Lemon Pie for Beltane

Bright and sunny--and sinfully easy--lemon pie

Bright and sunny–and sinfully easy–lemon pie. Image Credit: Cook’s Country

I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a positively smashing Beltane full of flower crowns and maypoles and lots of fun with covenmates.  I can’t get over how green the world has become over the past week.  The grass in the field behind my home is positively verdant and so thick that the Canadian geese that alight in it are practically swallowed whole.  The trees that stand just beyond now have full-fledged leaves rather than the wan green mist that had been deepening throughout April.  There’s a new hope and optimism in it, and it’s infectious.

For a while, my go-to dessert for a Beltane Feast has been Key Lime Pie–an absolute favorite of mine.  It tastes like the start of summer, and gives me the same pleasant feeling as watching the greening of the earth.  But my standard recipe for that is straight off the back of a “Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice” bottle, and I typically use a store bought crust for it–and frankly, I wanted to do something a bit more special for a holiday.

Recently, Katie Workman’s 2013 write up of Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie has made the rounds on my social media, and I’ve given it a try.  It’s a lovely pie–very much like my favorite Key Lime–and the saltiness of the crust is a nice touch.  But I thought Workman’s description of “Oh My God” pie was a bit of a stretch.  The crust crumbled if you looked at it wonky, and I thought the filling was too acidic and competed too much with the crust.  Last year Cook’s Country came out with a similar recipe, North Carolina Lemon Pie, and that was what I chose to use for my Beltane dessert.  The extra pinch of salt, extra butter, and addition of corn syrup to the crust makes it far more manageable and delicious.  Adding lemon zest to the filling gives nice textural contrast and more lemon flavor, and adding 1/4 cup of heavy cream cuts down the acidity and makes the filling even more luscious.  I did, however, omit the vanilla extract in the whipped cream topping–there’s nothing better than barely sweetened whipped cream!

lemon-pie1

It doesn’t get much better than this. Image Credit: BlessThisMessPlease.com

North Carolina Lemon Pie

For the Crust:
6 ounces Saltine crackers (about 1-1 1/2 sleeves)
1/8 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup light corn syrup
For the Filling:
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup juice (about 3 lemons)
1/4 cup heavy cream
For the Topping:
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Add the saltines and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have coarse crumbs (about 15 pulses). Add the melted butter and corn syrup and pulse until the crumbs are about the size of oatmeal (another 15 pulses).

Add the cracker mixture to a greased 9-inch pie plate. Use the bottom of a dry measuring cup or glass and press the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the dish.  Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake until light golden brown, 17 to 19 minutes.

To make the filling, whisk the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, cream (if using), and lemon zest together in a bowl, add the lemon juice and whisk until well combined.

With the pie plate on the baking sheet still, remove it from the oven and pour in the filling (the crust does not need to be cooled) and place it back in the hot oven. Bake until the edges of the pie are set but the center still jiggles, 15 to 17 minutes. Place the pie on a wire rack and let it cool completely. Refrigerate the pie until completely chilled.

For the topping, use a stand mixer fitted with a whisk and whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium low until foamy (about a minute). Increase the mixer speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Spread the whipped cream over the top of the pie and serve cold.

Atholl Brose: The Drink for all your Candlemas Libations

Mmm...such creamy lusciousness!

Mmm…such creamy lusciousness!  No idea where I stole this photo from, sorry.

I’d never heard of Atholl Brose before I joined up with Hartwood grove. Our High Priestess has a great tenure with the Society for Creative Anachronism and, as such, has picked up some truly medieval odds and ends she’s tucked into her practice. One of them is making Atholl Brose as the liquid libation for Candlemas.  It’s a Scottish drink that’s been around in some form or another since at least the late 1400s.  And man, is this oldie a goodie.  All I can say is that it’s a good thing we only make it for Candlemas, or else we’d all be big as houses! It’s got the eye-rolling goodness of sweet cream augmented by field honey, fortified by oat brose, and tempered with the slow burn of a whisky. I dare anyone not to fall in love.

The traditional recipes I have found have 7 parts oatmeal brose to 7 parts whisky along with 5 parts cream and 1 part honey. However, our proportions in Soma Sidhe are more like 2 parts brose, 2 parts cream, and 1 part honey, and then every individual adding whisky to taste.  This is a bit too sweet for me, so I halve the honey.  (And if I’m drinking it virgin, I add more brose to my portion.)

