Eggnog Cranberry Loaf

Christmas traditions are a funny thing.  Some are so fitting and logical, like making spicy gingerbread cookies to fire up your taste buds, or bringing a part of the winter world into your home in the form of an aromatic, highly ornamented evergreen tree.  Some people open presents on Christmas Eve, some wait until Christmas morning.  You leave out cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer…what, only I did that?  Those reindeer are working just as hard, if not harder.

I apologize for the poor lighting in these photos.  I’m really trying to take pics during the daytime only.

And then there are those weird, bizarre traditions that you don’t question, even though there’s always a small part of you that wants to.  That says, “where in the world did this come from?”  My family had one of those.  Every year my mom would hide a pickle in the Christmas tree for my brother and me to find.  The first one to find it was rewarded with a surprise.

My brother and I were competitive.  Like, Mom had to write our names on our Easter eggs to keep us from wailing on each other to collect the most eggs.  Anyway, let’s get back to the holiday at hand.  A pickle…in the Christmas tree.  What??!!!??  Where in the world did that come from?  Because they’re both green?  There are plenty of other more holiday-related objects that could be hidden in the tree.  But ours was a pickle.  Go figure.

Still, when I think back to getting covered in tree sap searching for that pickle, I always smile.  It’s those weird traditions that stay with us, that we look forward too, even if we don’t understand why.

An obvious tradition of mine will always be to bake with eggnog to excess during the holiday season.  I have to make as many different things as possible, to savor that eggnog in as many different forms as I can before it’s gone from the shelves.  I had never thought of making a yeast bread with eggnog before, but hey, why not?  The result is a fantastic loaf of sweet bread that makes awesome toast, and would no doubt make some killer bread pudding or french toast.  The flavors of the eggnog are very subtle and lend just a hint of spice, while the tang and texture of the cranberries waiting inside the soft bread are a wonderful surprise.  This could definitely turn into a tradition for me.

Eggnog Cranberry Loaf

Adapted from Taste of Home

Makes 1 loaf

3 to 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1-1/4 cups eggnog

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Glaze: (I did not make the glaze because I knew I’d be freezing this bread)

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 to 2 tablespoons eggnog

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash nutmeg

In a bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups of flour, sugar, salt, yeast and nutmeg; set aside. In a saucepan, heat eggnog and butter to 120°-130° (the butter does not need to melt); add to flour mixture. Beat on low until moistened; beat on medium for 3 minutes.

Stir in cranberries and enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down; divide into thirds. Shape each third into a 16-in. rope. Braid ropes on a greased baking sheet; seal ends. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes.

Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until golden. Immediately remove from pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Combine the first three glaze ingredients; drizzle over braid. Dust with nutmeg.

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