Friday, December 24, 2010



The snow has finally arrived, albeit in fits and bursts, bringing with her a true feeling of Christmas. The wind whistles and howls outside as the snow whips around in the wind, lighting up the square below and adding a festive luster to the treetops, while inside we sit cozy and warm. Like wide-eyed children on Christmas morning, we stare through the panes into the velvet night as the heavy plops of white thud against the glass and settle onto the inky black iron curlicues of the balcony railing for the night. The lamplight shimmers in the glistening snow blanketing the roofs of the cars and we snuggle up a little closer and whisper our prayers that it will last through the holidays.

One last day of shopping before Christmas and the gifts are all bought, piled up in secret places around the apartment. My baking has taken a festive turn and Stollen and cookies of all sorts have been tumbling out of the oven and lining themselves up prettily on the kitchen table. We’ve stocked the pantry with all kinds of simple, warming foods, enough to see us through the wintry weekend. My favorite Christmas films are stacked up on the coffee table, the old and the new, the real and the animated, each begging to be watched first, promising to fill our house with holiday music, laughter and good cheer!

Tomorrow morning, we will wend our way to the market, bundled up in heavy coats, arms wrapped close around ourselves to ward off the blustery wind and the tat tat tat of wet flakes stinging our cheeks. We’ll push our way through the Christmas Eve crowds and fill our basket with oysters and a slice or two of foie gras, and maybe, just maybe, he will make a wonderful seafood choucroute for two. I’m rather a sentimental old soul, and as I step out into the flurries and chill, memories of Christmases past whirl up like a snowstorm in my mind and visions of icy white nights in Milan pulling smoky chestnuts out of paper cones, warming our hands, and popping them one by one into our mouths, excited little boys dashing up to greet le Père Noël who magically appears laden with gifts at their grandparents’ house, arriving late Christmas Eve to a balmy Florida town and being driven around up and down every street just to ogle the gaudy, outrageous Christmas decorations and the romantic luminaries all aglow, hands clapping and faces brimming over with delight, all intermingle in one glorious dance! But nostalgia is not far behind and I remember the most amazing of gifts arriving from Uncle Michael, chosen special for each of the boys, a silly drawing, his own self-portrait scrawled across the card in guise of a signature, and personalized e-cards arriving in our e-mailboxes on Christmas morning, singing and dancing us awake, making us howl with laughter. My smile hides my sadness and I chatter on tirelessly to create an atmosphere of mirth while I am crying inside knowing that no more phone calls, no more gifts or cards, no more old black & white movies arriving by post to cheer up another Christmas season will be mine for the asking, no more brother to call, no more phone ringing on a holiday afternoon only to hear his cheerful Helloooo on the other end of the line, no more gossipy silly supportive chats, my big brother and I, whenever the need or the desire rush over me. I miss him.

Yet the sadness is tempered with joy as we bustle around the house preparing for the festivities. No, I do not celebrate Christmas, but this year the pleasure is for JP. He called me up a couple of weeks ago in the middle of his workday and declared that maybe this year, this Christmas, we should exchange gifts. Which, of course, also means a special dinner. So as the last day of shopping and preparations begins, as the sun just begins to peek over the rooftops, as the day dawns not so much clear and bright as steely gray and hauntingly mysterious and smelling of snow, I make my market list, place the last of my gifts on the mantelpiece and pour myself another cup of coffee to accompany yet another slice of Stollen.

