Take ordinary baking powder biscuits, top them with a sugary fruit and nut mix, and suddenly they transform into Christmas bread. That’s what the Michie Tavern in Charlottesville, Virginia served in the 1700’s, according to information in Virginia Seasons: New Recipes from the Old Dominion (1984) by the Junior League of Richmond. “Legend claims that the doors were left open to greet friends and weary travelers. The Michies prepared a special bread as a gift for all to enjoy and it was called The Christmas Welcoming Bread.”
A bit of tavern history: In the Revolutionary War, the owner, Corporal William Michie, served at Valley Forge with George Washington. The tavern operated from the 1780s until the mid-1800s. A new owner bought it in 1927 and moved it (by horse and wagon) to its current location near Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. It’s now a Virginia Historic Landmark. The tavern still serves biscuits, but I didn’t see this Christmas Bread on the menu. Make it yourself and serve it anytime this week.
Michie Tavern Christmas Bread (1780s)
Makes 16 biscuits
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
Approximately 1 cup milk
3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup candied red cherries, chopped (see note)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
Note: I used dried cranberries and chopped dried apricots, simmered in 1/4 cup brandy and 1/4 cup water for 15 minutes, then left to cool.
For the biscuits:
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
- In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Cut in the butter until well incorporated.
- Add 1/2 cup milk and stir to combine. Add more, a little at a time, until the mixture is smooth but not sticky. (The entire 1 cup of milk made the batter too sticky).
- On a floured work surface, roll out the dough 1/2 inch thick. Cut with a biscuit cutter (I used a 2 1/2 inch diameter jar).
- Place the biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 7 minutes and let cool.
For the icing:
- In a bowl, combine the ingredients, stirring until well mixed.
- Make sure the biscuits are completely cool. Top each biscuit with about a tablespoon of icing (some will fall off but be persistent). Let sit for at least 2 hours so that the icing hardens and is absorbed.