Celebration Breads: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions

Celebration Breads: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions


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Every culture celebrates with food. And no food has a greater influence on culture, history, or religion than bread. From the unleavened matzo of Passover to the German stollen of Christmas, from the British hot cross buns baked on Good Friday to the Russian kolach baked for any special occasion, bread in its many forms brings people together, linking traditions and generations.

Bread is Betsy Oppenneer's passion. A renowned cooking teacher, she has spent most of her life baking, and much of it traveling. Celebration Breads: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions is a collection of more than 75 sweet and savory breads from around the world -- from the Americas and Western Europe to Africa and Russia. From her anecdotes about the history and traditions associated with the breads, you'll discover the tradition behind each recipe. Christmas breads from Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, and Egypt; traditional New Year's Challah from Eastern Europe; and Easter bread from Poland are just a few of the recipes for breads made to celebrate well-known holidays, but Betsy has unearthed many more. Bread lovers will be eager to prepare such recipes as Bread of the Dead, a bread from Mexico made in honor of the Day of the Dead; and Scalded Bread, traditionally baked in Lithuania in preparation for marriage. No matter what the occasion, Celebration Breads has the perfect recipe for you.

Teacher that she is, Betsy wants all bread bakers to succeed, whether they're baking their first loaf or their hundredth. Each recipe is laid out in painstaking detail, with instructions for making the bread by hand, with a heavy-duty mixer, using a food processor, and by using a bread machine (if possible). Betsy provides comprehensive chapters on: Bread-Baking Ingredients and Equipment; How to Make Bread (including the 4 Basic Rules of Bread Making); Essential Tips and Techniques for novices and experts alike; a Sources list; and an extensive Bibliography. Betsy even includes a section on Homemade Candied Fruits, in which she provides instructions on how to candy your own fruit and citrus peel to obtain a truly authentic product.

With more than 70 black-and-white line drawings by John Burgoyne (known for his work for Cooks Illustrated magazine), Celebration Breads is an invaluable addition to the bread-baking bookshelf.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743224833
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 09/30/2003
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 7.58(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.12(d)

About the Author

Betsy Oppenneer is an accomplished baker, cooking teacher, and lecturer. She has studied at some of the most prestigious schools in the country, as well as with renowned chefs and teachers, including Julia Child, Nick Malgieri, Nancy Silverton, and Bernard Clayton, among others.

Betsy has made regular appearances on TV Food Network's Cooking Live with Sara Moulton, CBS This Morning, and local programs across the country. She has been a consultant to Corning Incorporated, the Hay Day Bakery, and The King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalogue; developed recipes for Fleischmann's Yeast; and been a cooking contest judge. In 2002 she was nominated for the International Association of Culinary Professionals' award as Best Cooking School Teacher of the Year. She lives with her husband in New Hampshire.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Ingredients


Yeast is an amazing living fungus that hangs in suspension until warm water activates it. Once activated, like any living thing, it requires food and nourishment, such as flour and other bread ingredients. Yeast feeds on the natural sugar in the flour and creates carbon dioxide. The kneading process helps fill the gluten meshwork with gas bubbles, which in turn make the bread rise. Yeast is commercially available in three forms:

Active Dry Yeast is available at the grocery store in small 1/4-ounce foil packages or in 4-ounce jars. You can also buy yeast in bulk at some specialty food stores or through mail-order catalogs. If you use bulk yeast, this conversion formula is helpful: For each package of active dry yeast called for in a recipe, use one scant tablespoon -- not quite a full spoon -- of yeast.

Of the two major yeast companies in America, one specifies that a scant tablespoon equals a small packet of yeast, while the other says to use 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast for a packet. Both ways of measuring equal the same amount. Like all perishable products, yeast packages are stamped with an expiration date. Most yeast remains good past that date, but you should "proof" it to be sure. See page 22 for detailed instructions on proofing and activating yeast.

Compressed or Fresh Yeast is available at some grocery and health food stores in the refrigerated section, and from some bakeries. The packages are approximately an inch square and 1/2-inch thick. Fresh yeast is becoming harder and harder to find because it is more perishable than active dry yeast. Also fresh yeast is easy to damage whendefrosting it from its frozen state. However, bought fresh from a reliable source, it produces outstanding breads with a wonderfully intense flavor and a smooth texture. Many bakers, especially in European countries, feel that fresh yeast gives much more flavor to their breads than dry yeast.

Fast-Rising or Quick-Rising Yeast comes in foil packets or small jars just like active dry yeast. This is a different strain of yeast developed to give quick results. With rare exceptions, this type of yeast is activated by the rapid or quick method of activating yeast (see page 23). To substitute fast- or quick-rising yeast for active dry yeast, use a scant tablespoon for each package called for in the recipe. Just remember to cut the rising time in half for each rising period. Do not use this type of yeast if you're letting the dough rise for an extended period of time. Do not let the dough double in size before it goes into the oven or it will deflate. Watch it carefully and put it in the oven just before it has doubled.

