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Little Bears

My children have fond memories of making little dough 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. What a time we had! I still make the sweet-tasting dough at holiday time, but I don't have my children beside me to help. Still, every Christmas morning, I lay an army of little bears on the table and Beth and Chris are bambini once again. Makes 6 6-inch-high bears

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups milk

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

2/3 cup sugar

5 to 5 1/4 cups King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

Turbinado (coarse brown) sugar for sprinkling

Raisins or currants

Directions

In a saucepan, scald the milk (bring almost to a boil). Let cool until warm (110º to 115ºF). Pour the milk into a large bowl, add the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and stir to blend. Cover and let proof for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is foamy.

In another bowl, mix 5 cups flour, the salt, and the remaining sugar together. Add the 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, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Grease two 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 one of the cookie sheets, as if making a snowman: One for the head, one for the upper body, and one for the lower body. Divide the fourth piece of dough into 7 pieces for the ears, nose, feet, and hands, and attach 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 the bodies with the coarse sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cool on wire racks, then tie ribbons around the necks.

Note: You can make more bears by using smaller pieces of dough. These freeze beautifully and can be made 2 to 3 weeks ahead. Wrap them individually in foil and place in freezer bags (add the ribbons after thawing). Or use the bears as placecards at children's birthday parties: Print each child's name on a paper flag made from a toothpick and a small piece of paper, and insert into the bears' paws.

This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA by Mary Ann Esposito.

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