Before a recent school holiday, my son came home with an assignment for his world geography class that he was supposed to execute during the break.
In the vein of kids everywhere, he lamented having to do homework (insert eye roll here) over a school holiday (insert more eye rolls).
The project was to create a Christmas wreath from a country of his choosing, and it had to include salient points like prominent geography, language, religion, culture and holiday traditions. He informed me that he chose Switzerland.
I couldn’t have been move overjoyed.
When I lived in Germany, I spent quite a bit of time during the holidays in nearby Switzerland because Swiss Christmases are the stuff fairytales are made of. I also ate more than my fair share of hefekranz, a holiday treat.
The Swiss, and the Germans (and Austrians), bake these sweet breads for Christmas and for Easter. Translated literally, it means “heavy wreath.”
My son decided that he would bake a hefekranz as his “wreath” and add the other required elements in as pictures pasted to wooden skewers.
It was an all-day project. Considering it was HIS project, I was just around to make sure nothing went wrong. He had to execute it, beginning to end, by himself, and he did.
He learned to measure flour properly, leveling off the measuring up with the flat side of a butter knife. He learned to zest a lemon, sprinkling the fragrant yellow into the dough and being careful not to zest the bitter white part of the lemon peel. He learned how lukewarm water activates yeast, but if the water is too hot, it kills the live cultures.
He learned to knead, braid and glaze, all over the course of a Sunday when he punched down dough and waited for it to rise again. He learned that being patient, very patient, is often the best way to coax dough into a rope. He gained new appreciation of the Swiss that day, along with the necessity of reading directions carefully before beginning to bake. He learned that baking is a science and not something to undertake haphazardly.
I learned that he has a lot more patience and tenacity than I gave him credit for. I learned that I passed my skill for making a mess in the kitchen onto the next generation. I also realized the project (which I had kind of been dreading) was actually a great day to spend in the kitchen with my son.
You don’t have to bake a hefekranz this holiday season to spend some time with your children and learn something new. They will love it, and I suspect that you will, too.