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My husband Al's two years in Scandinavia when a young man provided him, among other things, with three imperishable predilections: a love of light, of warmth and of cardamom. So St. Lucia's Day, when light wins out over darkness and the warmth of flame re-emerges--and almost as important, when there's cardamom-spiked bread for breakfast--we like to take advantage of the concept.
When Elspeth was young (pictured right), we dressed her in full Lucia regalia and made the more traditional saffron-scented "Lucia Cats," sometimes even taking them about the neighborhood; but now we observe the tradition by making loaf-sized Lucias, use the slightly less traditional cardamom flavoring, and gobble them up all day long.
Painting by Carl Larsson
Today we have particular reasons to feel bright and warm--the Christmas Journal is finally done and on its way! And we hope that it brightens up your world when it arrives at your home. Meanwhile, here's our recipe for the Lucia Loaves shown here. It's a large recipe, but it's easily cut in half--just substitute 2 eggs and one egg white for the egg measurement below, so that you don't have to think too hard about how to get one-half of an egg white.
Photograph by Elspeth Young
Lucia Loaves by Nancy Young
2 cups lukewarm milk
1 tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup softened butter
4 eggs, plus one egg white
1 tablespoon salt
Up to 2 tablespoons cardamom, according to taste
About 6 cups flour
1 egg yolk beaten with a little cream or milk
Some unrefined cane or turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Place the warm milk in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, and stir-in the yeast and sugar. Allow the yeast to proof for about 5 minutes. Stir-in the butter, eggs, salt, and cardamom along with 5 cups of flour. Using the kneading attachment, beat the dough for about 3 minutes. Check the dough. If it seems too slack, add more flour, a half cup at a time, until dough is soft and velvety.
Photograph by Elspeth Young
Remove dough from attachment, cover and allow dough to rise until doubled—about 60 minutes. When dough is fully risen, deflate and cut into four equal pieces. Roll them into yard-long ropes and shape into 'S' shapes using the instructions from the Pane Siciliano. Place loaves on baking sheets, brush with the egg glaze, and allow loaves to rise until doubled again—30 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Once braids have risen, brush once more with egg glaze and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown—about 35 minutes. Cool on wire racks for half an hour before slicing. This makes large, golden loaves that freeze well, so it's a perfect bread for enjoying throughout the holidays or for giving away to anyone who needs a bit of sweet brightening in their lives.