christmas: the last two slices

A couple of years back my Christmas bake looked like this.

This year I baked two Brioche de Noel and two Torth Nadolig. One of each went to friends and this is what remains.

They both lead a double life.

On the right, Brioche de Noel which in other circumstances features as Brioche Provencale. A brioche dough was about the first enriched dough I developed. I was never interested in perfecting the classic French brioche, all butter and eggs. Much happier with the idea of a “poor man’s” brioche with greatly reduced amounts of both. Nothing clever; just took the proportions from an undistinguished little French baking book and converted it to natural leaven. Worked fine though, as you would expect, rising times had to be increased. The Provencale bit came from a great bakery, Le Temple du Pain, at the top end of the Flower Market in Nice. The market had stalls selling the most wonderful preserved fruits. The baker made incredibly soft swirls, not formal couronnes, more large free-form circles of brioche peppered with preserved fruits and sold it by weight – you just indicated the length you wanted.

No way have I tried to replicate his bread – I just added preserved fruits to my humble dough. At Christmas though it becomes Brioche de Noel. The fruit is soaked in brandy and orange juice, orange zest is added to the dough which is baked in Panibois baking boxes. The finished breads get a coating of icing sugar snow and a sprig of plastic holly. And the price goes up accordingly.

Torth Nadolig (Welsh for Christmas Loaf) on the other hand, started off as a Christmas bread. I wanted to produce a dough that contained ingredients that would have been available in Wales in the last couple of hundred years, avoiding the cliches of laverbread, leeks, Caerffili cheese and, gawd help us, cockles. So I went for wheat, oats, rye, honey, currants, hazelnuts. Currants feature in some old recipes like they were a touch of luxury, a handful to be added on special occasions. Christmas being a special occasion, these are soaked in mead, orange juice and zest. The flavours in this bread are distinct but subtle and take time to develop, so now, about five days on, the orange is really coming through.

I, in my modesty, thought this bread too good to be just for Christmas. So I consulted a customer who really liked it to come up for a name in Welsh for “Festive Bread”. He in turn consulted a friend equally steeped in the Welsh language and the came up with Torth Yr Wyl.

So if I hadn’t retired, I could sell it all year round.

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