It almost seems cold, white like snow, then melts into a sweetness unlike anything else. Bite a little deeper, and the aromas of Christmas, of butter, rum, raisins, and almonds that typify a real German stollen become apparent, and connect to the earliest stollen I ever ate. It was imported from Dresden, sent by my grandparents to Michigan, and came with an extra packet of powdered sugar, the cold/sweet magic I had at no other time as a kid. Now Dresden ties to other events, but for now, on Christmas Eve, let’s just think of the stollen, and those earliest childhood memories of family, snow, the Christmas tree, and anticipation.
Sometimes we came to Houston for Christmas to that big house on North MacGregor. For us, Christmas has never been a religious holiday, and as kids we were unaware of our Jewish family history, so we’ve never celebrated those holidays except with friends. If it were religious, for us, the tree would be the object of worship. It was always alive, and always had real candles on it, in ancient tin German candle holders. Well, at my grandparent’s house, that is. The candles were seldom lit. When they were, we sat quietly and looked at the tree, at the flickering candles and hunted among all the ornaments for the single red heart hung on the tree for “die Lieben in der Ferne” (loved ones far away), a bittersweetness 8 year olds are usually fortunate enough not to understand.
We celebrate that tree on Christmas Eve, with champagne, family, and the famous little sandwiches, open-faced, delights. We used to argue a lot over who had to make them! To begin, first each child brings a present to the oldest among us. We don’t have any children right now, not even any teenagers anymore, but we do have grandparents to receive the first gifts. We used to start with my Omi playing ‘Ihr Kinderlein kommet’ on the piano, but now we just listen to the CD.
Christmas in St. Louis may not happen for us for awhile. We may come back to Houston. We may go to Michigan. It is undecided.
About that recipe, well, here it is. Ideally, you bake this early, and it is first on a German baking calendar
Preheat oven to 350 F when you get to the last rising.
8 cups flour (1 kg)
1.5 cups water (370 ml)
1.5 cups butter (3 sticks, 340g)
0.75 cups sugar (120 g)
3 eggs (200g)
0.75 teaspoon grated lemon rind from one lemon (2 g)
0.75 teaspoon salt (5 g)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
0.5 -1 lb raisins (300 – 500 g) soaked in rum
0.25 cup rum
0.5 – 1 lb almonds (300 – 500 g)
3 cups powdered sugar
Mix all but the raisins and almonds into a soft dough. Knead well by hand 10 minutes, or in a Cuisinart or Kitchenaid.
Roll out the dough, and put the raisins and almonds on it. If you forgot to soak the raisins in advance, just microwave the raisins in rum.
Roll up, and let rise 1 – 3 hours.
Punch down, shape into 4 loaves and let rise 1 hour, then bake about 40 minutes in 350 degree oven.
Take out of oven.
When cool wet the stollen all over with water (or you can use melted butter) and then coat in powdered sugar.
Wrap in aluminum foil. Will keep for weeks.
You may want to top off the powdered sugar when you serve the stollen. Its good for breakfast with coffee.
Christmas Eve sandwiches.
I change my mind a lot about how many raisins and almonds are best.
I use the Cuisinart to knead this soft bread dough.
Roll it out to receive the almonds and rum-soaked raisins.
I’m thinking that was too many almonds and raisins.
Roll it all up and let it rise a couple times. Then shape into four loaves and bake on a cookie sheet.
I wet my hands, rub them over the stollen, then cover generously with powdered sugar.
It could have half the number of almonds and raisins, and is best aged a few weeks, if you can wait!