Oatmeal brose is, for all intents and purposes, oat milk. However, it’s oat milk without any salt, sweeteners, or any other flavorings. Therefore, I think it’s best to make this yourself rather than buying a carton of oat milk at your local health-conscious grocery. To make the drink from start to finish, here is what I do:

Atholl Brose

To make approximately 2 cups brose:

  • 1 cup oats*
  • Filtered water
  • Blender, fine sieve, muslin cloth

*Any type of oats are fine:  quick, old-fashioned, or steel-cut.  However, if using steel cut, it really is best to soak them overnight.  If you want to be fancy, toast them before hand.

Place at least 1 cup of oats into a blender with three cups of water and blend for perhaps five minutes or so.  Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then pulse again.  Strain the pulp through a bouillon strainer, a nut milk bag, or a cheesecloth lined colander and let the liquid drain away from the pulp until you have at least 2 cups of brose or oat milk.  The liquid should be opaque and about as thick as 1 or 2% milk.

To make the finished drink:

  • 1/2-1 cup honey
  • 2 cups brose
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • approximately 2 cups whisky

Pour 1/2-1 cup of honey into a Pyrex bowl or measuring cup and microwave for a minute or until the honey is runny but not hot.  Pour the honey into a blender and add the 2 cups of brose.  (Optional: a pinch of salt can also be added at this time if desired.)  Blend until the honey is fully dissolved, then add 2 cups of heavy cream and pulse a couple times to incorporate.  (Do not blend long, lest you turn your drink into butter.)

Adding whisky to the whole lot can make it curdle if it sits for very long or is refrigerated.  Therefore, I prefer to add the spirits just prior to serving.  If adding whisky to the whole batch, stir 2 cups of whisky in.  Alternately, let everyone add whisky to taste to their own portion.

Obviously, bourbon could be used here, too.  Bear in mind, though, that this is not a beverage helped by a fine single-malt, so don’t waste the really good stuff.  In fact, atholl brose does amazing things to really cheap whisky.  In the $10 paint stripper stuff from Costco pictured below, it brought out tons of vanilla, oak, and snickerdoodle notes.  If you are wanting a single-malt, I would caution you to stay away from the peaty, smokey whiskies.  Milder singles like Glen Morangie or The Macallan would be about right for this application…although entirely overkill.   Slàinte Mhath!

The atholl brose I made for this Candlemas, along with a Brigit statue that was my birthday present this past year.

The atholl brose I made for this Candlemas, along with a Brigit statue that was my birthday present this past year.

Potions in Action: Sauerkraut

Out here in Olympia, Washington, we take sauerkraut seriously.  There’s a ton of people out here who positively thrive on fermented food products and are solid devotees of Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions.  We even support an artisanal kraut company, OlyKraut, which disperses pint-sized jars of delicious raw kraut throughout the Northwest.  In fact, one of OlyKraut’s founders, Summer Bock, routinely offers kraut-making workshops to the public in Olympia and in Portland (where she now resides).  They’re always filled to capacity.

Olympian artist Nikki McClure's print

Olympian artist Nikki McClure‘s print “Culture“, which OlyKraut also uses for their jar labels.

Now, Olympia-style kraut is pretty different from the stuff I grew up with.  Back home, making sauerkraut was a one-a-year, day-long affair.  After harvesting the many, many heads of cabbage from our gardens, we’d spend the whole day shredding them up, salting them down, and smashing them down into huge crocks.  For the next couple months (because we always fermented the kraut in a really cold basement, so it took forever to ferment), we’d occasionally skim the mold and scuzz from the top of the kraut and make sure it was still covered in brine.  Once it ‘tasted right’, we’d take another day to stuff the kraut into quart jars and can them.  And that was the sauerkraut we ate nearly every Sunday for ‘pork and sauerkraut night’ throughout the next year.  If you’re interested in the recipe and methods my family uses to make traditional kraut, I’ve written up a .pdf you can download here.

