A traditional Christmas food for Germans, at least among German-Americans, that is German-Americans in Wisconsin, is stollen. My German friends pronounce it "shhhtollen". Shhhhtollen is fun and important to say because it conjures up pleasant images of a sleeping babe on Christmas morn and the family awakening to share strong hot coffee and sweet bread. But how stollen got substituted for the sweet bread, I don't know.
This German-American Wisconsinite confesses: I don't like stollen. Sure, mixed in the bread dough are sweet candied fruits and almonds, but I've always found this Christmas morning bread dry. Maybe I just didn't slather enough butter on it as the how-to-eat-German-stollen oral tradition recommends. But I've heard other German-American Wisconsinites whisper that they aren't overly fond of stollen either. Yes, we've all been duped by stollen's pretty red, green, and gold colors. Stollen, - the original glitz of the holiday season.
What to do? Here's a traditional Christmas food lots of folks eat only because they feel they should. Oh, it's not as bad as the oyster stew my dad had to eat as a kid. Can you imagine having your presents ransomed until you ate slimy things? No, consuming stollen for Christmas breakfast is never as traumatic. But none-the-less, it's Christmas. Why would any religion based on the ethic of love thy neighbor enforce a decree that everyone must eat dry bread to celebrate? There's got to have been a mistake somewhere.
And I think I know where. It's in the recipe. Generations ago, mutations must have occurred when the recipe was repeatedly copied and passed down through the generations. Errors in the instructional DNA of stollen accumulated until we ended up with dry bread. But has anyone since tried to undo the harm? I figured that if anyone could take a stollen recipe and make edible bread out of it, it would be Marge Snyder and Suzanne Breckenridge, two Wisconsin gourmet chefs. If I followed their recipe for stollen, I reasoned, then I would find out if stollen is supposed to be dry, bland, and questionably tasteless. You see, over the years I've come to trust these two Wisconsin chefs. With guidance from their cookbook, The Wisconsin Country Gourmet, I can turn my ordinary food into impressive. These chefs take recipes for traditional Wisconsin foods, and tweak them until they become gourmet delicious. If I was to find a flavorful stollen recipe, I'd find it in The Wisconsin Country Gourmet. So did I? Read on. I assure you, I have some scruples for honesty.
I've always held that the secret ingredients in Snyder and Breckenridge's recipes is the liquor. They follow in the Julia Child tradition of making it better with alcohol. In their recipe for German stollen you have your choice of rum, brandy or bourbon. I'm a scotch drinker myself so wonder how scotch would fit into the mix. But for baking their stollen this time, I chose bourbon. I probably should have chosen rum because my children didn't like the bourbon flavor, and when I put rum in their banana bread they ate it up.
So here's how Snyder and Breckenridge introduce their recipe for German Stollen:
"This recipe makes two large oval loaves or four smaller ones - perfect for gift-giving. As a leftover, slice and lightly toast and serve with hot, strong black coffee.
- 1 1/2 cups mixed candied fruit
- 1/2 cup candied cherries, halved
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup currants
- 3 Tablespoons rum, brandy, or bourbon
- 2 sticks butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup milk
- 2 packages dry yeast
- 1/2 cup water (110 degrees)
- 5 1/2 - 6 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 cardamon pods (seeds removed and crushed)
- 1/4 teaspoon mace
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup lightly toasted slivered almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- grated peel from 1 orange
- melted butter
"Mix candied fruit, cherries, raisins, and currants in a bowl with the liquor. Set aside 30-6- minutes. Place butter, sugar and milk in a saucepan and heat until butter melts. Set aside to cool slightly. Proof yeast in a glass bowl with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and water until it foams.
"Place flour, salt, cardamon and mace in electric mixer bowl. Add yeast and cooled milk mixture. Stir. Add eggs one at a time and blend well after each. Add fruit with liquor, almonds, flavorings and grated orange peel. Blend well. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, 5-10 minutes.
"Place in oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until double in size, 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Punch down and divide. Pat into ovals. brush with melted butter and make a crease slightly off-center. Fold so edges do not touch. Brush with more melted butter. Bake at 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and tests done. Cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar."
So how'd we like it? It was pretty. It wasn't AS dry as other stollens, but still, I've had wheat bread more moist. Ritz crackers are moister, but that's because they're greasier. Maybe that's why to enjoy stollen we're told to slather on the butter. To be honest, I didn't try that. In retrospect, I realize I should have buttered my stollen so I could give a fair assessment. I mean, how good does shrimp cocktail taste without the cocktail sauce? And why didn't I slather it with butter? Well, I was too busy eating it dry. I really did like the flavor. The bourbon, candies, almonds, raisins and spices gave this German stollen a delicious taste.
Conclusion: This German stollen is worth baking and eating. To dear ones who do like stollen you can be confident that this recipe will produce a very tasty Christmas gift indeed.