Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Recipes: German Stollen

[Baking bread is a great joy and at times can be great therapy. If things don’t always go right at work, the process of kneading and pounding bread dough can help get tensions out of the system. Then there is the waiting for the dough to rise, watching the magic begin, smelling the aroma from the oven and enjoying the piping hot bread when it is done. Some people have told me that they just don’t understand the art of bread making. I had no mentor or chef to tell me about baking when I first began. They way I got started with bread making was by carefully following the directions in the Betty Crocker Cookbook, which was my standard cookbook when I first moved out on my own.]   

I discovered stollen when I was a student in Mill Valley, California. I was working at Mosher’s Shoe Store on Throckmorton in that lovely town. Just up the street was a little German bakery, and they had loaves of stollen wrapped up to sell during the Christmas season. Not knowing anything about stollen, I asked the lady behind the counter to tell me about it. She was a petit middle aged lady with graying hair and a German accent. “Oh this is a delightful holiday treat! It is a bread that is slightly sweet and filled with fruit soaked in brandy. You just cut thin slices and serve it.” I was to leave Mill Valley shortly to fly home to Alabama for Christmas, so I decided to buy a loaf to take with my when I went home for the holidays.

Several years later I found a recipe for stollen in a book I discovered in the public library, World’s Greatest Christmas Goodies. This is another recipe that I make every year at Christmas. Although the recipe suggests dividing the dough into two loaves to bake, you will end up with two very large loaves. I discovered that I could divide the dough into four loaves to get a more appropriate size for slicing and serving. Then I discovered that I could divide the dough into six loaves and come out with perfect little loaves to give away as gifts to friends and family.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
Makes 2 large loaves.

I cup seedless raisins
1 jar (8 ounces) mixed chopped. Candied fruits
¼  cup orange juice
¾  cup milk
½  cup sugar
1teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
2 envelopes active dry yeast
¼  cup very warm water
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
5 cups all purpose flour
1cup chopped blanched almonds
¼  teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar

1. Combine raisins, candied fruits and
    orange juice in a small bowl.
2. Heat milk with sugar, salt and ½ cup of the
    butter or margarine; cool to lukewarm;
    Sprinkle yeast and 1teaspoon sugar into very
    warm water in a large bowl. ("Very warm"
    water should feel comfortably warm when
    dropped on wrist.) Stir until yeast dissolves;
    allow to stand until mixture bubbles, about 10
    minutes; then stir in cooled milk mixture,
    eggs and lemon rind.
3. Beat in 2 cups of the flour until smooth;
    stir in fruit mixture, almonds and nutmeg,
    then beat in just enough of remaining 3 cups
    flour to make a stiff dough. Knead 5 minutes,
    or until smooth and elastic on a lightly floured
    pastry cloth or board, adding only
    enough flour to keep dough from sticking.
4. Place in a greased large bowl; turn to coat
    with shortening; cover with a clean towel.
    Let rise in a warm place, away from draft, 2
    hours, or until dough is double in bulk.
5. Punch dough down; knead a few times;
    divide in half. Roll each into an oval, 15x9;
    place on a greased large cookie sheet. Melt
    remaining ½ cup butter or margarine in a
    small saucepan; brush part over each oval;
    sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar; fold in half,
    lengthwise. Cover; let rise again 1 hour, or
    until double in bulk. Brush again with part of
    the remaining melted butter or margarine,
    just before baking.
6. Bake in moderate oven (350°) 35 minutes,
    or until golden and loaves give a hollow sound
    when tapped. While hot, brush with remaining
    melted butter; cool on wire racks.
7. Wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil; label,
    date and freeze.
8. To serve, remove foil, place on cookie
    sheet. Heat in moderate oven (350°) 20 minutes.
    Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, if you wish.

For the cinnamon sugar, I use the formula in the Betty Crocker Cookbook of combining ¼ cup of sugar with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. For the dough, I always use bread flour which has a higher gluten content and provides a slightly heavier, moister texture, making it work very well for this recipe. Also, instead of blanched almonds, I use toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped. Since I make smaller loaves than the recipe suggests, the baking time can be shorter, so I just keep a close eye on it until the loaves are a golden brown.

I almost forgot one other change I make in the recipe: since that nice German lady told me that her traditional  stollen included brandy-soaked fruit, I will take about a quarter cup of brandy and pour it over the candied fruit to soak for about a day before I do my baking.

Oh, and one more thing -- I have discovered the joys of parchment paper. Instead of greasing a cookie sheet, I line it with parchment paper and it works beautifully with baking these loaves. It's easier, less messy, and makes cleanup much better.

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Last year during the month of December I posted 12 of my favorite Christmas songs. These songs are still on my blog. To read about them and hear them go up to the top of the blog page and click on "Videos." Then scroll down to "The Joys of Christmas" where you will see the web links listed. 


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