Flour and Meal

The natural sugar in flour feeds the yeast and gives a "carbo-boost," much like the lift humans get from sugar. When mixed with liquids and beaten, flour forms a gluten meshwork that gives bread its structure and texture. It is important to use hard-wheat flour -- not soft-wheat flour -- when making yeast breads. Soft-wheat flour does not contain enough protein to form gluten, which means that the bread won't rise very high. Only hard-wheat flour -- or a mixture of hard and soft wheat, as in all-purpose flour -- provides yeast breads enough protein to form a strong gluten meshwork. Flour comes in many varieties, but in the interest of simplicity, only the types used in this book are described below.

Wheat Flour

All-Purpose Flour, a mixture of hard and soft wheat, can be used for all types of baking, from light cakes to hearty breads. As its name implies, it is designed to be all purpose. It comes bleached as well as unbleached.

Bleached. Although this flour contains hard wheat, it is not good for making yeast breads. The bleach shortens the gluten strands, which keeps the bread from rising properly. Short gluten strands make short, dense loaves.

Unbleached. I use unbleached flour with no bromates or chemical additives for most of my baking. It is versatile and dependable, and produces loaves with full volume and texture. I know I can expect good results.

Bread Flour is made with hard wheat and works well for yeast breads, but only if it is free of chemicals and bromates. I get the same results from unbleached all-purpose flour, which is often less expensive. Most bread flours require kneading the dough again for almost half as much time you would normally be kneading; that is, if you normally knead for 10 minutes, you will have to knead bread flour for almost 15 minutes.

Whole-Wheat Flour is available as hard-wheat and soft-wheat flour. The hard-whole-wheat flour is higher in protein than all-purpose flour, but the germ and bran will produce a denser loaf. For a lighter loaf, I use a finely ground whole-wheat flour or mix my whole-wheat flour with unbleached all-purpose flour. You can make a good 100 percent whole-wheat bread as long as you keep the dough extremely moist and don't add too much flour.

Soft-Wheat Flour is available in several varieties: cake flour, pastry flour, and self-rising flour. Each kind does a great job for its purpose but does not work well in yeast breads. Most soft-wheat flours are bleached, but because of popular demand many millers are beginning to offer their soft-wheat flours unbleached.

Semolina Flour is made from the coarsely ground endosperm of durum wheat. Semolina flour is used mainly in Europe, Russia, and Middle Eastern countries. Semolina is known best as the flour used to make pasta. It is high in protein, has a wholesome nutty flavor, and gives a rich golden color to baked goods. When using semolina, keep the dough as soft as possible, since too much of this flour makes the bread heavy. Semolina flour doesn't have a very long shelf life and will produce dry breads if it isn't fresh. Durum flour is a by-product of semolina flour. It's the bran and germ from durum wheat with just a small portion of the endosperm. You can make 100 percent semolina breads, but durum flour should be mixed with wheat flour; otherwise the loaf will be extremely heavy and almost inedible.

Rye Flour

Rye has an earthy, sweet-and-sour flavor and can be cracked or made into meal, flakes, or flour. There are three types of rye flour available.

Light (or White) Rye is finely ground and milled from only the endosperm. It contains very few vitamins, minerals, or oils from the germ and bran. It is most often used by commercial bakers.

Medium Rye is the most readily available rye flour in grocery stores. It is a midrange flour that can make anything from a light rye bread to a very heavy dark rye bread. The grain for medium rye flour is ground after the bran is removed.

Dark Rye or Pumpernickel is milled from the whole grain with the bran and germ intact. This flour produces a hearty, bold-tasting loaf. It is favored in many parts of Scandinavia, Europe, and Russia -- as well as my kitchen!


Cornmeal is made from ground yellow or white corn and is available as stone-ground or enriched degerminated.

Stone-Ground Cornmeal is more nutritious than enriched degerminated cornmeal. It is made from dried whole kernels of corn. The kernels are slowly ground on large stones, a process that prevents the meal from overheating during the grinding. This method of milling produces a rich, intense, sweet corn flavor, and the meal feels oily to the touch. Because it still contains the germ, stone-ground cornmeal should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for no longer than four months.

I grew up with Nora Mill stone-ground cornmeal from the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley where I was raised (see page 331). The true corn flavor of this robust and hearty cornmeal makes for some of the tastiest corn bread in the world.

