Please Help The Bread Baker's Apprentice Learn Gifting
November 27, 2010 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Let's say I've resolved to give my family home-baked bread for Christmas this year. Which of your bread recipes will produce something that says "I've made this for you because I love you and not (just) because I desperately hate shopping"?

My criteria for a perfect gift of bread:

- Is beautiful in its own right
- Improves with age (maximum of three weeks), or at least keeps well enough that it will happily survive two days in shipping

I've thought of stollen, but I'm not sure how well it keeps, and it doesn't quite have that visual "ooh" factor (unless I'm just overlooking some creative shaping possibilities).

Please help, MeFi bread bakers!
posted by YamwotIam to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
If you're not Jewish this may be weird but I'd say challah. It's an event bread! And looks like it. Also it makes the world's best French toast.

No bread without artificial preservatives will last three weeks. You get three days before cutting but can store bread longer in a bread box.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:23 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think any yeast bread improves with age. You could package up the ingredients with instructions.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:17 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

King Arthur Flour has a terrific baking blog and you might find some ideas there. I suggest reading the ingredient lists first (they usually link to the real recipe at the bottom of the blog entries) to make sure there is no special KAF-only ingredient. Sometimes there are, but often there is nothing you can't get a regular store or don't already have if you already bake.

blog: Off to the right there, they have categories. Bread is not under "bread" but under "yeast bread and rolls" at the bottom.

The section you might be after is filled loaves & braids:

Read the comments and recipe reviews, too, because people often have ideas about how to change or substitute or jazz up a recipe.

I agree that no bread made at home will last 3 weeks on the counter. You could try freezing it. You could also make the dough ahead of time and freeze that and bake later.

Try bread that contains potato or potato flakes as an ingredient. Those breads, for me, tend to keep a bit better (5 days instead of only 2-3). I store bread in a big ziplock bag on the counter. By the 3rd day, usually it is great for toast but is a bit dry. Another thing to try is, right as the bread comes out of the oven is to run a stick of butter over the top. I do that with cinnamon rolls and they stay soft and perfect (if the extras are covered with foil and kept in the fridge, anyway) for at least 4-5 days instead of 2-3.

I think you could also try lecithin meant for adding to bread. I have not tried it but I guess it adds to the time it stays fresh.

There is also a site, The Fresh Loaf, that might help you in your quest. I have not spent a lot of time there but the mother of a friend of my husband ;) LOVES that site and she does make completely amazing bread.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:20 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Panettone keeps well, and it's traditionally eaten for Christmas. It will definitely survive spending two days in shipping.
posted by needled at 9:25 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

As an avid baker, I completely agree with Ideefix: no bread with yeast will keep for more than a couple days.

Send Jim Lahey's no-knead bread bible (or just a recipe) along with the pre-measured ingredients and maybe a nice bowl and / or dutch oven (depending on your gift-giving budget).
posted by omarlittle at 9:59 PM on November 27, 2010

A quickrise bread with nuts tastes better after a few days, IMO - there's no yeast, just baking soda and baking powder. Pumpkin bread is very festive and super-easy to bake.
posted by muddgirl at 10:21 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Banana bread with pecans or walnuts. It'll keep in a refrigerator.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:10 PM on November 27, 2010

I'm not much of a baker, so I can't give you a recipe. But one of the best bread gifts I ever got was a sourdough rye/multigrain fruit loaf. It had lots of fruit, and I think it may have been egg glazed - it was certainly very dark on the outside.

From memory it lasted a bit over a week. At the end of that, it was only fit for toast but that was fine for a fruit loaf.
posted by Ahab at 11:31 PM on November 27, 2010

Stollen is reasonable for a week or even longer, but three weeks would be pushing it. I think you can make a pretty nice looking stollen if you slash the top, wash with egg, and then dust with icing sugar, but then I like good-looking bread a lot more than the average person. Generally, any brioche that you make (stollen being one kind, panettone another, but there are many kinds) will taste good for a little bit longer than regular bread. The richer you make it (more butter), the longer it will keep.

If you wanted to get fancy, you can braid any reasonably workable dough (a braided stollen would be pretty nifty, I think). You could even add different fruit and nuts to each strand to add a little variety. Also, stollen with a good amount of marzipan inside is a much better gift than stollen without (not to mention that stollen without marzipan is just wrong). I also have had good results adding a fair bit of almond meal to my stollen dough.

The other option is to go with cookies. You can do a lot with simple shortbread to make it fancier (cut it into shapes, add nuts, cranberries, etc., dip half of it in chocolate) that will keep for longer than any bread (though shipping shortbread without breakage can be tough, you'll need lots of padding). There are a lot of Christmas cookie options (if I give you a list, they'll mostly be German ones, which might not be to your taste).

You've just reminded me that the first of Advent is tomorrow. Time to bake some cookies!
posted by ssg at 12:23 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmmm...perhaps biscotti? Not quite bread, but sturdy and easily shippable. Dip in chocolate, OMG tasty, too.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:52 AM on November 28, 2010

I'm sure I've heard anecdotally that it's traditional to keep Stollen for about 3 weeks before eating it so it ages like a fruit cake? Here's a brilliant Stollen recipe from Dan Lepard. We're making our second (double) batch today after the first lot got greedily eaten in the name of taste testing...

You might want to have a look at recipes for Panforte too. This doesn't contain any yeast and keeps really well but admittedly isn't terribly 'bready'.
posted by dogsbody at 5:30 AM on November 28, 2010

Last year we made fruitcakes and people loved them. This was probably because we fed the cakes brandy and rum for three weeks. The trick is to use less of that weird candied colorful 'fruit' stuff (or none at all) and more actual fruit nubbins. They can be made decorative via careful placement of nuts - and even sparse, decorative-only placement of sugar-mummified cherries - in a pattern along the top.

Obviously, this does not work with non-drinkers.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:55 AM on November 28, 2010

My mom makes stollen and ships it every Christmas (and it's so popular she now does it for Easter, too). She soaks the dried fruit in orange juice, and uses fancy dried fruits like cherries. It does get a little dry sometimes by the time it's gotten to me, but I just toast it with butter. Yum!
posted by ldthomps at 8:23 AM on November 28, 2010

Please don't send a mix that uses yeast, as suggested by Ideefixe. I'm someone who loves baking, but I hate *hate* working with stupid fussy yeast. If you're going to send a dry (homemade nicely packaged, etc) mix, keep it as simple as possible. You aren't trying to create work for giftees.

Many fruitcakes are a lot closer to quick bread than you might picture and are intended to made long ahead of time - like, 6 weeks!

Here's a great recipe for chocolate panforte from Martha Stewart. I look forward to making it sometime soon myself.
posted by maryr at 11:49 AM on November 28, 2010

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