Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Baking

What I look forward to most about Christmas is all the excitement and preparations leading up to the actual holiday, and best of all the smells of holiday baking. I especially love the yeasty fragrance of Christmas stollen baking in the oven. This holiday bread is laden with dried fruits, almonds, and butter, so that the yeast has a Herculean task in making the dough rise. My mother always gets trans-Atlantic tips and encouragement from her family in Germany since her stollen dough is several time zones behind. One year my parents did the stollen baking with friends, and while my father diligently kneaded his half of the dough, their friend gave his half a few perfunctory pats in between sips of Gluhwein. I distinctly remember when the two loaves came out of the oven: one nicely plump and the other sadly flat. I was outraged when my parents felt compelled to claim the flat one as theirs and my mother pretended to chastise my father for his poor kneading effort. With a food processor, the kneading is a lot easier, but we had to adapt our standby recipe from the Joy of Cooking (the 1975 edition) to fit into the machine: using 2/3 of the original recipe and preparing this in two batches.

The first thing to do to coax the yeast along is to mix it with warm milk until it's dissolved and frothy.

The buttery dough has just enough flour to come together in a ball,

which you leave in a warm place to rise until it's doubled in bulk.

Then you have to knead in the goodies: toasted almond slivers, and fruit. Over the years, our family has dropped the candied fruit and settled on plain raisins, plumped up in a little warm water, as the nicest accompaniment to the yeasty crumb, but one can add any variety of candied or dried fruit. It's always a challenge to get these incorporated into the dough, which seems to shed raisins like an overexcited labrador sheds fur.

Now this heavily laden dough, shaped into loaves, needs to rise again, and this time the best strategy is to proof it: cover the loaves with a clean dish towel and nestle them in the oven with a pan of steaming hot water underneath. (Just don't forget about them and start preheating the oven for cookies). Finally, after a day of pampering, the dough is baked until golden brown, and covered with a snowfall of confectioner's sugar. This is the perfect treat for Christmas morning to tide everyone over while the presents are unwrapped.

Of course, one wouldn't expect Santa to deliver any presents if he weren't rewarded for his troubles with a plate of home baked cookies. In our household, we've developed the tradition of leaving Santa a Jewish delicacy: rugelach. They are fun for kids to make, and Santa seems to like them because they always get eaten. The recipe comes from Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook, which uses cottage cheese for a surprisingly malleable and ultimately flaky dough. She gives a number of filling suggestions, but our favorite is hazelnuts and chocolate with cinnamon sugar.

The trick is to freeze the chocolate chips so that they don't melt while being pulverized into a coarse crumb.

Then you roll out the dough, sprinkle on the filling, and slice it like a pizza.

Roll the cookies from the center to the outside, and sprinkle any shed filling over the assembled cookies.

Then bake until golden brown. Make sure to reserve some for Santa before serving them for Christmas Eve dessert.

Christmas Stollen
adapted from the Joy of Cooking

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
5 cups flour, plus more for handling the dough
1 cup milk, just below scalding
2 Tbsp + 3/4 tsp (3 packages) yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs

1 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 1/2 cup dried or candied fruit, including or exclusively raisins plumped in warm water and drained.

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Prepare the dough in 2 batches in a food processor, combining the butter, sugar, and egg, then mixing in the flour and pouring in the yeast mixture while the processor is running. If the dough is too sticky to handle, add a little more flour. Combine the two batches, cover, and allow to rise in a warm place for several hours, until doubled in bulk.

2. Knead in the nuts and fruit, using a little more flour if the dough is too sticky. Shape into two loaves and place on greased cookie sheets. Cover with clean dish towels and place in the oven beneath a pan of steaming hot water. Allow to rise several hours until doubled in size.

3. Remove the dough, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake the loaves for about 45 minutes until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with a finger nail. Cool on a rack. Dust with confectioner sugar. Serve slices as is or toasted.

adapted from Mollie Katzen

for the dough
1/2 cup (1 stick butter)
1 cup cottage cheese
1 1/3 cup flour, and more for handling
1/4 tsp salt

for the filling
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup chocolate chips, frozen
scan 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1. Chop the filling ingredients in a food processor until they have the consistency of a coarse crumb. Reserve.

2. Wipe out the food processor and prepare the dough, processing the ingredients until they come together into a ball. If the dough is very sticky, add a little more flour. Remove the dough and shape into two balls. Wrap in plastic wrap or a silicone baking mat and chill  for a few minutes. 

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove one dough ball from the refrigerator, roll into about a 12 inch diameter circle, sprinkle with half of the filling, and slice into 12 slices. Roll each slice from the center to the perimeter and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle any filling that fell out over the rolled cookies. Prepare the second ball like the first. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

Renee said...

Merry Christmas Karen!!! I almost did stollen this season too, but it just didn't happen. I wish you and your family a fantastic holiday!