In my family, Christmas smells like licorice.
To be precise, the smell of Christmas is anise cooked with dried fruit, in a dark bread, best served cold from my grandma's enclosed but uninsulated back porch, which served as a poor man's deep freeze during the Minnesota winters. Christmas, my friends, is bittebrot.
Technically, it should be birnebrot, as it is really Swiss pear bread. My great-grandmother's recipe has it spelled correctly. But I've never heard anyone say anything but "bitte" which I've always found appropriate, as bitte is kind of the German version of aloha or shalom, a word that might mean both please and thank you.
Sometime as we approached the holidays, Grandma would make up massive batches of bittebrot, and it would fill every pan she could find. Loaf pans, cake pans, pie plates, casseroles, free-form loaves on cookie sheets. You never knew what shape the bread might take.
Grandma Marie often lamented that hers didn't taste exactly like her mother-in-law's. Grandma Dehn Sr.'s would have a bread lighter in color, that rose higher. Grandma's was denser and deeper in flavor. Both were wonderful, but I always preferred Grandma Marie's.
Mine is somewhere in the middle...and something kind of different.
When I first stepped up to try my hand at our family tradition, it was the same way it had been made forever. Mixed by hand in a giant bowl with a wooden spoon. Kneaded by hand. Shaped by hand. And it was delicious. It was also hard and time consuming, and frankly, I'm a fan of quick and easy.
Enter the bread machine.