In Olympia, though, you’d never make such a large amount of kraut at a time, and you’d never, ever can it.  In fact, you don’t even cook it.  You eat it raw so that you can get the maximum benefits from the probiotic cultures that fermented it.  Lots of people do it to improve their gut health, which in turn has carryover benefits to their holistic health.  Others just do it because they love the crispness of raw kraut.  Still others go the Oly way because it lets them play with different flavors without a lot of risk–after all, anyone can choke down 1 quart of a flavor failure, but no one is going to eat 10 quarts of the stuff.

And man, do Olympians love them some flavored kraut.  I like to describe it as being almost a combination of traditional European kraut and Korean kim chi.  We tend to use standard green cabbage instead of Asia’s preferred Napa cabbage, but we heap in all sorts of odds and ends like the Koreans do with their kim chi.  I’ve thrown beets of all sorts into the mix, rose petals, dill, ‘rainbow carrots’, leeks, burdock, berries…basically, the guiding rule of thumb is that if the ingredients taste good together as a raw salad, they’re going to taste good together as a kraut.  So once you build your ‘salad’, just add enough non-iodized salt (iodine kills bacteria!) to make everything as salty as a potato chip, then pack it into a crock or a jar.

As you may have guessed, the ‘potions’ part of my sauerkraut comes with the fun Oly-style additions.  For instance, this past spring I was feeling blue, so I threw in some fresh nettles for protection and healing and a handful or two of new dandelion blooms to help me feel ‘sunny.’  I charged the whole thing up with positive feelings in a circle after I ‘crocked’ it, and then made sure I took a moment to think of at least one positive thing as I was eating it a few weeks later.  Sure enough, I gently came out of my blues and became a more grateful person.

I am going to leave you with my recipe for curry kraut, which is a near clone to OlyKraut’s version, pictured below.  Aside from the cabbage (of which Cunningham aligned with the feminine, Moon, and water) and turmeric (of which Cunningham provides no alignments), all the ingredients in this kraut are aligned with the masculine, with Mars, and with fire.  Therefore, this is a blend that has energies towards protection/exorcism, anti-theft, fidelity, and fertility/lust/love as well as a pinch of healing.  I find it to be delicious, particularly when combined with chopped peanuts as it is very much like Thai food with that combination.  I’ve eaten it with eggs and in omelets, with cottage cheese, with a grain and a protein in a quick supper, with shredded pork in a tortilla, and even with peanut butter in a sandwich (freakishly tasty).  My absolute favorite way to eat this kraut is actually in a homemade sushi roll.  For sushi, I’ll use it alongside a strip of cream cheese and roasted peanuts or substitute the cream cheese for avocado if I need to make it vegan.

OlyKraut's famous curry kraut, now a fall seasonal blend.

OlyKraut’s famous curry kraut, now a fall seasonal blend.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds finely shredded green cabbage
  • 1/2 large onion, sliced as fine as the cabbage shreds
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 inch ginger, frozen and finely grated on a microplane
  • 6 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/2-1 tablespoon red chile flakes
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (or a combination of turmeric, coriander, and cumin)

Directions

  1. Toss all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, adding the spices a little at a time and tasting as you go to make sure you are comfortable with the spice level.
  2. Massage the cabbage a little to help break it down, then pound it with a potato masher or other implement. Press the kraut into a clean 1 quart canning jar or a Fido jar, pounding it as you go until the jar is full, the juices cover the kraut, and you’ve left about 1/2 inch of headspace in the jar (the liquid will seem to expand greatly during the first few days of fermentation, but will settle back down, so don’t pack the jars completely full).
  3. If using a mason jar, cap the jar with a clean lid fitted with an airlock.  If using a Fido jar, lock the bail. Store at 70-75°F while fermenting. The kraut will be fully fermented in 3-4 weeks; 5-6 weeks between 60-65°F. Below 60°F the kraut may not ferment and above 75°F it may become soft. Fermentation is completed when bubbling stops.
  4. When fermentation is complete, change the jar lid to one without an air lock, and store in the fridge. To benefit from the probiotics, do not heat the kraut before eating.

Snackraments: Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

Photograph by Tracey Wilhelmsen, shamelessly stolen from her Flickr.

Photograph by Tracey Wilhelmsen, shamelessly stolen from her Flickr.

