Christmas Pear and Nut Bread
Bake the Birnbrot 3 - 4 weeks before Christmas. Wrap closely in foil and store in a cool place.
250 g (9 oz) dried pears
100 g (4 oz) dried prunes
100 g (4 oz) dried figs, chopped small
100 g (4 oz) dried or fresh dates, without stones
75 g (3 oz) candied orange and lemon peel, chopped
100 g (4 oz) raisins
100 g (4 oz) sultanas
7 g (1 tbsp) pine kernels
75 g (3 oz) hazelnuts, toasted and chopped coarsely
75 g (3 oz) walnuts, chopped coarsely
5 g (1 tsp) lemon zest
10 g (2 tsp) orange zest
25 ml (1 fl oz) kirsch or rum
for the bread dough
250 g (9 oz) strong plain flour
20 g (3/4 oz) fresh yeast
60 g (2 1/2 oz) caster sugar
7.5 g (1 1/2 tsp) cinnamon
large pinch clove
2.5 g (1/2 tsp) star aniseed or allspice
5 cm (2 in) vanilla pod, split
30 g (2 tbsp) granulated sugar
15 g (1 tbsp) cornflour
30 ml (2 tbsp) kirsh or rum
1. Carefully wash the pears and prunes. Place them in a pan and just cover with water. Leave to soften for 2 - 3 hours. Set the pan on the heat, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Drain the fruits but reserve the juice and leave to cool. Chop up the figs.
2. Place the figs, dates, orange and lemon peels, raisins, sultanas, the pine nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, and the lemon and orange zests in a large bowl. Toss well together to mix and pour on the kirsch. Chop up the cooled fruit roughly and remove the stones. Add to the fruit and nut mixture.
3. Make a sponge batter with 50 ml (2 fl oz) of the reserved fruit syrup, warmed to blood heat, yeast, 50 g ( 2 oz) flour and 5 g (1 tsp) sugar taken from the main quantity. Cover and set aside to rise and double in bulk.
4. Meanwhile, sift the remaining flour with the salt and spices in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, pour in the sponge batter and draw in a little of the flour. Scoop in the seeds of the split vanilla pod and sugar. Combine well together and moisten with about 100 ml (4 fl oz) of the fruit syrup.
5. Knead the dough very thoroughly until it becomes less sticky and starts to roll off the sides of the bowl. When it is very elastic and large air bubbles have started to form, gather into a large ball and place on the flour-dusted work-top.
6. Pull the dough out and gradually knead in the fruit and nut mixture until all has been used. Roll into a large ball and lay in the large flour-dusted bowl. Dredge with a little more flour and cover with a clean tea-towel. Set aside in a cool place to rise overnight.
7. Next day, break off pieces of dough and form into hand-sized 4 - 5 cm (l 1/2 - 2 in) rolls, or make two larger loaves (for 550g/llb loaf tins) , according to your choice. Lay small rolls, well apart, on greased baking sheets. Leave to rest and rise a little for 15 - 20 minutes, then bake in the preheated oven at 180°C (350°F) Gas 4 for 1 hour until golden and well risen.
8. Kirsch glaze for the warm loaves: heat 250 ml (9 fl oz) fruit syrup with 30 g (2 tbsp) granulated sugar, bring to the boil. Stir in 15 g (1 tbsp) cornflour and cook until thickened. Draw off the heat and stir in 30 ml (2 tbsp) kirsch. Brush on the warm loaves, press in a few almond halves for decoration, and leave to cool.
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