This season, we're Making Magic, bringing you a series of easy transformations to embellish already-wonderful things, from cakes to mantels to trees. Today, we're baking bread (because you can and you should!). Slide back and forth on the image below to twist your way to some warm, buttery deliciousness.
Magic may not truly exist, at least not in the whole Harry Potter/Hogwarts sense. (Although I've never given up the dream that my owl-delivered school invitation will arrive any day now through my apartment window.) In lieu of broomsticks and wands, baking bread is about as close to magic as you can get. The transformation of a few modest ingredients into a warm loaf never ceases to thrill me, no matter how many hundreds of times I bake.
I understand why yeast bread baking can seem intimidating. Rising! Kneading! Shaping! I’m lucky to have grown up watching my mother bake regularly. She demystified the practice for me, showing me how little technique it requires (and how forgiving it is), instilling in me a lifelong love for the feeling of creating bread from scratch. Now the alchemy of flour, water, salt, and yeast is something I embrace.
The holidays are largely sugar-filled (hello, eggnog), so a savory bread can be a nice party trick to balance out all the sweet treats. My favorite recipe is deceptively simple. Simple, because the ingredients and method are easy. Deceptive, because the result is so sophisticated, most people would swear only a practiced baker could have made it.
Start with one simple dough recipe, then, depending on how much magic you're looking for, serve either a beautiful braid or star-shaped wonder. You can prep the dough and braid it into a loaf that looks impressive, but doesn’t require much skill. Or you can turn the exact same dough into an herby, cheese-filled star bread (see the dough and two ways to make it by clicking the recipes below). Star breads have a special look, but when you break it down, you’ll see that you can achieve the shape just by stacking rolled-out circles of dough and a filling of your choice, then slicing and twisting it.
I work for a baking company in Vermont, and each month we feature a different recipe as inspiration for bakers. This month, we featured a sweet version of this star bread, and the comments and enthusiasm from home bakers have been heart-warming enough to bring me to tears. Discovering that you (yes, you!) can make something so exceptional-looking (and delicious) with your own hands is the best, and most magical, gift you can give yourself this holiday season.
What's your bread game plan this holiday? Will you give one of these special loaves a try? Tell us in the comments!