Guys.  Let me tell you how epic these bars are.  I made them once for a Yuletide open circle in 2011, and my High Priestess still requests them fairly regularly.  In fact, I got an e-mail from her this week asking if I would post the recipe to our group’s website.  Trust me, these really are cookies that will be remembered.  My mom calls them “wonderful bites of heaven,” and she’s not a woman to lavish praise.  I’ve tried to describe them as being “like a grown up Twix bar, with lots more interest and subtlety”, and that seems to go over well.  But even so, they do have to be tried to be believed.

Now why have I only made them for the coven that one time?  Well, there’s three major reasons.  The first is that I only have Pyrex 9×13 pans at the moment, and those have sloping sides and rounded edge curves.  These bars really do much better with pans that have straight sides and 90-degree corners, and I’m a perfectionist enough to want to hold off on making the bars again until I get the pans I want.  The second reason is that I personally don’t have much patience for recipes where I have to do different components over a longer stretch of time and keep things all chilled.  I like a baking task where I can get everything done within an hour.  The third reason?  Willpower doesn’t exist when it comes to these cookies, and I’ll be damned if I get stuck with leftovers.

That being said, it might be worth considering halving the recipe and making it in an 8×8 or 9×9 pan, especially for smaller gatherings.  I already am an advocate of halving the caramel itself as I think the original amount overwhelms the shortbread and chocolate.  If I were to halve the entire recipe, I’d use half of the caramel on cookies and maybe save the other half to use as an apple dip…for which it works extremely well.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars
Ingredients:

For the shortbread layer:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar

For the caramel layer:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp. light corn syrup
2 (14 oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk

For the chocolate layer:
8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. light corn syrup
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Fleur de sel or sea salt, for sprinkling

Directions:

To make the shortbread layer, preheat the oven to 325° F.  Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.  In a small bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir with a fork to blend, and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well blended, about 1-2 minutes.  With the mixer on low speed blend in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan and press in an even layer over the bottom of the pan.  Bake 15-18 minutes or until golden.  (If the crust puffs up a bit while baking, just gently press it down while it is cooling.)  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.

To make the caramel layer, combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup and condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted.  Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, stirring constantly.  Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture turns an amber color and thickens slightly.  Pour the mixture over the shortbread layer, smooth the top, and allow to cool completely and set.  (I chilled at this stage to ensure that the caramel layer would not melt when the warm chocolate was added.)

To make the chocolate glaze, combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.  Pour evenly over the caramel layer and use an offset spatula to smooth the top.  Allow to cool for a minute or two and then sprinkle with fleur de sel.  Chill, covered, until ready to slice and serve.

If cut into 1.5-inch squares, the recipe yields 4.25 dozen cookies.

Recipe originally from Lisa is Cooking and popularized by Annie’s Eats.

With hope for the next St. Paddy’s day…

Well, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s the first I haven’t observed in years.  It’s not on the grounds of it being a Pagan Hate day, like what Galina Krasskova believes; I’m just too stinking busy right now to devote any energy to having fun.

And, let’s be honest, secular St. Patrick’s Day is all about having fun.  The earth is starting to quicken, the grass is starting to green, crocuses and daffodils are blooming, and the air is finally warm enough to get outside for more than a few minutes.  Everyone teems out into the city streets for a parade and a party–and if your city doesn’t have a parade in the day, then everyone’s looking forward to a night of merriment as the bars tap into their comical kegs of green beer.

Seriously, this is about as close to a pagan festival as most non-Pagans get.  What’s not to love about that?

The one thing I’m missing most about my own St. Patrick’s celebrations are my Irish Car Bomb cupcakes.  Guinness chocolate cake filled with a Jameson’s-laced ganache and topped with a Bailey’s buttercream.  Heaven.  I have no self-control around them, so I only make them twice a year:  for my birthday in December and for St. Patrick’s day.  It’s going to be a long nine months.

