thrilled Janie so much to receive that bear. She would squeal with delight and then invite us in where she would give each of us girls a very special gift: a doll from her collection. One year I received a Spanish Barbie, the next a Marie Osmond Barbie and another a homely-looking baby doll. I’m sad to say that I was not very pleased to receive it and, shamefully, I threw a fit. But since Janie was sweeter than I’ll ever be, she let me keep the doll. After all these years, it’s the only one of her dolls I saved, and it is very special to me.
Sadly, Janie passed away when I was in high school, and ever since then, Christmas Eve has felt a little empty without that bread bear delivery to our dear friend. Earlier this week, it dawned on me that the tradition need not die, and so after deciding on a recipient, I rolled up my sleeves, and baked my own bear.
This recipe for coriander bread (I’ve made a few tweaks) was discovered many years ago by my Grandfather who typed it up on what is now a grease-stained sheet of paper. Whether fresh from the oven or grilled up with butter, I hope you enjoy this bread as much as our family does. Your house will smell heavenly as it bakes, and its nutty, slightly-sweet rich flavor will warm you to your toes.
African Coriander Bread
In a small saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 stick of unsalted butter and 1/2 cup honey until the butter is melted.
Allow mixture to cool until it is lukewarm. (If it is too hot, the mixture will scramble the eggs–see below.)
Meanwhile, assemble the rest of the ingredients.
There are so many wonderful spices in this bread!
In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of flour (bread or all-purpose), 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves and 1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander.
The original recipe calls for milk, not water, to be added to the honey mixture, but I decided to experiment with powdered buttermilk this time.
Cook’s Tip: When using powdered buttermilk, mix it into the dry ingredients and substitute water for the required amount of milk. Use 4 tablespoons powdered buttermilk and 1 cup water for every 1 cup of buttermilk.
Stir dry ingredients until well combined and set aside.
In a large, bowl, beat two eggs a few times until smooth.
In a separate bowl or cup, combine 1/2 cup warm water, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 2 (scant) tablespoons of yeast and allow to set until double in size:
Add the yeast mixture and the honey mixture to the eggs and stir until well combined.
Stir in flour mixture and beat until smooth.
Continue adding more flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl as you mix. (About 3-4 more cups)
Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons kosher salt.
I knead the salt in last because…well, because I read it in a book once and thought, hey, why not? Since salt inhibits yeast, maybe adding the salt last will make the end result more light and airy.
At least…it seems like my bread has turned out lighter and fluffier with this trick. But then again, who knows?
The stuff we do for [possibly] better food.
Knead dough until the surface springs back when poked.
Allow dough to rest on the counter while you wash out the bowl, dry it and add a tablespoon of oil to the bottom.
Roll dough in oil and cover bowl with a lightly damp towel.
Place in a quiet place to rise (I let it rise in my oven–without turning the oven on, I must say) until double in size, about an hour and a half.
When dough has risen, gently press out the air.
Allow the dough to rest a few minutes before cutting it in half. Cut one half into seven equal pieces and the other half into two pieces with one half being larger than the other.
Form dough into balls and position into the shape of a bear, setting the last ball on top of the face for the nose.
Allow bear to rise for an hour.
Gently press in raisins for eyes and nose. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour or until deep golden brown. If the appendages start turning brown too quickly, place a sheet of foil over the bear and remove it during the last 7-10 minutes of baking. Place bear on a cooling rack and butter surface while still warm.
Makes one bear or two loaves
*7 cups bread flour (you can use all-purpose)
*1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
*1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
*1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
*1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
*1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
*6 Tablespoons powdered buttermilk
*2 eggs, beaten
*2 cups water, divided
*1/2 cup honey
*1 stick unsalted butter
*2 scant Tablespoons active-dry yeast
*1/2 teaspoon sugar
*2 teaspoons kosher salt
In a large bowl, mix 3 cups of flour with the spices, orange zest and powdered milk. Set aside.
In a saucepan, add 1 1/2 cups water with honey and butter. Heat over medium heat until butter is just melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm.
Meanwhile, in a measuring cup, soften the yeast by adding the yeast and sugar to 1/2 cup warm water. Allow to double in size.
Combine yeast mixture, cooled honey mixture and the eggs in a large bowl and mix well.
Stir in flour mixture and beat until smooth. Continue adding 3-4 cups of flour as you mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Dump dough onto floured surface, sprinkle with salt and knead for about 10 minutes or until dough springs back when pressed with a finger. Wash and dry bowl, add a tablespoon of oil and coat dough in oil. Cover bowl with a slightly damp towel and set in a quiet place until doubled in size, 1-1 1/2 hours.
Gently press air out of dough and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Cut dough in half and form into loaves and allow to raise one hour before baking in a 350 degree preheated oven until deep golden, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Or, form dough into a bear as described above, rise and bake. If the bear’s appendages start to brown faster than the rest, cover the bear with a sheet of foil and continue baking. Remove foil the last 7-10 minutes of baking.