Our Monastic Bake Shop opens for Advent, just in time for people to select delicious home-baked goods for their Christmas table. One of the favorite sweet breads that people return for is the lovely St. Lucia Bread. A rich, dense dough filled with citron, saffron and almonds, and decorated like a wreath, has been a long-standing tradition for our Bakeshop, started by one of our own Sisters, Sr. Lucia.
Traditionally, when we make our first profession as Sisters, we also take on a new name – symbolizing our new life wedded to Christ. Sr. Lucia became a novice in early December. When she was preparing to take her vows, she prayed about what her new name should be. One of the Sisters told her that she had an idea of a name for her. The Sister next to her said, “Now don’t overwhelm our new novice with another big decision!” But she couldn’t bear the suspense, and she told her the name: Lucia. A bit later, a different Sister mentioned that she had received a name for her, and it was the same one! She decided to learn more about who St Lucia was, only to discover that her feast day was celebrated on December 13th — the exact day that the name had been suggested to her! She couldn’t deny that God was speaking. It turns out that her middle name had been Lucille after her maternal grandmother, and years later it was discovered that her actual given name had been Lucia!
- In a large mixer, soften the yeast in the warm water
- Heat the milk until warm. Add the oil and sugar and stir to dissolve.
- Add this mixture to the yeast mixture in the mixer
- Add salt and saffron
- Add the 3 slightly beaten eggs and mix with dough hook.
- Add the lemon zest, citron and almonds and continue mixing
- One cup at a time, add the flour and mix well after each addition. Stop adding the flour when the dough starts pulling away from the side of the bowl. Adding more flour if necessary.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for 5 min, or until dough becomes smooth and elastic; adding flour as necessary.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 1 hr. (At this point, you can refrigerate the dough, if you want to work with it later).
- Divide the dough into six equal balls and roll into large ropes and then braid three together, making two braids.
- Pinch the two ends together and tuck under, forming two circular loaves.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two sheet pans with baking paper, or grease, and put a braided loaf on each pan.
- Cover and let rise in a warm place, until doubled.
- Combine the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash, and brush on the braids.
- Bake for about 20-25 min or until the loaf feels firm to the touch. If you would like to use a thermometer, the internal temperature should read about 190 degrees.
- While the bread is baking, prepare your frosting, mixing all ingredients until smooth and on the thicker side. Cut your cherries in half.
- Remove bread from the oven and cool slightly, then decorate, using the green cherries as leaves, and the red as berries.
It seems we barely get cleaned up from one reception, and it’s time to prepare for another. We have many events happening on a regular basis and they almost always are accompanied by the serving of food or refreshments of one kind or another. At a recent reception we revised an old favorite that met with a great response. We served this hot chicken salad in little cream puffs and they disappeared so quickly we couldn’t keep the trays filled.
Hot Chicken Salad Puffs
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Lightly grease 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
- In a large bowl mix the chicken, celery, mayonnaise, lemon juice, onion salt, spices, onion and almonds.
- Transfer to the baking dish, and top with Cheddar cheese and crushed potato chips.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until lightly browned.
- Fill cream puffs, arrange on platter and serve.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Lightly grease (or line with parchment paper) two baking sheets.
- Combine the water, butter and salt in a medium-sized saucepan, heat until the butter has melted and bring to a rolling boil.
- Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously until the mixture smooths out and follows the spoon around the pan; this should take less than 30 seconds.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
- It will still feel hot. Transfer the dough to a mixer.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time; the mixture will look curdled, but when you add the last egg it should become smooth.
- Beat for 1 minute after adding the last egg. You will have a stiff, smooth batter.
- Drop the dough by Tablespoonful’s onto the prepared sheets.
- Leave about 2″ between them.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, till they have puffed, they are medium golden brown and they look dry.
- Remove baked puffs from the oven and use a sharp knife to cut a slit into the side of each puff, for steam to escape; this will help prevent them from becoming soggy.
- Return the puffs to the oven for 5 minutes, then remove from oven and transfer to a rack to cool.
- Slit each puff in half around the circumference and fill with a heaping Tablespoonful of chicken salad.
- Replace the top.
I hope all of you had a very blessed and happy Christmas. Ours was a quiet celebration with reflection on what Christmas really means. But of course we had wonderful food to help us do just that. And the season continues as we face the new year and the celebration that goes with it. My favorite party is appetizers; small savory bites and wonderful hot cheesy dips. One great dish to prepare that everyone loves is spiced nuts. I love sweet and spicy, but decided to try out some spicy ones. They are easy and delicious and you can adjust the heat according to taste.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a saucepan combine all ingredients except almonds and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about 3 minutes.
- Pour over almonds and combine well.
- Pour almond mixture onto a pan lined with parchment and cook in oven for 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt to taste. Let cool. Enjoy!
As I helped clear the Retreat lunch tables, one of the leaders, a good friend (and one of my most honest) looked up at me with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. “Delicious, Sister Irene,” he said, “But why is it that people in general seem to think that the only way to cook eggplant is with tomatoes?” Well, here was a question I’d never before been asked that made me stop and think. I didn’t feel it was a complaint or criticism so much as a challenge. He appeared to have enjoyed my eggplant Parmesan because his plate was clean. He’d even had a second helping!
His forthrightness set me on a course that expanded my eggplant repertoire. Up until then I had pretty much settled for recipes I’d felt comfortable making and knew most people liked. But he was a Southerner and his tastes were more towards creamy-styled dishes than Mediterranean. I asked him for suggestions and then launched into an exploration of tomato-less eggplant dishes. After trying multiple ones I settled on several favorites that I’ve stuck with over the years, this being one that both he and I like—you may, too.
Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen
- Cook eggplants in 2 quarts salted, slightly boiling water for 15 minutes or until tender.
- Remove skins and mash pulp; add 2 Tablespoons butter, yolks, cream, and season to taste with onion salt and pepper.
- Soak bread crumbs in milk and squeeze crumbs in a dry cloth to remove moisture.
- Add crumbs to eggplant.
- Fold in egg whites and turn into generously buttered soufflé dish.
- Sprinkle with almonds mixed with the same amount of toasted bread crumbs and a little melted butter. Bake for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
- Serve immediately in the baking dish.