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Aroma of festive European breads wafts through holiday kitchens

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Eleven months out of the year it may be the staff of life, but when the holiday season is upon us, bread bakers have the chance to show off their artistry. It's the time to create festive breads in all sizes, shapes, and flavors, both savory and sweet.

Some breads have traditional ties, a symbolic shape or flavor that makes them special for the holidays. Every European country has a tradition of sweet, fruity breads that are so good served with spicy cider.

Czechoslovakian immigrants brought their handsome fruit-studded Vanocka to the United States. Its braided shape is said to resemble the Christ child wrapped in swaddling clothes.

From Germany, there is almond-scented Kugelhopf, traditionally a Name Day cake to be eaten on the birthday of the saint for whom one was named. It also makes a marvelous coffeecake on Christmas morning. It is lemony, rich with almonds and butter, and requires no kneading.

Pretzel-shaped Kringle from Russia is filled with almond paste enhanced with orange. It shines with a vanilla-scented glaze and makes a lovely dessert.

Savory Italian Rye Bread makes a delicious loaf for dinner, sandwiches, or snacks.

To get a head start on the season, all of these breads can be baked and frozen until needed. A food processor or a mixer with a dough hook makes quick work of the mixing.

Working with yeast doughs is a pleasure, but remember that dough rises best in a warm kitchen. Rising times suggested in the recipes may vary depending upon kitchen temperature and the weather. Warmth and humidity speed up rising; if your kitchen is cool, allow extra time.

Wrapped and tied with a bright ribbon, these breads become a most special gift welcomed by all. No Knead Kugelhopf 1 cup milk 3 packets active dry yeast 4 cups flour 3/4 cup sugar 1 cup butter, softened 6 eggs 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind 1 cup golden raisins 12 blanched almonds Confectioners' sugar

Warm milk slightly, to 105 to 115 degrees F. Stir in yeast. Place 1 cup flour in large bowl. Pour milk over flour and beat well. Cover with plastic wrap and towel. Set in warm place until sponge doubles, about 1 hour.

Beat sugar and butter together until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating until mixture is creamy and light. Beat in salt, lemon rind, and raisins. Beat in sponge and remaining flour.

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