Bread. The essential form of sustenance for most of us homo sapiens. More importantly, that from which doughnuts and cake evolved. I decided to take a look at different cultures' spins on holiday bread, and why so few take up such an inordinate amount of shelf space this time of year.
Panettone (Above) Originally from Milan, Italy, it was first made in the early 1920s. This cylindrical bread typically has candied oranges, lemon zest and raisins. When done right, the rising process can take as many as 20 hours, lending to its distinctive towering fluffiness. Whole Foods, Central Market and World Market have mountains of it. Central Market is the only place that I can find that makes one in-house, but in terms of buying one from the towering stacks at stores, Bauli is as authentic an Italian brand as you can find.
From Germany, it dates back to around 1400 A.D. during a butter ban by the Pope. Yes, for a while he banned butter. Crazy person. After much pleading and whining, his Holiness lifted the prohibition just for stollen. Like panettone, this delicacy has raisins and candied orange; however, it's a very dense cake with less sugar. It's often covered in a sugar icing, which according to Stollenfest.com, "was nothing but the symbolization of the Christ Child wrapped in diapers," although some think it might be to preserve moisture or add a little sweetness to the otherwise dry cake.
Central Market and Eatzie's both make stollen. Kuby's imports from the famous Dr. Quendt's of Germany, and while it's a bit pricey, Karl Kuby Jr. assures it's tastier than the cheaper ones.
Rosca de Reyes A circular sweet bread with a doll or figurine baked into it -- much like a king cake. The person who bites into the slice with the figurine has to buy dinner or host the party next year. This is traditionally made on January 6 for Día de los Santos Reyes in Mexico, which celebrates the journey of the three wise men. La Poblanita in north Dallas and Plano bake them fresh.
Challah The traditional Jewish Sabbath and holiday yeast-risen egg bread. Replete with symbolism, from the number of humps in the loaf to the actual shape of the loaf, challah can be found at many local bakeries year round. Local Jews swear by Whole Foods' version.
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Fruit Cake The fruit cake's family tree reaches all the way back to that butter ban by the Pope. It's all part of the same family as stollen. According to What'sCookingAmerica.com, the oldest reference to this type of dried fruit and nut-laden brick goes back to Roman times, when crusaders and hunters carried a type of cake for sustenance during long periods away from home.
The fruitcake of all fruitcakes is baked at the Collins Street Bakery, which recently relocated to Waco from Corsicana. Their recipe was brought over in 1896 by August Weidmann of Wiesbaden, Germany, and now every year they ship fruitcakes to more than 196 countries around the world. According to their website, a cake will keep at room temperature for 60 to 90 days. They also have a great tip for "doctoring" a fruitcake (possibly making it modestly appealing):
"We recommend a good Cognac, Brandy, Red Wine or Port be used. Simply soak a clean white cheese cloth in the spirit of your choice then remove the cello wrap from your DeLuxe® and place the cloth completely around the cake. Make sure to fill the center hole with part of the well soaked cloth."
Then there's always a loaf of Wonder bread, America's top-selling brand of white bread. I don't think it would soak up Cognacall that well, but it does a great job with Bud Light, doesn't it?