I wonder if I shall be considered naughty or nice? I suspect that this old elf ain’t the only one who has been buying presents, and joy and merriment fill the house from end to end. December’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking and she chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration. Now, as many of you know, I made Stollen last year, a recipe quite unlike the one Penny has offered us. Last year’s was cake-like and, truth be told, not one of us was enchanted with either the texture or the flavor. It had, sadly, an unhappy ending. The Daring Bakers’ Stollen had me jumping for joy as it was a yeast recipe as well as an allure of something much more bread-like. I loved it before I even began. I followed the directions to a tee, yet I did alter the flavors to suit our taste more: no candied fruit, the bane of our gastronomic existence, adding a cupful of fabulous, tangy, fruity dried cranberries along with the citrus zests and the slivered almonds instead. I added a few tablespoons of ground almonds to the batter, soaked the cranberries in rum and added only vanilla extract. I sprinkled several tablespoons of cinnamon-sugar over the flattened dough before rolling it up, creating a decorative and flavorful swirl throughout the baked, barely sweet, delicate Stollen. I must say that this Stollen was absolutely one of the best things I have ever baked, ever eaten, and I have been eating slice after slice since I removed it warm and fragrant from the oven. Half was taken to the office, the other half enjoyed at home. This will be a favorite holiday recipe every year from here on out, although next time I will increase the quantities of rum, cranberries, almonds, both slivered and ground, and I will definitely double the amount of cinnamon sugar in the gorgeous swirl. Thank you, Penny, for a simply stunning holiday recipe!

I would like to share this wonderful Stollen with Yeastspotting, my favorite yeast baking event created and hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast!

I also want to share this for December's Bread Baking Day #35, a fabulous bread event created by Zorra of 1x umrühren bitte. This month's theme was Bread with Dry Fruits and was hosted by Taste of Pearl City!

And a joyous holiday season to you one and all!

Prepare the Stollen dough the day before baking:

¼ cup (60 ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
4 1/2 tsps (1/2 oz/14 g) active dry yeast
1 cup (250 ml) milk
10 Tbs (140 g) unsalted or salted butter, cubed
5½ cups (770 g) flour + more as needed (measure flour before sifting)
½ cup (115 g) sugar
2 – 3 Tbs finely ground almonds
¾ tsp salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup (100 grams) slivered almonds
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 tsps very good quality vanilla extract
¾ cup (135 grams) mixed candied peel, optional
1 cup (170 gms) firmly packed dried cranberries
3 Tbs (45ml) rum
4 – 6 Tbs cinnamon sugar for the swirl, optional but fabulous!
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ (icing/powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

Note: If you don’t want to use alcohol, double the lemon or orange extract or you could use the juice from the zested orange.

Notice the cinnamon-sugar swirl and the dried cranberries!

Soak the dried cranberries in the rum in a small bowl the time it takes you to prepare the dough.

Pour the warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely. In a small saucepan, combine the milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium-low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add the vanilla extract.

In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment, stir together the flour, sugar, ground and slivered almonds, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests. Stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the dissolved yeast, the lightly beaten eggs, the lukewarm milk/butter mixture as well as the soaked cranberries with the rum in the bowl. (Some people add the almonds and the dried fruit in after the dough has come together and knead in, but I find that extremely difficult and slippery. I now always add all dried fruits and nuts directly to the dry ingredients before incorporating the liquids and forming the dough). I added another half cup or so flour to the dough as I was stirring in order to have a working consistency. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft and most likely sticky dough. When the dough comes together and all of the dry ingredients are moistened and everything is well blended, cover the bowl with either plastic or a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.

Scrape the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and knead the dough for 8 minutes until you have a soft and satiny, smooth, bread-dough consistency, flouring the dough and the work surface as needed. It may be slightly tacky but not sticky and the dried fruit and nuts should be evenly distributed.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shape the Dough and Bake the Wreath:

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours before shaping. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or oven paper.

