While growing up, Christmas was the most muted of festivals. I remember it as the time when we got this sudden windfall of a week's holiday in winter before the grind for the final school exams began. We put it to good use. A Lego manger or a building with a spire denoting a church was set-up, paper wings were stuck on the Lego women (and men) and we ostentatiously helped with the cake. Even 25 years back, the cake had been institutionalised as the sign of Christmas. Local shops had a dozen plastic wrapped "plum" cakes set out and those of us who had bake-savvy Mothers, had one baked at home. We had the enviable job of chopping the dry fruits. More of the fruits went into our mouths than into the cake, but it was a very fruity version nonetheless. My mother used to bake hers in a pressure cooker. A triumph of her skills, which I have never been able to replicate without her supervision. This year, my husband (clever man!) made a trip to Berlin during Advent. The German Christmas markets being in full swing, he obliged me by getting a real Dresdner Stollen. A kilo of it. I am so thrilled. Christmas fell on a Sunday this year. And with a 6 day working week for me, it passed me by very silently. Making a cake though still remained as the most celebratory moment of Christmas. I baked a Choreki, the Greek festive sweet bread made as a braid. The recipe was from the estimable New Complete Book of Breads, with a surfeit of dried fruits thrown in. When it comes out of the oven, the smell of fennel seeds declare all the good things Christmas is expected to bring. It is glossy brown, when it comes out of the oven.
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon roasted, ground fennel
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoons each chopped almonds and white sesame seeds
1 Tablespoon raisins
White icing sugar to sprinkle
Oil fo greasing
Add the raisins into the dough and knead. Divide the dough into three balls and roll it into ropes. Make a braid out of the three ropes and drop it into a greased loaf pan. Let it rise for another hour or until doubled. After this, brush the top with the rest of the egg and sprinkle the nuts and seeds on it. Bake for 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 180 Celsius. Check for done-ness. Sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.
For a cake it fails the requisite sweetness that my husband insists on :). So for those with a sweet tooth, add another 1/2 cup sugar.