My children have fond memories of making little bears from sweet bread dough at Christmastime. Early on the day we made them, I would get out everything we would need to bring the bears to life and give them personality: currants for the eyes, coarse sugar for the body and pieces of colorful ribbons to tie as bows around their necks.
1 1/3 cups warm milk
1 tablespoon active, dry yeast
2/3 cup white sugar, divided
5–51/4 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces, plus more for buttering bowls and pans
12 raisins or currants for eyes
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash
Turbinado (coarse brown) sugar, for sprinkling
- Pour the milk into a large bowl, add the yeast and 1 teaspoon of white sugar, and stir to blend.
Cover and let proof for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is foamy.
- In another bowl, mix together 5 cups flour, the salt and the remaining white sugar. Add 8 tablespoons
of butter and work it into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Slowly add the yeast mixture, and mix with your hands until a ball of dough is formed, adding additional flour only if the dough is very sticky. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes.
- Lightly butter a bowl and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Grease 2 cookie sheets. Punch down the dough and divide it into 24 equal pieces. Use 4 pieces for each bear: Roll 3 pieces of dough into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Place the balls of dough together in a line on a cookie sheets, as if making a snowman: 1 ball for the head, 1 for the upper body and 1 for the lower body. Divide the fourth piece of dough into 7 pieces for the ears, nose, feet and hands, and attach them to the bear. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the bears 3 inches apart on the sheets. Cover with a towel and let rise for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Insert raisins or currants into the heads for the bears’ eyes. Brush the bears with the egg wash and sprinkle them with the turbinado. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Cool on wire racks, then tie ribbons around the necks.
Note: Using the same recipe, you can make more bears by using smaller pieces of dough. These freeze beautifully and can be made 2–3 weeks ahead. Wrap them individually in foil and place in freezer bags (add the ribbons after thawing).