There are many types of bread and desserts that have origins and stories shrouded in mystery. Bishop’s Bread–also referred to as “Bishop Bread” fits this fact perfectly. Possibly hailing from Northern Europe, but also quite possibly from America as well, Bishop’s Bread is deliciously sweet and fruity, and this is what makes it such a popular Christmas season bread. But what is the exact history of Bishop’s Bread?
As an American fruit bread, “bishop’s bread” is thought to have been coined in the nineteenth century when clergymen would visit settlers and were often fed a little something sweet to eat with a cup of coffee or tea–but this cannot be 100% verified.
Are you currently wondering what the exact history of Bishop’s Bread is? Perhaps you find it very similar to traditional fruit cake and are curious as to the differences? Whatever the reason, this guide will try to shed some light on a bread whose history is murky. Read on to find out more.
What Is Bishop’s Bread?
Bishop’s Bread can best be understood as an older, yet more rustic variation of what is commonly known as fruit cake. It has dried or candied fruit in it, making this bread often seem like a fruitcake. But it can also be studded with nuts, swirled with chocolate, and spiced with cinnamon.
Because of its “fruitcake” nature, nowadays it is often thought of as a holiday treat, but many people find that the ease of mixing up this quickbread makes it a wonderful treat to have year-round.
In many recipes, many bakers tend to use all of the called-for ingredients or only certain ingredients in moderation. A bit of bittersweet chocolate, some toasted slivered almonds, and a serving of dried cherries or cranberries make this bread a restrained treat.
There are also Bishop Bread makers who prefer baking with dried rather than candied fruit to bring out the pure flavor of the ingredients. And by reconstituting the fruit, the berries plump up, making this simple bread sumptuous.
Studded with colorful glacé fruits, “Bischofs Brot”, or Bishop’s bread is an egg-rich, sweetened loaf popular in northern Europe. It is traditionally served to celebrate special events on the Christian calendar, Easter in particular. The vibrant colors from the glacé fruit are said to symbolize stained-glass windows, a feature of many churches and cathedrals.
Recipes for bishop’s bread can be found in German cookbooks of the early 19th century; they describe the production of biscuit dough (sometimes also Viennese mass ) with zibeben, pinched almonds, and zest from citrus peel. In the middle of the same century, recipe modifications became popular with new deposits such as chocolate chips, pignolias (pine nuts), pistachios, aranzini (orange), and others; the dough remains a sponge cake.
The recipe and the term Bischofs Brot are currently being distributed over the Internet, recipes made from sponge cake ( sand mass ) are published under the name Bischofs Brot or associated with the Christstollen. While the original recipe is still known, as you can see, the history of Bishop’s bread isn’t really clear — but it’s likely from Croatia.
It can also be called “Broken Glass” or “Stained Glass” bread because all the beautiful dried cherries and chunks of chocolate are revealed when you cut into it, making it look like stained glass.
Essentially, it tastes like a light fruit cake. The only fruit some people put in is maraschino cherries, but you could certainly add in your favorite dried fruits as well, just as many bakers did in the bread’s earliest origins.
How Did Bishop’s Bread Get Its Name?
Food historians have no clue. The name alone does not seem to refer to a specific person. In the 1930s Crisco circulated a story about an unknown circuit bishop making housecalls in the American midwest. This was a rebroadcast in the 1970s. Today? Some people take it for granted that the story is true.
So unfortunately it seems as if the origin of the name is lost to history.
Is Bishop’s Bread Fruitcake?
Not exactly, but also, yes, in many ways. Bishop’s Bread is loaded with chopped pecans, chocolate chips, raisins, and cherries, it is a sweet bread that is good for breakfast or dessert.
Both versions are sweet quick bread and have dried fruit, nuts, and cinnamon. There are many variations on the recipe, which add dried orange peel, chocolate chips, maraschino or dried cherries, and the like. The cake comes out moist and delicious, and the contrast in the taste is significant compared with store-bought fruitcakes.
Does It Taste Like Fruit Cake?
Some Bishop’s Bread resembles a fruitcake with dried fruit and nuts, and other recipes seem to have a foundation that is more of a simple cake with a crumb topping.
A fruitcake comparison is not quite accurate. Good, homemade fruitcake is dense but never dry and tough. It is rich in spice and has a lovely portion of nuts and preserved fruits in it. It is often soaked in liquor – typically rum – for a while before it is served.
Looking into the definition and history of fruitcake can provide insight to many people who are not able to sample Bishop’s Bread.
The truth of the matter is that the definition of a “fruitcake” isn’t nuanced. It is meant to be a bread base with dried (or candied) nuts and fruits. Also, an authentic fruitcake must have alcohol in it.
Besides that, a fruitcake can have all kinds of spices in it. There’s no set shape associated with a fruitcake, either. It can be a long log or prepared in a bundt pan – the shape is of no relevance–none of this applies to Bishop’s Bread.
Because the dessert is so loosely defined, different cultures have different variations of it. The German Christmas Stollen and the Italian Panettone are, at their crux, fruitcakes.
Besides eating fruitcake as it is, you can try toasting a slice of it until it gets a little crunchy. Buttering the toasted slice or pairing it with a sharp cheddar is a great way to enjoy it. You could also crumble the cake over ice cream and enjoy it that way.
True fruitcake is moist and has a little sponginess to it – it is never tough or dry and crusty. Fruitcake tastes like a mix of dried fruit and alcohol, with an elegant hit of spice.
Bishop’s Bread has no alcohol aroma or aftertaste.