Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 26-Feast of St. Stephen

WINTER BIRDS - Anna's hummingbird & purple finch
In Ireland, St. Stephen's Day, is a holiday where many people visit friends. Also called Lá Fhéile Stiofán or Lá an Dreoilín - literally The Day of the Wren. The "wren boys" tradition was pretty gruesome. Thankfully these days it's about visiting friends. I know I have photographed a wren or two but couldn't find one, so here are a couple of favorite winter birds from the front yard birdie spa. In England and Canada, December 26 is Boxing Day. I like to remind friends and family that Christmas lasts for 12 days, ending January 6 - the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings. I think a reason we get so stressed out about Christmas is that we put too much emphasis on one day. We have lots of food to last at least until New Year's. 

A favorite recipe for Almond Cheese Bread is my St. Stephen's Day-Wren Day-Boxing Day gift to you.

Almond  Cheese Wreath Bread

Bread Ingredients (makes two):

3¾ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup finely chopped (or ground) almonds
2 packages active dry yeast
¼ cup butter or margarine
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup dairy sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract

1.      In large mixer bowl combine 1½ cups of the flour, the ¾ cup chopped or ground almonds, and the yeast.
2.      In a saucepan, heat butter, ½ cup sugar, water, and salt till lukewarm (115-120 degrees), stirring constantly till butter almost melts.
3.      Add to mixer bowl, along with sour cream, eggs, and almond extract.
4.      Beat at low speed of electric mixer for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly.
5.      Beat 3 minutes at high speed.
6.      Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can mix in with a spoon.
7.      Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3-5 minutes).
8.      Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover and let rise till double (1½ to 1¾ hours).
9.      Punch down, divide in half. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
10.   On lightly floured surface, roll half the dough to an 18x12-inch rectangle.
 Cheese Filling Ingredients:
 8-12 oz. cream cheese, softened (1 to 1 ½ packages)
¼ cup sugar (a little more if using larger amount of cream cheese)
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup chopped almonds
½ cup light raisins

1 egg white
sliced almonds
1.      In small mixer bowl, cream together the cream cheese, ¼ cup sugar, egg yolk, and ½ teaspoon almond extract.
2.      Stir in chopped almonds and raisins.
3.      Spread half of the cheese filling on dough within ½ inch of edges.
4.      Roll up, starting from long side. Press edges together to seal. Place, seam side down, on lightly greased baking sheet, curving roll to make a wreath.
5.      Press ends of roll together. Cut short slits about 1½ inches apart around top of wreath.
6.      Brush with some egg white. Garnish with sliced almonds and sprinkle with sugar.
7.      Repeat with other half of dough and filling.
8.      Cover, let rise till double (about 1 hour).
9.      Bake in 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes. If necessary, cover with foil after 20 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning.
10.   Cool on wire rack.

 -       Adapted from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens, November 1980

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