Tuesday, December 23, 2008
"...it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well." Mr. Dickens must have made the acquaintance of the other man in my life - my husband's father, Andy. He was an uncomplicated man whose education was incomplete, but whose intelligence, ethics and example could - and often did - put wiser men to shame. A farm boy, he fell in love with the doctor's daughter, the gentle Gen, and wooed her with persistence and a devotion that could not be refused. Together they had five children into whom they poured themselves and everything they had. They built a safe and happy home and during the Christmas season they put the Fezziwigs to shame. Following midnight mass their doors opened for a revillion and stayed open until midnight the following day. Andy watched all this with a gentle and bemused smile, very much in the moment but quiet nonetheless, taking it all in. The cast of characters included Don, a rejected suitor of their middle daughter, who would arrive on Christmas morning for a visit. We were never sure who it was he missed, but he came for years - the Christmas version of The Man Who Came for Dinner. Then the rest of the clan would tumble in for dinner and a raucous good time that included endless choruses of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Each of us had a day for which we had to sing and when there were more of us then days we'd have to share. The provider of the feast probably had many things he wanted, but at Christmas he would only own up to wanting chocolate covered cherries and good stollen - Dresdener Stollen. He saw to it that all of us had what we wanted, but also taught us the difference between a want and a need and how to enjoy the moment in which we found ourselves. May it truly be said that we all know how to keep Christmas well. Andy was our teacher.
Andy's favorite stollen is a cake-like bread made with candied fruit, nuts and spices. It's dusted with powdered sugar that is supposed to represent swaddling clothes worn by infant Jesus and for that reason the bread is also called Christstollen. Stollen is one of those yeast breads that has a history of its own. Starting in the 15th century loaves made in Dresden weighed up to 30 pounds and were so popular that they were cut and served with utensils made just for that purpose. Traditionally, the first piece of stollen was set aside and kept to ensure the family would be able to afford stollen the following year; the last piece saved to insure the family had enough food for the current year. Here is a recipe for one of the best stollens I've ever tasted. It's adapted from one I learned in Hannie's kitchen.
2-3/4 cups unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 scant tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup dark raisins
3/4 cup white raisins
2 tablespoons candied orange peel, finely chopped
1 tablespoon candied lemon peel, finely chopped
1/2 cup quartered, glaced cherries (mixed red and green)
1/2 cup lightly toasted chopped almonds
1 tube (6 to 7-ounces) almond paste
1) Mix salt with flour in a microwavable bowl. Place in microwave oven and heat on HIGH power for 1 minute. Whisk. Add yeast and whisk again to mix. Set aside.
2) Combine milk, butter and sugar in a microwavable bowl. Cook on HIGH power for 1 minute, or until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. When mixture is tepid add egg and whisk to combine.
3) Pour milk mixture into flour and mix well until the dough leaves the sides of bowl and forms a ball. Add candied fruits and nuts working into dough with hands.
4) Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, or until fruits and nuts are evenly distributed. This is a very stiff dough.
5) Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 to 3 hours.
6) Turn onto a lighly floured board. Flatten and roll into a 14 x 8-inch rectangle.
7) Form almond paste into a log about 13-inches long. Place in the middle of dough, then roll dough around it. Pinch and turn edges under. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough on parchment paper, cover with damp towel and let rise until double.
8) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake in the center of oven for about 35 minutes, or until an even golden brown. Move loaf in parchment paper sling to cooling rack. Brush top with butter. Let cool for 30 minutes. Dust liberally with confectioners' sugar. Yield: 1 loaf.
The recipe and picture for Dresdener Stollen is being sent to Yeast Spotting, an event sponsored by Susan at Wild Yeast, and to Bread Baking Day, an event hosted this month by Annarasa.