In Autumn, the appearance in grocery stores of stacks of candied fruit and mountains of nuts in all their wonderful variety is a sure sign of the approach of the holidays. As the days grow short and the nights grow cool preparations for a joyous time of baking begins.
My daughter is the bread baker but Sugarplum Bread is the one I enjoy making, too. This sweet bread studded with candied fruit is not as heavy as fruit cake. It is topped with a white icing glaze and decorated with red and green cherries to look like clusters of berries. It is a treat for breakfast or in the afternoon with tea. I make small ones baked in large muffin tins, decorated and wrapped in colored plastic wrap tied with ribbon as gifts for guests.
The following recipe is a rich dough flavored with nutmeg, candied fruit and peel, and raisins
Candied fruit would have melted in the summer heat and its sweetness would attract ants but it keeps well in the freezer. After the holidays, when the price is reduced for clearance, if you have space in your freezer buy a supply. It assures that you’ll have candied fruit on hand in the months when it can’t be found in the market.
Baking sheet and muffin pan:
By hand or mixer:
Measure 2 cups of flour inti a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar, salt, yeast, dry milk and hot water. Blend thoroughly and add the shortening, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg chopped mixed fuit and peel, and raisins. Stir for 2 minutes with a wooden spoon, or the mixer’s flat beater at medium speed.
Stir in the balance of the fout, 1/2 cup at a time, first with the spoon then by hand. The dough will be a thick and rough, shaggy mass that will clean the sides of the bowl. If the dough continues ti be moist ans sticky, add several sprinkles of flour.
If by hand, turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with a rhythmic motion of push-turn-fold. If using a mixer, knead with the dough hook. Add sprinkles of flour until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and forms a mass around the hook. The dough will become smooth and elastic. Occasionally break the kneading rhythm by throwing the bread hard against the work surface. Knead for 10 minutes.
By Food Processor:
Attach the plastic dough blade.
Measure 2 3/4 cups flour into the processor work bowl and add the sugar, salt, yeast and dry milk. Pulse to blend. With the machine on, pour the hot water through feed tube. When the water has been absorbed by the flour, with the machine still running, add the shortening, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg, chopped fruit and peel, and raisins. Add flout through the feed tube, to form a shaggy mass that cleans the sides of the work bowl and spins with the blade.
With the processor running, knead the dough for 45 seconds. The dough may be slightly sticky when turned from the bowl. If so, dust lightly with flour while forming it into a ball.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature until it has risen to a about twice its original size, about 1 1/2 hours. (If prepared with fast-rising yeast and at the recommended higher temperatures, reduce the rising time by about half.)
Divide the dough in half. Knead each piece for 30 seconds to press out the bubbles.
Shape one piece into a ball, flatten slightly on top, and place on the baking sheet. Divide the remaining half into 6 pieces. Shape each into a ball. Place into the muffin cups, and press down. The dough will be almost level with the top of the cups.
Cover the dough with waxed paper and let rise until it has nearly doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350° 20 minutes before baking.
Bake the larger loaf in the moderate oven for 35 minutes, until golden brown. The small loaves will be done in about 20 minutes. The bread is done when tapping the bottom yields a hard and hollow sound. (If using a convection oven, reduce the heat 50°)
Remove the bread from the oven and place on a metal rack to cool. Frost the large loaf with a drizzle of the confectioners’ icing. Circle with red candied cherries and sliver of green candied cherries. For the small loaves, drizzle the tops and cap each with a perfect walnut half.