I flat-out stole this images from the Brown-Eyed Baker

I flat-out stole this images from the Brown-Eyed Baker

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 cup stout (Guinness)
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

For whiskey ganache filling:

  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey

For Bailey’s buttercream frosting:

  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6-8 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 8-12 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish cream

To make the cupcakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Combine the stout and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and sour cream to blend. Add the stout-butter mixture and beat just to combine. Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed just until incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners, filling them about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache filling:

  1. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until simmering, then pour it over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute and then whisk until smooth. If the chocolate is not completely melted, place the bowl over a double boiler or give it a very short burst in the microwave (15-20 seconds). Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined.
  2. Set aside to let the ganache cool until it is thick enough to be piped. (You can use the refrigerator to speed the cooling process, but be sure to stir every 10 minutes or so to ensure even cooling.) Meanwhile, cut out a portion from the center of the cupcake using the cone method (a small paring knife works best for this). Once the ganache has reached the correct consistency, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a wide tip and pipe it into the cupcakes.

To make the frosting:

  1. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the powdered sugar until it is all incorporated. Mix in the Bailey’s until smooth. Add more if necessary until the frosting has reached a good consistency for piping or spreading. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

Yield: 24 cupcakes
Source: Annie’s Eats

Snackraments: Raincoast Crisps

For those not in the know, Leslie Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps are delicious crackers that cost an arm and a leg for a meager 6 ounces of product at Whole Foods.  Luckily, this recipe comes pretty close to duplicating this rather unique cracker, and it makes for an amazing Snackrament.  In the first place, these Crisps are full of whole foods that are great energy boosters:  whole wheat, honey, flax seed, sesame seeds, pepitas, herbs, dried fruits…it’s a manageable power bump in cracker form.  In the second, it’s time-efficient: the batter comes together in a flash, bakes in just 35 minutes or so, and the second bake is just maybe 25 minutes.  The third place?  These are so delicious, they are downright addictive

Best of all, the loaves store wonderfully in the freezer, and it’s easiest to slice these loves thinly when they’re frozen.  If you’ve got one in your freezer, you’re 25 minutes (and practically no mess!) away from having a great offering to share with your gods.  I often eat them plain (they’re just that good!), but I’ve also arranged them on a snack platter with various cheeses and cheese spreads, savory jellies, grapes and other fruits, garlic-free hummus, and spiced nuts.

And did I mention that the complexity of these crackers means they pair fantastically with just about any wine. No?  Well, try it yourself!

A Rosemary Raisin Pecan crisp with a slice of Gruyere cheese and a dollop of red pepper jelly

Basic Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour (can replace up to 1 cup with whole-wheat flour)
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (if you find them not salty enough for your taste, increase up to 1 tsp.)
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flax seed

For Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps Add:
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary

For Cranberry Hazelnut Crisps Add:
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 tsp. fresh, chopped thyme

For Salty Date and Almond Crisps Add:
1 cup dried, pitted dates, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, sprinkled on top of loaf before baking

For Fig and Walnut Crisps Add:
1 cup dried figs, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (roasted, if you like)
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease two 8×4-inch loaf pans or several mini loaf pans, for a smaller crisp.
  2. Measure out fruit and seeds and chop nuts and any herbs and set aside. If you are using raisins, you can plump them if you like by soaking in boiling water for 10 minutes and then draining before adding to recipe)
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar and honey and stir a few strokes. Add the pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and flax seed. Add your fruit and nuts as per the recipe specifications above. Add any herbs as specified. Stir just until combined.
  4. Pour the batter into two greased 8 x 4” loaf pans (or several mini loaf pans). *If making Salty Date and Almond, sprinkle salt on top of loaves before baking.
  5. Bake for about 35 minutes (less for mini loaves), until golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the pans and cool on a wire rack.
  6. Once loaves have cooled, wrap or place in a freezer bag and put in freezer for at least several hours (to make them easier to slice thin). When ready to bake, remove from freezer. Slice the frozen loaves as thin as you can and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Preheat oven to 300°F. and bake them for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, flip them over and bake for another 10 minutes, until crisp and deep golden. Remove to a cooling rack to cool and crisp up.
  8. Recipe makes about 8 dozen crackers.  If the crisps soften in storage, they can be re-crisped by popping them in a 325°F oven for 4-6 minutes.

Pinterest Moment: Brigid Bread

It seems the original image comes from the lovely blog Magical Musings

It seems the original image comes from the lovely blog Magical Musings

I think this image has popped up on more than one Pagan’s Pinterest this Candlemas season, and for good reason.  That’s one helluva gorgeous loaf of bread, and whoever had the idea to braid it into a Brigid’s Cross is a freaking genius.