Enriched Degerminated (or bolted) Cornmeal is also made from dried whole kernels of corn, but it is ground through a series of steel rollers. To extend the shelf life of the meal, the fiber and germ are removed, and then vitamins and minerals are added to the meal. Enriched degerminated cornmeal is available in all grocery stores. It keeps for up to nine months in an airtight container at room temperature. Breads made with this kind of cornmeal tend to be dry and crumbly, which is why I prefer stone-ground cornmeal.


Buckwheat flour or Saracen corn is not a grain but the edible fruit of the buckwheat plant and a kissing cousin to rhubarb and sorrel. The nutritional value is similar to that of wheat. Buckwheat flourishes in cool climates and is a staple of middle and northern European countries as well as parts of Maine and Canada. It has a strong, pungent flavor. Flour from dark buckwheat tastes stronger than that from light-colored buckwheat. Since buckwheat is not a true grain and does not contain the necessary proteins to make yeast breads, it must be mixed with at least 50 percent or more wheat flour. Most Europeans use buckwheat for various types of pancakes or flatbreads.


Liquids activate yeast, stimulate gluten formation, and cause yeast to ferment during rising. They also affect other qualities of bread. For example, milk adds nutrition, aids in browning the crust, and extends the bread's keeping quality. Breads made with water have an earthy flavor and a crisp crust. Potato water -- water in which potatoes have been boiled -- gives bread more volume and a velvety texture.


Sweeteners activate yeast, aid in browning the crust, and bring out the flavors of other ingredients. Each sweetener also adds its own special taste to bread. Granulated, brown, and raw sugars are interchangeable in equal measurements. You can substitute honey, molasses, or syrup -- corn, cane, or maple -- for sugar. Because liquid sweeteners are more concentrated, you can use less in your recipe. The dough may require extra flour, since these sweeteners are liquid.

Powdered and confectioners' sugar are pulverized forms of granulated sugar. They contain cornstarch, which prevents the sugar from clumping together. I do not use either of these sugars in bread dough but do use them for icings and glazes. Pärlsocker, or pearl sugar, is an unusual alternative to icing breads. These large granules of sugar are slightly larger than pretzel salt and remain soft and bright white during baking.


Salt controls fermentation, slows down the rising time, and adds its own flavor to breads while bringing out the flavors of other ingredients. It is best not to dissolve the salt in the liquid used to soften yeast because salt inhibits the growth of the yeast during the early phases of development. Add it with the dry ingredients.

I use a scant teaspoon of salt for every package of yeast in a recipe. If the recipe calls for more salt than that, you can safely reduce the amount without affecting the flavor. Table salt contains anticaking agents that add a slight chemical taste to baked goods and interfere with rising. I prefer to use kosher or sea salt because each has a clean, pure salt taste and doesn't leave a chemical aftertaste.


Fat -- lard, shortening, butter, and oil -- improves the keeping qualities of bread, produces a lighter, more tender texture, and makes slicing easier. It also lubricates the gluten meshwork of the dough, which helps the dough rise better. I do not use margarine when I bake because no two margarine products are alike. Many contain water or chemicals, which makes margarine unreliable as a cooking fat.

Lard is used to make the tenderest of all baked goods. Many people cringe at the thought of using lard -- rendered pork fat -- but if you consider the small amount you ingest per serving, it isn't nearly as frightening as you might think. Use it occasionally for those special breads. I cut lard into cubes measuring about a tablespoon each, put them in freezer zip-style bags, and store them in the freezer for up to nine months. I can use as little or as much as I wish this way.

Vegetable Shortening produces the second tenderest baked goods. It is made from saturated and polyunsaturated oil and contains no cholesterol. Shortening is packaged in wide-mouthed cans or cubes that are just a little larger than a stick of butter. Although shortening is stable and can be stored at room temperature for up to a year after opening, I often keep shortening in the refrigerator because it is easier to cut into flour if it is cold.

Butter, long prized for its flavor, produces the third tenderest baked goods. I use unsalted butter in most of my recipes. The salt in salted butter is added to extend the shelf life and can mask the flavor of butter that is going bad. Old or improperly stored butter turns rancid and can ruin baked goods. Never use butter that has an odd smell or taste, since both intensify during baking. Using unsalted butter allows me to control the amount of salt in my breads.

Oil (Pure or Refined) is made from nuts, grains, fruits, or vegetables. Pure oils are extracted from a single source, such as olives or sunflower seeds. They are not processed further after extraction and have a relatively short shelf life after opening. They have a distinctive flavor and should be used in recipes where that flavor is desirable. Refined oils are mixtures of extremely stable vegetable oils, which are processed or refined to extend the shelf life. They have no flavor or odor and cannot be detected in baked goods.


Eggs add flavor and color and contribute to the leavening process, making the loaves rise higher. Egg breads generally have a delicate texture and more tender crust.

Copyright © 2003 by Betsy Oppenneer

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