Once the dough has rested, scrape it out onto a floured work surface, punch it down and roll out into a large rectangle of about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cm) x ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. Sprinkle the dough generously with cinnamon-sugar all the way to the edges. Starting with a long side, roll the dough up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder. Transfer the cylinder to the sheet pan. Pull the two ends around together, forming the dough cylinder into a ring and join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape. Using clean kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough (to make this easier and to make sure that the slices were evenly spaced and that I had an even number of sections, I used a sewing tape measure. Once sliced, gently pull the sections out from each other so they will stay separated once risen and baked. Either spray the wreath lightly with spray oil or tap gently with a vegetable oil soaked paper towel. Cover lightly yet completely with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours until at least 1 ½ times the original size.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the bread is a dark mahogany color and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer to a cooling rack and immediately brush the top with melted butter while still hot then tap a generous layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter. Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first. The bread should be coated thickly with the powdered sugar. Let cool at least an hour before serving.


My Carolina Kitchen said...

I wish you a very happy holiday filled with wonderful food, family and friends.

Be good 'cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

MeetaK said...

an awesome post with an exquisite stollen. it seriously looks divine. my dearest saucy sister i wish you and jp a very merry christmas! hugs!

Elle said...

Jamie, it's absolutely gorgeous! I'm making my first stollen ever later today. Like you, I've stayed away from the candied fruits, and have been soaking my dried fruits in brandy for a few days. I hope mine looks as beautiful as yours does!

Have a wonderful holiday--I hope it['s as magical today as it was for you when you were just a child. xo!

browniegirl said...

Sweetest Jamie, I just skimmed through as I am so busy in the kitchen but already I see another delightful, not to be missed, post from you. I will come back and read at my leisure, and pleasure, tomorrow after all the activity is over. STOLLEN!!! How did you know this is my absolute favorite of all the festive sweet treats? I just love it. Have never baked my own. But would love to! Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones. I hope you have a wonderful festive season and may 2011 bring you just love, joy, peace, good health, wealth and happiness. Love you xx

Lael Hazan said...

Lovely story with beautiful photos and a doable recipe! Thank you for a lovely Christmas present. I wish you and yours a WONDERFUL holiday!

A Thought For Food said...

This post just filled me with such joy... from the stories to the recipe.

Rest assured, you are most definitely nice.


Cathy said...

Christmas stollen is a very old tradition in my family. I think yours is the most beautiful one I've ever seen, Jamie.

Merry Christmas!

Jamie said...

@A Thought For Food: Oh, Brian, you made me laugh out loud but be sure that I will be sharing your opinion with Santa! Thanks and a joyous holiday to you!

debug said...

Gorgeous stollen my dahling...beautiful crumb and I love yr step by step pictures...merry Xmas to U & JP..

Heavenly Housewife said...

Doesnt matter much if I'm naughty or nice (of course I'm naughty), Mr P still buys me goodies :D
Beautiful stollen, its a work of art.
*kisses* HH

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

Ah Jamie your stollen looks so light and fluffy, sweet and comforting and pretty. (I have a confession about mine which I will share next time we skype).

Thanks for posting this early for I hadn't realised we could post DB early at Christmas but now I see we can so I can look forward to a blogging holiday!

Hope you and JP have a lovely day tomorrow and I look forward to sharing more laughs and stories with you in the new year XX

Pavithra said...

Hi Jamie.. Happy Christmas to you. Thanks for dropping by my space. I am so happy which in return took me to your wonderful space. Your stollen looks stunning. Wonderful pictures and the texture. Great job on the challenge..

doggybloggy said...

Jamie I wish you and your family a beautiful Christmas and a most generous and prosperous new year - now send me one of those Stollen!....Happy Holidays - your friend Christo.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What a splendid wreath! You did a great job as always... I bet it tasted divine!

What a splendid post. I love the way you picture the festivities.

Happy holidays to you, dear friend! I am so happy to have got to know you virtually and hope we'll be able to meet in reality! I'd love to bake or cook with you. That must be an inferno!!! LOL.


Rosa xoxo

Umm Mymoonah said...

Wow! The swirls inside the bread looks gorgeous, lovely pictures.
Thank you for sending it to BBD 35 :)

foodwanderings said...

Love this Stollen project! Looks so beautiful!! Happy Holidays to you and your family Jamie!

Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle said...

It's been a stollen sort of day and both Deeba's and yours are making me nostalgic, not just with Christmas traditions but remembering my German grandmother's homemade stollen and my Dad's not homemade but Sunday bakery tradition.

It looks wonderful and enough surely to serve to all of your friends on Twitter!

Happy Holidays Jamie. XOXO

Mary said...

I suspect that apartment is a wonderful place to be for the holidays. Enjoy the comfort of family and friends. Blessings...Mary

Deeba PAB said...

Boy O Boy...what a gorgeous stollen sistah. Like it naughty and love how whimsical it looks ... DIVINE! Wish we had met for real this year, but I'm aiming seriously for 2011. Either you pick the right numbers {grrr} or I hold a gun to da man's head and make him buy me a tkt to Nantes! Have a wonderful wonderful Christmas, and a fabulous 2011! Love ya my sweet...Skype later!!

Peter M said...

Jamie, nicely done...I hope you made more for back-up and extra guests dropping by (like me).

asiangrrl said...

The holidays are often bittersweet, Jamie. Hugs to you. However, this stollen? Simply gorgeous and luscious-looking.

Kulsum@JourneyKitchen said...

a great post as usual! Stollen looks good. Merry Christmas and happy holidays dear Jamie.

faithy, the baker said...

what gorgeous looking stollen! It's so beautiful and perfect! love it! can i have a slice please..:D

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Beautifully evocative post dear Jamie! It's so funny to think that while we are sweating it out here for our Christmas, you guys are cold! I hope you had a happy holiday with lots of good food and laughter :)xxx

tasteofbeirut said...

A wonderful goodie for Xmas season! Oh how I wish I had a fresh one to cut into every morning! Guess I will have to make it myself!

Sugar Daze said...

this looks so delicious. i haven't baked mine yet and think i will use your suggestion for the cinnamon swirl. Happy Holidays!

Lora said...

Your stollen is wunderbar! I love the cranberry swirl flavor and it looks so pretty. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and happy new year. Thank you for making me feel so welcome as a Mactweeter.

Fiona at Inner Pickle said...

Don't know whether to start with your biscotti or Stollen but planning to make both!! Gorgeous!

Carolyn Jung said...

Hope you had a very merry Christmas! The stollen wreath must have made it memorable, indeed. One bite of that beauty and I would never forget it. ;)

Cake Duchess said...

Ciao cara amica mia. Buon Natale, even though you don't celebrate:)Your story made me teary eyed about your brother Michael. Holidays are lovely and also sad. I love your description of Florida at Christmas time! We just went to look at the lights the other night:)
Gorgeous stollen!! un bacione!

Aparna said...

YOur stollen looks lovely and its perfect for your Christmas. :)
What did you get?

We don't celebrate Christmas, but our daughter always looked forward to Santa's visit as a child so we had Christmas. Lots of great memories. :D

Season's greetings and best wishes for a very happy new year.

Namratha said...

Absolutely stunning Stollen,looks gorgeous...too pretty to eat.

Pierce said...

That is a fine looking stolen! Great post…I felt like I was right there with you as walked in the cold and windy evening, I could imagine your DVDs of favorite movies…fun!

Y said...

Christmas is usually such a beautiful time of the year. Sorry to hear yours is tinged with sadness.

All the best to you and your family for 2011.

PS:That's one very good looking stollen.

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

Now that's a Christmas wreath I could get into... I never likes Stollen as a child - but now in retrospect I think it's only because I hadn't had GOOD stollen!! Yours looks perfect.

Sue said...

Wow, Your stollen is BEAUTIFUL! And the taste matches the looks!?! You've got a winner here! I'm sad that I didn't get to it(or the macarons) this month...maybe I'll just make it anyway. As always, you're an inspiration! Happy New Year, Jamie!

zorra said...

Looks just perfect. Mine was a disaster. So next year it can get only better. ;-)


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