Cardamom Bread

When we begin settling-in for winter and preparing for the busy holiday season, I think back fondly of my late mother-in-law, Helen Robertson.
Helen introduced me to the cardamom spice and to making cardamom bread when I was in my early twenties. She is greatly missed, but every year at this time her spirit meets me in the kitchen to bake this aromatic bread with its sweet, flowery flavor.

I’d like to share my step-by-step instructions on how to make cardamom bread, which would basically apply to making any type of yeast bread. For me, making bread becomes easier when I liken the process to being pregnant or to caring for a baby – it requires time and patience with a few rules to follow.
The first rule-of-thumb is DON’T PANIC – it’s just yeast! Next, remember to under-do rather than over-do when making yeast breads. Use flour on the shy side. Liquid ingredients need to be at 110° or less when added to the yeast. Finally, remember that you can’t hurry a good thing. It takes time and patience in making bread just as it does when caring for babies. Relax and ring in the season with the joyous accomplishment of making cardamom bread from scratch.

Helen’s Christmas Cardamom Bread

2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
2/3 cup milk
1 package dry yeast (.25 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg, well-beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted, brush on bread before baking
2 tablespoons butter, melted, brush on bread after baking

1) Sift the flour, salt and ground cardamom together; set aside.
2) Heat the milk to 110° to 115° or slightly below (use a candy thermometer to check the temperature), if it gets too hot let it cool until the temperature drops. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, the milk would be heated to baby bottle or food temperature.
3) Pour milk into a large mixing bowl if you intend to knead the dough by hand or into a heavy-duty electric mixer bowl with dough hoops (a small electric hand mixer will not do the job of kneading bread).
4) Sprinkle the yeast over the milk; stir with a whisk until yeast softens (about 5 minutes). Stir in sugar, egg and flour using a heavy wooden spoon or heavy duty mixer with dough hoops.
5) Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand for 8 minutes or knead dough for 4 minutes using a heavy-duty electric mixer (it is okay to knead dough without additional flour if the dough isn’t sticking to your hands or the board additional flour isn’t needed). Butter or grease a large bowl and place dough in the bowl with the smooth side up. Cover dough loosely with a piece of plastic, and if desired place a warm kitchen towel over the plastic wrap.
6) Allow dough to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
7) Once dough has risen for the first time, turn it out onto a lightly floured board; punch down dough and cut it into 3 equal parts. Using your hands and a rolling pin, form each section of dough into 24-inch long “ropes.” Pinch ropes together at one end and gently braid them without stretching or pulling. Form braid into a circle to create a wreath shape; pinch ends together and tuck uneven pieces to the underside. If desired, the braid can be left in a loaf shape or bunched into a knot; tuck ends under to conceal pinched areas.
8) Place wreath on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Brush with melted butter and cover with a clean dry dishtowel.
9) Allow braided dough to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Don’t let it rise too high or it’ll be too airy and/or dry.
10) Preheat oven to t 425° then bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven, brush with remaining melted butter and transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup blanched almonds, slivered
Candied red cherries, optional
Candied green pineapple, optional

Combine sugar, milk, vanilla and almonds in a medium bowl. Drizzle frosting over warm bread. Decorate with red cherries and green pineapple. Yield: 6 to 8 servings

This recipe was originally brought to the United States from Germany by the Boysen Family in the mid-40s.

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