Pan de Pascua (Christmas Bread)
3 packages or cakes of dry or compressed yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup lukewarm water
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 cups flour
8 tablespoons (1 quarter-pound stick) soft butter
1/3 cup diced candied citron
1/4 cup white raisins, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup dark raisins, rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts), rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons melted butter
Sprinkle the 3 packages of yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar over 1/3 cup of lukewarm water. Be absolutely sure that the water is lukewarm (110 to 115 degrees )--neither too hot nor too cool to touch. (If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast; if too cold, the yeast will not be activated.) Let the yeast and sugar stand 2 or 3 minutes, then stir them together to dissolve them completely. Set the cup in a warm, draft-free place, perhaps in a turned-off oven, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the yeast bubbles up and the mixture almost doubles in volume. If the yeast does not bubble and the mixture remains constant in size, this means that the yeast is inactive. Discard and begin again with 3 more packages.
With a rubber spatula, transfer the yeast mixture to a large mixing bowl. Stir in the 6 egg yolks, vanilla, lemon peel, salt and the rest of the 1/4 cup of sugar. Then add 1 1/2 cups offlour, l/2 cup at a time, stirring the mixture constantly with your hand until the dough is sticky and soft but has enough body to be gathered into a rough ball. If necessary, add a little more flour. Divide the soft butter into three pieces and mix one piece at a time into the dough, which should then become heavy and stringy and fall from your hands in large blobs. Gather it together again in one mass. Now add l/2 to 1 cup more flour, a little at a time, mixing it in with your hands. When the dough is firm and, although oily, no longer sticky, knead it on a floured board for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and shiny and its surface is blistered. Then shape it into a ball. Place the ball in a large,
clean bowl and sprinkle the top with a little flour. Cover the bowl with a plate or pot lid and set it in a warm draft-free spot (here again, an oven with the heat turned off is ideal). In 30 to 45 minutes the dough should rise to double its bulk.
Preheat the oven to 400. Punch the dough down with your fists and gently knead in the diced candied citron, the white and dark raisins, and the chopped nuts. Handle the dough as little as possible after you have added the raisins, citron, and nuts or it will discolor. Shape the dough into a ball again, place it on a buttered baking sheet and cut a cross on the top of the ball. Generously butter one side of a strip of heavy brown paper about 25 inches long and 5 inches wide.
Wrap the ball of dough loosely in the paper, buttered side in so that the paper surrounds the dough in the pan like a collar. The collar should measure about 6 to 8 inches across.
Fasten the ends of the paper in place around the dough with string, a pin or a paper clip and set the dough in a warm place to rise again. (You can also use an angel cake pan but it's just not quite the same.) When the dough has again doubled in bulk (after about another fifteen minutes), brush the top of the dough with some of the melted butter and bake the christmas bread on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, brush the top of bread with more of the melted butter, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes longer. When done, the top should be crisp and golden brown. Brush again with melted butter about 15 or 20 minutes after the baking process begins. When the bread is done, cool it on a wire cake rack, removing the paper. To serve, cut the bread into thick wedges.
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