Thursday, January 03, 2008

What is Tradition?

What is tradition?
Is it the absurd, tender nickname my fiance calls me? After spending too much time away from him, when he picks me up at baggage claim, hearing that name makes my heart squeeze love out of my eyes. And as I spend more time with his mother, I realize that she has absurd, tender nicknames for those she loves as well.

What is tradition?
Is it the way I surround myself with animals? There hasn't been a moment in my life when my family home hasn't housed madly-loved animals. Is it why I've chosen a man who, when he wakes before me and goes downstairs to make coffee, I can hear singing to our cats?*




What is tradition?
Is it the way I cultivate whatever land I can get my hands on, even if it isn't my own land?



What is tradition?
It certainly is the cardamom bread my family eats every Christmas. My Swedish great-grandmother, the one who worked as Clark Gable's cook, baked it regularly, and my great-grandfather liked it sliced thinly and toasted until it was dry as hardtack. He'd eat it with his black coffee. My family, however, likes it warm and soft and sticky with sweet icing, and we look forward to it for months before my mom bakes it at Christmas-time.

What is tradition?
It certainly is how and when I bake and serve cardamom bread. Living so close to the Rose Parade route, every year I watch the parade and marvel at the feats of floral engineering. Every year, I bake cardamom bread on the 31st, and the friends who stay overnight at my house feast on it with me as we watch the parade make it's slow, majestic, and cymbal-loud way down the street.







(Bam!)


What is tradition?
Is it the way a small, poor nation, when making it to the Rose Parade, draws a big crowd, a giant cheer, and pride enough to fuel the generation of hope?


What is tradition? Is it genetic? Is it habit? Is it time-dependent or permanent? Is it something lying dormant in our souls, only waking when we need it most? Does it shape or emerge from whom we are?

Traditional Cardamom Bread

For the bread, you will need:
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) of active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
2 ½ cup milk, scalded and cooled
¾ cup butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 ½ - 2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
7 cups all purpose flour (plus extra for shaping dough)

For the icing, you will need:
2 T melted butter
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
A few drops of almond flavoring
Lemon juice

To make the bread:
Grease a large bowl with butter and set it aside.

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, blend the yeast with the water and let stand for five minutes, until the mixture makes foamy islands on top of the surface. Stir in the milk, butter, egg, salt, sugar, and cardamom. Gradually add the flour, mixing either with a heavy wooden spoon or on a low speed of your stand mixer. The dough will be very difficult to manage—it’s sticky and gooey. Knead until the dough is and elastic and shiny (it will still be sticky), a process that will take about 10 minutes. Once you are confident in the elasticity of the dough, use a dough scraper to transfer the dough into the greased bowl. Grease your hands with the butter and gently flip the dough over so the surface is greased as well. Cover the bowl with a greased plate or pot lid, and let the dough rise in room temperature 1 ½ - 2 hours (or overnight in the refrigerator), or until the dough is nearly doubled in size.

(If you’ve left the dough in the refrigerator overnight, remove it from the refrigerator and let the dough come to room temperature before you go on to the next step.)

Punch the dough down, transfer the dough to a well-floured surface, and divide into three large portions for one huge (I mean HUGE, approximately 14” in diameter) wreath loaf or into six portions for two medium (about 10”) loaves. Roll and stretch the portions into ropes about 2’ long. Place the ropes on a silicon lined baking sheet, pinch the ends on one side together, and braid. Take one end of the braid, pull it around, then tuck it into the other end. Gently adjust the dough into a round, well-shaped braided loaf. If you are making two loaves, repeat with the other ropes. Lay a clean dish towel over the surface of the loaf and let it rise until almost double, about 40 minutes at a comfortable room temperature. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.


Remove the dish towel(s) and place the baking sheet(s) into the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes (if baking two, switch the baking sheets halfway through), until the loaves are lightly browned. The bread will have risen even larger, expanding to fill the center hole, so the loaf will look more like an opening flower than a braided wreath. It’s such a beautiful bread.

Remove the bread and transfer the loaf to a wire rack and cool until still warm, but no longer hot, about 10 minutes. Mix together the first three ingredients for the icing in a small bowl and add lemon juice, little by little, until you have come to the consistency of heavy cream. Spoon the icing over the top of the loaf, letting it drizzle into the center and down the sides.

Serve this loaf in large slices, slathered with soft butter at the Rose Parade, or wherever else you may celebrate a tradition, new or old.


*ECG is the talented photographer in our little household. The three cat pictures are a taste of of his beautiful work.

