People who know me would tell you that it's hard to tell which I like more: gardening or cooking. I'd say it depends on which I'm doing at the moment. Anyway, French cooking and French gardening go hand in hand. For me, cooking is an on-going adventure. Join me here on my culinary explorations, where I share with you both my old favorites as well as new inspirations. It's my fondest wish that these recipes serve as a springboard for your own new creations.
01/24/2008 Traditional Provençal Christmas Bread (La Pompe des Rois)
Makes one very large (4 lb.) pompe or two smaller ones.
1 c. orange blossom water 2 packets baker's yeast 2 lbs. unbleached white flour Grated rind of one orange 11 oz. sugar 6 large eggs at room temperature 7 oz. butter at room temperature 8 oz. high-quality chopped candied or glaceed fruits or mixed dried fruits* 8 oz. high-quality candied or glaceed fruits in large pieces for decoration (optional) 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 T. cream 4 oz. pearl sugar**
*Don't use candied fruits that come in transparent plastic in the supermarket. Try to find artisanally produced glaceed fruit from France or elsewhere. If you can't find it, use dried fruits, soaked briefly in water, instead. Dried cherries are excellent.
**Pearl sugar is made especially for decorating baked goods and is available in specialty shops.
Gently warm the orange blossom water and pour it into a bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and let rest until foamy. Mix in 1/4 of the flour, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (this is the sponge). Put the remaining flour minus one cup in a big mixing bowl or in a heap on a large board. Make a well in the center into which you put 3 beaten eggs, the grated rind, and the sugar. Gradually mix these ingredients into the flour, then mix in the remaining eggs one by one, and the sponge from above. Knead until homogenous. Then knead in the soft butter a tablespoon at a time. Add sprinkles of flour from your reserved cup as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Continue kneading until the dough is soft and elastic and has the feel of a plump baby's bottom. Knead in the candied fruits or the soaked dried fruits, drained and dried on a towel, until evenly incorporated.
Divide the dough in two if making two smaller breads. Form each portion of dough into a sausage shape by rolling under your palms, then join and slightly overlap the ends to form a circle or crown (couronne) shape. Pinch to securely seal. Place the dough ring(s) on parchment covered baking sheet(s). Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place until slightly less than doubled in bulk. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Brush the bread with the egg yolk-cream mixture. Using kitchen shears, snip a series of 'V's' in a circle on the surface of the bread. Sprinkle with the pearl sugar. Gently place in the center of the oven. Turn the bread 180 degrees after 20 minutes of baking. If you have big pieces of candied fruit for decoration, remove the bread from the oven when it is light golden brown (after about 30-35 minutes baking) and looks as if it just needs 5-10 more minutes to be done. Gently press the pieces of fruit into the crust in at attractive pattern. If necessary, use the tip of a sharp knife to delicately pierce the crust to facilitate the anchoring of the fruits. Return the bread to the oven until the crust is a deep golden brown. Remove and cool on a rack.
Note: This rich dough contains no salt as salt inhibits growth of the yeast. Enjoy this bread as a festive dessert with a glass of dessert wine or port. Leftovers make fantastic French toast or bread pudding. Traditionally, the pompe contains a dried bean or other token. The person discovering it in his portion is King.