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1 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (105-115F)
3/4 cup scalded milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lard, butter or Crisco
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup Craisins
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon mace
3 1/2 - 3 3/4 cups flour
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3-4 tablespoons water
few drops vanilla

Tip: Pour several cups hot water into the bowl of an electric mixer and allow to sit for 5 minutes in order to warm the bowl before adding the yeast. Discard water.

Testing the Yeast: In a large bowl, stir to dissolve 1 package yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and flour; allow to sit for 5 minutes. The yeast mixture should bubble and foam - if it doesn't, then the yeast may be old and should be discarded.

Scald the Milk: In a saucepan, heat the milk until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. It is best to use a heavy saucepan to avoid scorching the milk on the bottom of the pan (which will impart to the milk a bitter, burnt taste). Remove the saucepan from the heat as soon as the tiny bubbles form (do not allow to boil). Allow to cool undisturbed and a skin will form which should be removed in order to promote improved rising of the bread).

Into the bowl with the yeast, stir milk, sugar, Crisco (or lard or butter), egg, raisins, Craisins, almonds and lemon peel, mace, salt and 2 cups flour. Beat until dough is smooth and silky, adding just enough of the remaining flour until the dough is not too sticky and can be kneaded (More flour may be gradually sprinkled over the dough as it is being kneaded in the next step.) Try to add as little flour as possible to keep the bread light and airy.

Lightly dust a clean surface with flour and turn dough out of the bowl. Knead for 5-8 minutes, dusting lightly with flour to keep dough from sticking to the work surface or to your hands.

Tip: Lightly rub olive oil over your hands to prevent the dough from sticking during kneading.

Place in a clean bowl brushed with butter or olive oil, turning once to coat surface of dough. Cover and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place until dough has doubled in bulk (about 90-120 minutes).

After dough has risen, punch dough down (push all the air out). Divide dough into 4 strips and roll into logs. Lightly butter a cookie sheet and place the pieces on the sheet. Pinch three of the ends tightly together and braid the strips loosely, pinching the opposite ends together when done (tuck the pinched ends under for neatness).

Divide the remaining portion into 3 smaller strips and roll into logs; proceed as above (only smaller). Place this braid on top of the first braid in the center.

Cover braided dough lightly with a clean damp cotton towel and allow to sit on the shelf in the oven (or any other warm and draft-free place) until braid has risen again and is doubled in bulk (for gas ovens leave the door open a crack).

Remove braid from oven and preheat to 350F for 15 minutes.

Using a fork, mix egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk (or cream) in a small bowl. Brush over top of loaf. Sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.

Bake bread on the lower-center rack until loaf is golden brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Do not open oven to check for doneness until more than 3/4 of the cooking time has elapsed.

When bread is done, remove from baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Brush top with melted butter to soften crust, if desired, or drizzle top with a confectioners' sugar glaze.

Glaze: 1 cup confectioners' sugar plus 3-4 tablespoons of water or rum. A few drops of vanilla may be added. Stir together until very thick and pour in a thin stream over warm bread. Add more sugar if glaze is too thin; add more water if glaze is too thick until you achieve the correct consistency.

Submitted by: CM
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