Christmas is almost here again and it’s time for festive bakes, the bread of the month at the “We Knead To Bake” group. I decided to look for a Christmas time festive bread to bake that is a bit different to bake from all those I’ve baked so far. The fact is that many traditional Christmas breads across the world are quite similar to each other in that they are invariably made with enriched dough and they will be flavoured with spices and contain fruit and nuts of some sort.
What makes them different from another is the varying in the number of eggs and the amount of butter in the dough, the spice, dried fruit and nuts(sometimes seeds as well) used, whether the fruit is kneaded into the dough or used as a filling and the shape the bread is baked into.
So after much searching, I zeroed in on the Krendel which is a Russian/ Ukrainian Christmas bread shaped like a large pretzel. What I found a little different about the Krendel is that it is filled with a mixture of fresh apples and dried fruits like apricots and prunes which I haven’t come across in other Christmas breads I’ve seen so far. After baking, the Krendel is lightly covered with a sugar glaze and an optional sprinkling of sliced almonds or else a simple dusting of icing sugar.
I understand that the Krendl is the preferred bread for Christmas in Russia/ Ukraine but it is also baked and served on birthdays, or what were more important than birthdays and known as “name” days.
In the Russian orthodox tradition and in many countries across Europe and Latin America, the name day is an important occasion and often celebrated instead of a birthday. A name day, considered a holy day, is the feast day of the saint after whom a person is named.
So people who are named after a particular saint celebrate that saint’s feast day instead of their birthday generally with a visit to the church and end it with a celebration party. The highlight is usually the serving of the pretzel shaped, fruit filled Krendl. At Christmas time the Krendl celebrates the birth of Jesus.
Pretzels were supposed to have been invented in a medieval monastery to be given out as rewards to children who said their prayers, and were generally small in size. The crossed arms of the Pretzel are said to represent crossed or folded arms of Jesus. The shape of the Pretzel has endured over time as has the belief of baking it into breads for religious and celebratory occasions.
Krendel is thought to be of German origin and from the late 13th century when there were many German bakers in Russia. There is a suggestion that the name could be a corruption of the German Kringle which is a cookie. The Krendl, like a lot of European celebratory yeasted breads is made from enriched dough. The filling is typically fresh apples and dried fruit like apricots and prunes cooked to a jam like consistency with some spice.
In the recipe below, one of the dried fruit used if dried figs. If you don’t want to use that, you can substitute it with some other fruit. I used cranberries which gave my filling a somewhat tart taste that we liked. Do be a bit conservative with the sugar in the filling and adjust it according to your taste. I dusted my Krendel with icing sugar instead of using a glaze.