Lately, one of the things I’ve been trying to incorporate into my own practice is signs and symbols to tie opposing Sabbats together.  After all, the wheel of the year forms a spiral through time, but each arm holds strongest to its foil.  Samhain and Beltane, Yule and Midsummer, Candlemas and Lammas, Spring and Autumn…part of the mystery of these Sabbats is how they complement their pair on the wheel’s other side.

For a very long time, I’ve been baking bread at Lammas to inaugurate the grain harvest (which is generally the whole month of August in the PNW)–and that’s a very typical practice for that Holiday.  How great would it be to bake the same ritual bread for both Candlemas and Lammas?  Since I also tend to use Candlemas to set my “New Year’s Resolutions” into place, I think I might craft it so that we ritually consume this special loaf while committing to our resolutions at Candlemas and then again at Lammas to celebrate the harvest of those intentions, to re-commit to those we’ve found useful, and to retire those we have not.  To change things up, I think I might serve the Candlemas one with a custard cheese paska* that my dear covenmate V. introduced me to and for Lammas perhaps a rabbit stew.  This seems right, since Candlemas–Imbolc–sees the return of dairy and eggs and the wheat harvest traditionally concluded with killing and eating the field rabbits that took refuge in the last stand of wheat.

If you do want to make a bread like this, you’ve got to start with a good, solid braiding bread recipe.  As much as I love my no-knead bread recipes, those are all too loose to make cleanly defined braids such as in the above loaf.  I’ve had good luck here with the Four-Strand Challah recipe I found on the King Arthur Flour website.  The recipe is as follows:

Quick Starter
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup (8 ounces) water
2 teaspoons instant yeast

Dough
All of the starter
3 1/2 cups (15 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable oil
2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)

Wash
1 egg white
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
poppy seeds (optional)

Starter: Mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes. (This type of quick starter is called for in recipes that are high in sugar, in order to let the yeast get a head start. If you have Fermipan Brown or SAF Gold yeast — both formulated especially for sweet breads — this recipe may be prepared as a straight dough, with all of the ingredients mixed together at once.

Dough: Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together — by hand, mixer or bread machine — until a smooth, supple dough is formed. This dough is a pleasure to work with — smooth and silky, it almost feels like you’re rubbing your hands with lotion. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until it’s doubled in size.

Shaping: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice, to expel the carbon dioxide. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18 inches long. On the lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan, braid a four-strand braid (see instructions below) or fashion a simpler three-strand braid.

NOTE: How To Make A Four-Strand Braid:Lay the strands side by side, and pinch them together at one end. For instruction purposes, think of the far left strand as #1, next is #2, then #3, and the far right is #4. Take the left-hand strand (#1) and move it to the right over strands #2 and #3, then tuck it back under strand #3. Take the right-hand strand (#4) and move it to the left over strands #3 and #1, then tuck it back under strand #1. Repeat this process until finished.

Make the wash by mixing together, in a small bowl, the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf with this mixture, reserving some for a second wash. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size.

Baking:Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust, as well as provide “glue” for the seeds), sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired, and bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the challah is lightly browned. Remove it from the oven, and cool completely before slicing. Yield: 1 loaf, about 16 1-inch slices.

How to start a Brigid's Cross

How to start a Brigid’s Cross

Obviously, you’ll need more than four dough ropes to make a Brigid’s cross.  In fact, if I’m counting correctly, the loaf above may have used 10 strands.  I think it would be best to play at this first and see how many you’ll need to create a cross that has an even square.  You definitely want each arm to have an even number of strands in it so that the loaf will bake evenly, and you want the whole thing to have a sort of even thickness, too.  Because of this, I think that the folding shown in the diagram to the right might adapt itself best to dough braiding, and I think eight ropes will work the best.  Just remember to tuck the ends of the final rope through the loop head of the first in its round in order to have the look of the pictured loaf.  Once you’ve braided, trim the cross ends so that they are even, roll out the scrap dough, and use that to bind the ends together.

*V. must have some Russian in her family line.  To her, paska is a dairy custard dessert made from butter, cottage cheese, and cream cheese.  To my Slovak family, paska is a sweet, raisin-studded bread.  As much as I love V.’s paska, I would never make it for my Spring celebration, so this adaptation works perfectly.