Friday, November 30, 2007

"Who Stole My Stollen?"

Say the word "Christmas" and the word "tradition" is usually not far behind, especially where food is concerned. Around the holiday season, families tend to lean heavily on customs passed down from generation to generation and you will find most are reluctant to change. My mother-in-law has made blueberry pancakes on Christmas morning for the last 22 years and when the 25th rolls around in just a few weeks, she'll be serving them to her grandson for the first time. (Thank goodness Noah adores pancakes!)

Without even noticing, over the last six years that I have been married, I have slipped into a pattern of holiday baking. While some may label these food habits as my own traditions beginning to emerge for my sweet little family, I see them more as a rut I have fallen into.

There is usually a traditional English trifle, dozens of dark chocolate truffles, Russian Tea Cakes and Gingerbread men for nibbling, shortbread in abundance, and plenty of mincemeat tarts. There is nothing wrong with any of those, but here I am almost 30, asking myself:

"Why am I only making fruitcake now? Why have I never baked a traditional German Stollen or an Italian Panettone? How come I've never attempted a steamed Christmas pudding?"

Heck, I haven't even perfected a Buche de Noel. Shame on me.
Why? Because I'm too busy making my standard fare every holiday season to experiment with something new.

Now, this is quite the 'Ah ha!' moment for me, because every other month of the year I am all about trying new things, so what's been happening around the 25th of December?

I am not big on traditions and never have been. I like surprises, spontaneity and change. Most people can't get over the fact that we don't have a Christmas tree (GASP!!), but that is just one of the Christmas traditions my hubby and I balk at. (OK, it mostly stems from my tree-hugging/save-the-planet upbringing, but don't get me started going down that road...and Santa Claus? Pul-leeze. )

I realize I am on thin ice here so I will lighten up and tell you where I am going with all of this! Starting with my first attempt at Tourtiere last December, and continuing with fruitcake this year, I am starting to branch out with my Christmas cooking and baking and avoid the tendency to always make the same things. It's just something I have to do. I am not belittling your traditions, your family recipes or your blueberry pancakes; I deeply respect all of those dear-to-your-heart patterns, but in my kitchen I have to mix things up a little!

And so I present my Christmas Stollen! Now I have never even eaten Stollen, not to mention made it, but it sounded to good not to try, and so we welcomed a little bit of Germany came into our home as a result. Stollen is a yeast-based fruitcake, full of fruit and nuts, flavored with spices and rum like a classic fruitcake, but more like a challah or a brioche in texture. I didn't know where to start looking for a recipe, (no German relations here, unfortunately) so I used my trusty Joy of Cooking. I always find bread baking deeply satisfying and this stollen did not disappoint. It was SO good, we couldn't stop eating it.

Although I had enjoyed the better part of a loaf with my afternoon tea, when I toasted up a slab for my husband in the evening, I couldn't resist nabbing some off his plate when he wasn't looking. That prompted the "Hey, who stole my stollen?" quote from above, a line Danny was quite tickled with and giggled over for the rest of the night.

So does this mean Christmas Around the World for Under the High Chair? I don't know yet, we'll have to wait and see. It would make me proud if my kids grew up not expecting a certain line-up of dishes around the holidays, but rather were open to other cultural favorites like Paella, Cougnou, Nougat glacé, or Tamales.

If you're in the mood to try something new, this stollen is a great place to start. Just don't turn your back on it--it may disappear!

Christmas Stollen

(Adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

Have all ingredients at room temperature.

6-8 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon yeast
1 ½ cups milk, scalded and cooled to 110F
¼ cup dried cherries
¾ cup golden raisins
¾ cup currants
1 ½ cup almonds, chopped
½ cup chopped candied citrus peel
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups butter, plus extra for brushing loaves
3 eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons rum

In a large bowl, combine warm milk and yeast. Allow to sit 10 minutes until yeast is dissolved. Add 1 cup of the sifted flour and mix to form a sponge. Let sit in a warm place until doubled.

Meanwhile, combine cherries, raisins, almonds and citrus peel. Sprinkle a little of the sifted flour over and combine. Set aside.

When sponge has sufficiently rested, place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat well. Beat in sugar and blend until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the salt, lemon rind and rum. Mix well.
Mix in the fruit and nuts. Add all the sponge and the remaining flour. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if too sticky.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

To shape dough, toss it onto a floured board and divide in two. Pat dough into a rough oval and fold over one third of the dough lengthwise onto the other two thirds. Repeat with remaining dough. Place on baking sheet -one loaf per sheet- and brush with butter. Allow to rise again until almost doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Bake loaves for about 40 minutes until they are a dark golden brown.


Ferdzy said...

Oh goodness, that looks lovely. I say with admiration that yours looks just like the ones that you can buy at the grocery... but I'm certain it tasted much better.

Mandy said...

We grew up eating stollen at home and it's great to see your photos of it and hear your experience with branching out into different cultural traditions. The photos bring back memories and make my mouth water! I haven't had stollen in years!

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Are you telling me Father Christmas isn't real?! Well that's my Christmas ruined!

