-----------Traditional Christmas Breads
from our Catholic Heritage-----------

Pandolce Genovese [Christmas-New Year Bread]
Saint Lucy Saffron Buns [Santa Lucia Crown]
Saint Augustine Lemon Tea Bread [Bishops' Bread]
St. Bridget's Cardamom Wreath

Pandolce Genovese 
[Christmas-New Year Bread]

This festive bread, which is pictured in the background and in the border of the preceding page, is popular during the week between Christmas Day and New Year's. Pandolce is Italian for sweet bread. The origin is from the city of Genoa. While the recipe calls for rapid-rise yeast, I have successfully made the bread with regular dry active yeast, allowing for more time for raising the dough. In fact I prefer this as the dough seems to be more tender.  This was the first festive bread I ever made as a novice baker [it came out perfect]. Pandolce slices beautifully and is even good a day later.

There are several versions of Pandolce, probably as many as there are housewives who make it, but this is the most traditionally known or oldest known, anyway, recipe:

Step 1:

Dissolve 1 tsp. from 1 pkg. quick-rise yeast 
1 tsp. granulated sugar in 1 cup very warm water 
[between 110-115 degrees]:
follow the instructions for making the "sponge" in the Cardamom Wreath bread.

Step 2:

Add  3 cups of unbleached bread flour from a 6 cup total reserve and mix well, then kneading for about 5 minutes with a an electric dough hook or by hand for  about 8 minutes. If kneading by hand, refer to Cardamom Wreath kneading instructions. Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap that has been greased on the under side. Set aside until doubled in volume-----about 1 hour or more depending on room temperature. This is Part 1 of the dough mixture.

Step 3:

Wash and dry your mixing bowl and dough hook [if you are using the electric method] and dissolve the remainder of the yeast from the packet and 1 tsp. granulated sugar in 1 cup warm milk [between 110-115 degrees] and make a "sponge as before.

Stir in: 
2 and 1/2 cups of the remaining 3 cups of bread flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm , [plus 1 tablespoon melted butter for glaze]
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbs. orange flower water or 2 tsps. orange zest
2 tsps. vanilla extract (essence)
1 teaspoon anise seeds

Add the risen dough to this dough and knead, adding flour from the remaining 1/2 cup as needed, until smooth and elastic, about 12 minutes.

Place in a clean, greased bowl, turning the dough to grease all sides. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise until doubled, 1 and 1/2-2 hours.

Step 4:

  Turn out the dough onto a work surface and press flat into a rectangle-----the dough should be no thinner than 1/4 inch, 1/3 inch is a better-----but it depends on the size of each loaf [you will be cutting the dough into two portions later].

Scatter over the top

1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
1 cup golden raisins (sultanas), soaked in 1/4 cup  Marsala for 30 minutes, then drained and patted dry
1/2 cup candied lemon or orange peel, finely chopped: 
[if you do not know how to make candied orange peel, you can substitute some from a small tub of candied peel used in fruitcake making that you chop or slice thinner or refer to a candy cookbook]

 Roll up like a jelly roll and knead briefly to distribute evenly. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.

Step 5:

  Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. Cut the dough in half and form 2 balls, stretching the sides down and under. Place a ball in the center of each pan, cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until more than doubled and the dough reaches the pan sides, about 1 and 1/2 hours. 

Preheat an oven to 450°F. Using a sharp knife, slash a large triangle on each loaf.

Place the loaves in the hot oven and bake for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake until a rich golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Transfer to a rack, glaze the hot loaves with melted butter and let cool.

Makes two 1 and 3/4 lb. loaves.

Saint Lucy Saffron Buns 
[Santa Lucia Crown]

Saint Lucy, whose Feast is December 13 is honored at Christmas time with a Festival of Lights in some cultures because she is the Patron Saint of those who are blind or suffer illness of the eyes. This "Crown" is usually topped with small lighted white or red candles which have been poked into the loaf just before serving. If thin long tapers are not available you can use birthday candles.


1/4 cup milk 
Pinch of saffron, crushed 
 1/4 cup sugar
 1/2 tsp. salt
 1 envelope active dry yeast
 1/4 cup very warm water [between 110-115 degrees]
 2 large eggs
 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
 1 stick butter or margarine, softened 
Candied red and green cherries, cut in halves
 1 tablespoon cold water

1. Scald milk with saffron, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan; cool to lukewarm.

2. Sprinkle yeast into very warm water in a large bowl.  See above. Stir until yeast dissolves, then stir in cooled milk mixture.

3. Beat eggs in a small bowl, then beat into yeast mixture. Stir in 1 and 1/2 cups of the flour until smooth; beat in softened butter or margarine until completely blended, then beat in remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Knead until smooth  and elastic on a lightly floured pastry cloth or board.  For kneading technique, click HERE.

4. Place in a greased large bowl; cover with a clean towel. Let rise in a warm place, away from draft, 1 hour, or until double in bulk.

5. Punch dough down; knead several times; divide in half. Cut each portion into 8 even-size pieces, shape each into a ball and place in side by side with a scant 1/2 inch between, forming a ring or crown, two  greased  cooky sheets-----you have 16 balls, 8 per crown; decorate top of each with a candied-cherry half. 