13 comments:

rowena said...

You had me at the part where your fiance was singing to your cats. It was like a delightful little skip in my heart to read that. But boy would I love to see how you would transform my empty plot in the back!

I've got a lot of cardamom powder so this bread is most definitely a go!

Wendy said...

Beautiful post. Particularly loved the first interpretation of "tradition". It made me sigh. :)
There's a Scottish New Year's tradition which involves visiting the homes of friends and families after the bells (midnight on the 31st Dec) and bringing a lump of coal. It's called "first-footing". Does this happen in the states? Moreoften than not, folk don't bring coal anymore: just some beer or wine!
Gorgeous dogs and cats, btw!

Susan said...

Lovely, lovely post, Christina. I baked Beatrice Ojakanjas' cardamom bundt cake for Christmas dessert. Everyone was crazy about it.

Singing to cats? Hath charms. Highly recommended. : }

Jeena said...

Hi there you have such a lovely blog. Great recipe it really does look so delicious. I have a blog also here is my link Food Recipes

Cute cats. :-) Let me know if you would like to exchange links. Thanks Jeena x

Little Red Kitchen said...

Love your traditions!

winedeb said...

Ah Christina, you have captured me again. All I can say at this point is that it is a lovely post. I adore the pet photos:)
And I really enjoy the garden shots! Looks wonderful!

Christina said...

Rowena: I think you'll like the cardamom bread--it's mildly sweet, eggy, chewy, and very yummy.

Wendy: We don't have first-footing here, but it certainly sounds fun. I'd definitely participate. The animals thank you for the compliments.

Susan: I'll have to check out the bundt cake recipe, because we're big cardamom fans here. Thanks for the compliments.

Jeena: Thanks for the kind words.

Little Red Kitchen: Thanks!

Winedeb: I'm glad you enjoyed this. These animals are pretty experienced models--ECG spends a lot of time photographing them.

Happy New Year, all!

typical college graduate said...

i hate that you can interpret anything and make it sound beautiful. blehh...

how's school?

winlor chang said...

hey christina,
i figured this is the best way for us to communicate since phones are annoying and i'm always on the internet. so, it's been awhile, congrats on your engagement by the way. i am very happy for you and your man.
i am up late procrastinating as usual. i still have lots of letters of recommendations to write. that is my new cross to bear as i no longer have to read and grade essays.
i love my new job and new home. we definitely have to catch up. i live off orange grove ave. right by the 110 freeway. it's basically downtown so pas. right next to trader joes and "senior fish."
love your blog.

winlor

Oh for the love of food! said...

Hey there Christina, thanks for dropping by my blog - Love your pics, they are fun and colorful, and your cardamon bread looks absolutely delish.
I noticed you have a snow pea plant. Did you know that young stalks of the snow pea plant is edible and tastes amazing in a stirfry with some minced garlic and salt?

Christina said...

Typical College Graduate: Sorry lady, I'm a cheeseball. You know me. School is good, thank you for asking. I'm fighting a sore throat, but I'm always fighting a sore throat, so that's nothing new. How's school for you?

Winlor: Hey buddy. Good to hear from you. Those letters never end, do they? Let's get together for coffee, or tapas at Dragonfly some night SOON. Do you hit the South Pas farmers' market? It's such a sweet market. And, don't you just drool at Nicole's cheeses every time you drop in there?

Oh For the Love of Food: Yes, I do know they're edible. They're delicious! I've been stir frying them with green garlic, fava bean greens, and minced preserved lemon lately and loving them. Thanks for the compliments!

winlor said...

christina,
i live right next to the thursday night farmers market in so pas. i plan on visiting nichole's cheeses this weekend. tapas at dragonfly's or coffee anywhere sounds great. as much as i hate to use the phone, i will call you sometimes soon. and yes, the letters never end. i still have 13 to do. after all is said and done, i would have written letters for over 65 students this year, not fun. especially since i had to do some of them over winter break.
talk to you soon.

ann said...

I am so embarassed that you have posted three times since the last time I was able to check in. My life is running away from me it seems!

I actually kind of wondered if you were near the Rose Parade route as I lolled on the couch watching it on TV. I love (LOVE!) the rose parade, not so much for the floats but for the honor they give the equestrian teams. Some year I'll make it out there to see it!
It used to be my dream to be in it as a member of the USET, but now I'd just be happy to see it in person.

I'm totally tucking this recipe away, btw. It sounds wonderful.