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Stollen is one of those classic holiday recipes that is perhaps comparable to a mysterious foreigner named Gregor, or Maurice– just approachable enough so that everyone will try it, but also vaguely ethnic-sounding, naturally rendering it impressive.  Many recipes call for candied peel and candied cherries–that’s right, those day-glo bright fruits that only make themselves known on store shelves for the few weeks preceding Christmas.  My recipe uses homemade candied clementine and lemon peel, because your BMG hates her life and wanted to know what it would feel like to be put to work in a Russian gulag.

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You’ll also find plump, dried bing cherries, among other delicious fruity additions.  Some people like to put a rope of marzipan in the middle of theirs, and I was about to myself, but decided last-minute that I liked the stollen just as it was.  You can go your own way.

Go your own waaaaay.  You can call it anoooother lonely da–

I’m done, I promise!

In other words, this recipe bears absolutely no resemblance to the glue-ey brick of fruit and nuts magically held together by high-fructose corn syrup and marvelously capable of holding down even the peskiest of flyaway papers on your desk.  It will, undoubtedly, change your life, give you newfound confidence, cure male-pattern baldness, and get that cute boy in the next cubicle to notice you.

But if those reasons aren’t enough to convince you, consider the free therapy!  I felt incredibly calm as I violently abused dough the day before we were to make a 14 hour exodus by car out of New York and toward our Chicago homeland.  In fact, I exorcised so much of my inherent rage that The Boy could hardly recognize the blissed-out, bovine-eyed, sloppy-grinned Christmas elf who had replaced The BMG.

Behold the power of dough.  Or, you know, the wine I was sucking down.  Could go either way, really.

I recommend giving stollen-making a try when your holiday dose of Prozac just isn’t cutting it, or perhaps just after you remember that going home for the holidays means actually having to hang out with your family.  Stollen is like that–fits in everywhere.

Merry Christmas, you lovely, stressed-out lil’ misfits!

Holiday Stollen
Makes 2 regular-size loaves or 8 little loaves

Go Get:
1 1/3 cups warm, whole milk yogurt (NOT hot); (you can also use milk or almond milk)
milk (cow, soy, almond, whatever) for brushing the loaves
2 T. active dry yeast
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar, plus some for dusting on top
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter (or Earth Balance for you DF misfits)
5 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (if you don’t have or don’t want to use this, use bread flour instead of all-purpose; I like it because it gives the bread excellent lift and a beautiful, chewy texture, even with all those fruits weighing it down)
2/3 cup currants
1 cup dried cherries
2/3 cup raisins (can use golden)
1 cup candied lemon and orange peel (I made my own to avoid the junky stuff sold at the grocery store; I used this recipe, using clementines instead of oranges)
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons Jamaican allspice
2 teaspoons Saigon cinnamon

Go Do:
Dissolve the yeast in the yogurt and let it sit until it’s a bit frothy, maybe about ten or fifteen minutes.

Cream the butter, salt, and sugar together, then beat in the eggs and the yeast mixture.  In another bowl, whisk together the flour, vital gluten, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon.  Throw about five cups of that mixture into the yeast mix, and beat it until the flour is incorporated.  Slowly add the rest of the flour mixture in small amounts, beating well after each addition.  Once you’ve got a workable dough, flour a work surface and knead it until it’s smooth.  Spread the dough out into a rough rectangle and fold in one of the fruits.  Fold the dough in half and press to seal the ends and “trap” the fruit in the dough.  Then knead as usual.  Repeat with all the other fruits and peel, and knead thoroughly until everything is well-distributed.

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Place the dough in a lightly-buttered bowl and cover it with a damp kitchen linen.  Set it in a warm place and…you know what to do.  Let it sit there for about two hours or so, until it’s doubled in volume, while you go do something else.

I recommend running into the street while holding your half-consumed bottle of wine and screaming “I’M MAKING STOLLEN, BITCHES!” at the passerby.  But that’s just me.

When the dough is ready, punch it down to deflate it, and plop it onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough into two halves (or, into 8 mini loaves).  Place the dough pieces onto a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment, and shape them into loaf-like beings.  Cover these guys with another damp cloth and let them sit in a warm place until they double again, probably another 60-90 minutes.

When your babies are ready, brush them with some milk and sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar.  If you don’t like this part, you can leave it out, or you can sprinkle them when they’re hot out of the oven.  Alternatively, you can wait until they cool and use powdered sugar.  My family always preferred the crunch of the grainy stuff.  Preheat the oven to 350, and when it’s ready, put the loaves in and bake them for about ten minutes.  Then drop the heat to 300 and bake them for another half hour to forty-five minutes, until they’re golden.  Watch the bottoms on these–they will generally be the best indicator of how done the bread is.  Of course, the bread should also sound hollow when you tap it.  When you’re there, take them out of the oven and remove them to a cooling rack.  Voila!

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