Great looking stollen. As for traditional English trifle - I love it. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it, though I always associate it with New Years Day which is when my Nan would serve it. Unless of course I'd eaten it the night before!

Nora B. said...

Hi Aimee,
I grew up without a Christmas tree so as an adult, I get excited about Christmas trees, especially the REAL ones. It makes the house smell so nice.

As for food traditions, I guess that evolves too. I am happy that you are trying so many new recipes, this way I have tried & tested ones to try myself. ;-)

Susan said...

Beautiful stollen! I'm all for tradition and there are a couple of things I HAVE to make each year but I like to mix it up too. I've never made stollen at home, made panettone for the first time last year and I think it may become a new "must have," but then there are so many other things to try...

Amber said...

It's true that Xmas here means tamales, and I'm hoping to see how they're made at a friend's house this month.
I also abhor the idea of cutting down a tree for a few sort weeks of enjoyment only to throw it in the trash when it's dead! I can't do a fake one though either SO I have solved my dilemma: I have grown a tiny sapling Xmas tree (that my neighbor grew from seed!) in a pot and just bring it inside and decorate it for the holidays! It's a good couple of feet tall now and I can transplant it to a bigger pot soon so it will get bigger:)
Way to try some new ideas Aimee, I'm not surprised but as always I'm impressed:)

Anonymous said...

Long time no see :) Glad you stopped by to say hi - and sweet of you to leave a comment (which I replied to).
I cannot believe that you made 'tourtiere' - chapeau as they say here... My mother is the only person I know who make this traditional dish! And now a Stollen - they are so delicious. Living in Switzerland I have eaten 1 or 2 :) But never attempted to make one. Was it difficult to get a moist & light consistency?

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Good for you for not getting into a rut during the holidays Aimee. Every year I try at least one new thing, but then I still have to make the usual ..or the family revolts!!!!! I started making Tortiere Christmas Eve until my daughter told me she wanted the "traditional" cheese fondue and chocolate fondue!! Same with Christmas breakfast she always wants Blueberry Croissant Bake. All of these recipes will be posted eventually once I make them!!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Aimée, I have never made stollen, I think I would love this! Your recipe sounds wonderful and the stollen looks delicious!

Aimée said...

Hi ferdzy- Welcome to UtHC!Thanks for stopping by.

Hi Mandy- Ah ha, you must have some old recipe archived somewhere then. Do share!

Hi Amanda- Really, I am no Scrooge...! I LOVE trifle too, but make it throughout the year.

Hi Nora-I grew up w/o a tree, too. I am glad you enjoy having one now!
Keep looking out for new recipes!

Hi Susan- Sounds like you have a good balance of old and new. Bravo!

Hi Amber- Good solution and way to improvise! Please take good notes for the tamales, and you can teach me when you get back here, OK?

Hi Erika-The stollen was so light and moist, I was wondering if it should be more dense. I am uncertain of the true texture of a stollen, but was happy with mine!

Hi Valli- I guess I'll mix things up while I can before my kids start demanding certain dishes!!Looking forward to your recipes.

Hi Patricia- Thank you! You'll have to give it a try sometime.

David Hall said...

You know what, I love stollen. And our very own Nigel Slater had an article in The Observer last Sunday on the stollen! So nice surprise to see this on here. Can you please send me some?!


Cookie baker Lynn said...

It's excellent to question why we do things and to be brave enough not to do them just because that's what has always been done.

Your stollen looks great. The stuff you see in the store always looks dry and tasteless. Yours definitely has the edge.

winedeb said...

Looks great! I have not had Stollen, but after seeing yours, I may have to have a go at it! Seems like a nice Christmas goodie!

Dana said...

Wow, that looks fantastic! I have a recipe in my collection that I've been meaning to make. After seeing these photos...I might have to do so sooner rather than later!

Aimée said...

Hi David..I would if there was any left. Sorry!!

Hi Lynn- Thank you for the vote of confidence!

Hi Deb- maybe you can track some down this Christmas, but I recommend making your own.

Hi Dana- What are you waiting for? Stop eating gingerbread and make some stollen!

Anonymous said...

I've been making stollen for 48 years, took it over from my mother who made them every year for I don't know how long. All from the Joy of Cooking, slightly different from your, no eggs, but delicious nevertheless. I made 36 this year, my all time high was 43! I made them in November as I had a lot of work and stuff in December. Put them in the freezer, wrapped, ribboned and tagged. Everybody loves them and I have to give them to all my family , friends etc. Happy new year.


Marisa Goodwin said...

I think one of the best things about being Canadian is our ability to adopt new cultural traditions into our own holiday repertoire. Exploring the world through food is a great gift to give to your family. I come from a serious Stollen family and am impudently making Panettone this Stollen makes awesome french toast w/ a splash of grand marnier in the Maple syrup & we wouldn't have a tree either except for the fact that we inherited a lovely 30yr old faker from my aunt- our daughter loves it!Merry Xmas to you & yours Amy !

Snooky doodle said...

this looks delicious. I love stollen :)

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