Cover; let rise again 30 minutes, or until double in bulk. Stir water into 1 egg that has been beaten; brush over buns; sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar, if you wish.

 Bake in hot oven (450°) 12-20 minutes, or until
golden-brown. Remove from cooky sheet; cool on wire racks. Serve warm or cold.

The candles can be placed in the center of each cherry if using a birthday cake candle. If using a thin taper, insert next to the cherry half.

Saint Augustine Lemon Tea Bread 
[Bishops' Bread]

This recipe is very old and has long been a Christmas tradition for Catholics in the Northeast. Why it is named after the Saint is unknown to the Web Master, who has been baking it all her married years. In some cultures it is called Bishops' Bread. It is so fragrant and delicious and easy, you will want to prepare more than 1 loaf and freeze some for unexpected company.

Step 1:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and with a non-stick vegetable spray [PAM] coat a standard loaf pan [9 x 5 x 3 inch]. Do not use glass as the edges tend to burn, even at reduced temperature.

Step 2:

In a large bowl combine:
2 and 1/2 cups plus 1 tb. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp.  each salt and baking soda
1 tb. baking powder

In a large mixer bowl cream:
a scant cup of extra fine granulated sugar-----you may substitute confectioner's sugar
and 1/2 stick butter [no substitutes]
until creamy; add:
3 tb. lemon zest and beat until well blended;

add 3 large eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Step 3:

Mix together 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the water blend to the creamed mixture, beginning and ending with the dry, stirring only as much as needed to blend. Over mixing at this points brings out the gluten in the flour and coarsens the texture.

Put into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or more until the top is gently firm and the sides have shrunk just a little from the sides of the pan. You can test for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center-----if it comes out clean, that is, no soft dough adhering to it, except a crumb or two-----the loaf is done. Cool a few minutes in the pan then turn out onto  a cake rack while you make the glaze:

Beat 1 cup confectioners sugar with 1 tb. fresh lemon juice and mix until smooth. Glaze the  top of the loaf, letting the mixture run down the sides like icicles. If the glaze thickens, add a bit more juice.

St. Bridget's Cardamom Wreath

This pretty braid of fragrant spice yeast bread is traditionally served for Christmas dinner with Cardamom Butter in Sweden and in the United States at the tables of Swedish Americans. The recipe has been handed down for generations and is but one of the special treats during the Christmas season that showcase Swedish cuisine.

Step 1: 

2 pkgs. active dry yeast [not the rapid rise kind]
1/3 cup very warm water [between 110-115 degrees]

Dissolve the yeast in the water with a tsp. granulated sugar in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let sit until the yeast has formed a thick bubbly sponge-----the mixture will be doubled in bulk. This takes about 15 minutes depending on room temperature.

Step 2:

Stir in 1/2 melted butter [no substitutes] 
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 and 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup sour cream 
[do not use non-fat kind as it is not suitable for baking]
1 tb. orange zest
2 and 1/4 tsps. ground cardamom
2 tsps. salt

Mix well.

Step 3:

7 to 7 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
[bread flour is not suitable for this recipe]

Stir in 2 cups of the flour measurement given above; then 2 more cups and once again until 6 cups are incorporated. The remaining 1 and 1/2 cups of flour are the most that will be required; humidity in the environment alters the amount of flour needed. Add only as much flour as necessary to make a soft dough. 

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes to work the gluten in the flour. If you have not kneaded bread dough before, the technique consists of placing both heels of your hands onto the dough and push the edge of the dough that is away from you, toward you, then push the dough away from you, and so forth, sprinkling just enough flour on your surface to keep the dough from sticking. It is that easy, albeit requiring some strength from your hands.  After a few minutes. the dough will smooth out and take on an elastic feel-----this is what you want.

Place the dough in the same large bowl which you can clean as the dough rests for a minute. Before placing the dough, rub some vegetable oil around the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside free from drafts. The dough needs to rise to double its bulk. This will take about and hour and a half or less depending on room temperature.

Step 4:

Punch the risen dough down with your fist, turn out onto a floured work surface and divide into 6 even portions. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Shape each into a 24 inch rope. 

Grease 2 large baking sheets. On each place 3 strands of dough and braid, forming a circle and pinching the ends together to make a wreath shape.

Cover and let rise again until double in bulk-----this usually takes less than an hour for the second rising.

Step 5:

Meanwhile mix 1 large egg with a tablespoon milk. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees [after the breads have baked for 5 minutes you will reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees]

When the braids are risen, brush with egg-milk mixture gently over the braids; sprinkle with coarse sugar crystals and toasted sliced almonds.

Bake for 5 minutes at 450 degrees, then 25 minutes at 375 degrees or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool. These breads freeze well.

To make the Cardamom Butter:

Blend well:
2 cups soft butter [no substitutes]
 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 and 1/2 tsps. each orange zest and cardamom
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

This is enough to accompany both braids or wreaths.

If you choose to place a pillar candle in the center to light for the presentation, use a white candle, for Christ, the Light of the world.