Years ago, former director of the Bellevue Farmers Market Lori Taylor gave me a loaf of Christmas bread from one of the Market bakers. I can't even remember which baker it was or what it was called, but I hid that loaf in the freezer and ate the entire thing myself, slice by slice. It was a crusty loaf, not sweet, and not covered with powdered sugar, but inside were bits of dried fruit and nuggets of mouthwatering almond paste.
Whenever the Christmas season rolls around, my thoughts return to that elusive loaf. It doesn't help that our family has recently started watching The Great British Baking Show and critiquing any family bakes in Paul Hollywood's accent. (My Thanksgiving rolls were sadly "oonderbaked."
Well, since I was newly inspired, and my bread machine had bit the dust, I decided this Christmas was the time to try recipes that just might be like That Famous Loaf (TFL). For starters, TFL sounded a little like traditional Christmas stollen, in that it contained dried fruit and almond paste, so that seemed like a decent place to start. I knew right off that I wanted to adjust the recipes I saw out there--candied citrons? Yuck! Ditto marzipan. I hit the grocery store and chose dried apricots, dried Bing cherries, and some candied pineapple. In place of marzipan I got a brick of almond paste. I also threw in a few raisins. A very nice fruit combo, it turned out.
The dough mixed up with no problems, even after I substituted whole-wheat flour for 1/4 of the total flour. I did discover that kneading dough for ten minutes is a good workout, and ten minutes feels more like twenty.
Then there was lots of rising time, followed by kneading the chopped dried fruit and almond paste in, which I didn't do that great of a job of. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would surely comment on how my filling ingredients weren't evenly distributed.
More rising time, and then into the oven for a half-hour bake. The result? Well, I can see why they usually cover it in powdered sugar, because it isn't really that attractive.
On the other hand, the bread was quite tasty warm with butter spread on it. It wasn't TFL, but it was yummy anyhow. And quite giftable, after you apologized for its ugliness. And maybe after you sprinkled it with the powdered sugar, like this baker did:
I notice her loaf had a more uniform shape and better distribution. Perfectly presentable.
In any case, I'm going to try again to recreate TFL, this time using a regular artisan loaf recipe, with the fruit and almond paste thrown in. But if these homely stollen have stolen your heart, here's the approximate recipe from The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook:
Stollen (German Christmas Bread)
1/2 c sugar, scant
1-1/2 tsp salt
4-1/2 tsp yeast (or two packets)
about 6 cups of flour, of which 1-1/2 can be whole wheat
1-1/4 c milk
3/4 c butter
3/4 box almond paste
1 cup total of chopped dried fruit
In the stand mixer, combine sugar, salt, yeast, and 2 cups flour. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine milk and butter and heat until 120-130F. (I got distracted and totally melted all the butter and brought it to 140F, so I just let it cool off a minute afterward.)
Gradually stir liquid into dry ingredients until just blended. Then beat at medium for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs and another 1/2 c flour. Beat another 2 minutes. Then mix in another 2-3/4 c flour with a wooden spoon.
Turn the shaggy dough out on a floured surface and knead 10 minutes, adding in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and put in a greased bowl, covered, to rise an hour.
Punch down the dough and knead in the fruits and almond paste. Divide the dough in three pieces, putting one in the fridge to wait.
With a floured rolling pin, roll 1 piece of the dough into a 12x7 oval. Then fold it in half lengthwise and place on a large cookie sheet. Repeat with second piece of dough and place 3" apart from the first loaf. Cover and let rise another hour. After 30 minutes of rising time, prepare the third piece of dough and put it on another cookie sheet.
Preheat to 350F. Bake the first two loaves 25-30 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Bake third loaf. When everything is cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Like I said, with all the egg, this had more of a challah texture, rather than a crackly crust. I wanted the crackly crust. You live, you learn. But this would make delicious French toast or an accompaniment to a cup of tea, if you toasted it and spread it with cream cheese. Stollen moments, indeed.