Rhea Christmas Stollen

Rhea’s Christmas Stollen

It’s Christmastime!

That startling thought occurred to me as I scrolled through my Facebook messages last week and stumbled upon King Arthur Flour’s annual posting of their recipe for Everyone’s Favorite Fruitcake.

Yes, I know that probably sounds like an oxymoron to most of you, but I am of that rare breed that really loves fruitcake, and the above-mentioned recipe is a good one. I have made it in the past, and although I may still be the only one eating it, I will be making it again this year.

That posting reminded me that it is also time for my annual Stollen bake.

According to what I read, Stollen is a traditional German Christmas bread, filled with candied fruit and raisins (I eliminate the marzipan strip baked into the middle because I find it too sweet), shaped into an oval, baked, and then brushed with melted butter and heavily coated with powdered sugar. They say it supposedly looks like the swaddled baby Jesus, but be that as it may, unlike most festive-looking Christmas baked goods, this one’s looks leave a lot to be desired. It mostly looks like just a plain white lump, but don’t let its looks deceive you. It tastes like pure heaven … if you like plain, not too sweet pastries, which I do.

I had never even heard of Stollen until I ran across a reference to it online a few years ago and decided to try my hand at baking one. My first attempt, from a King Arthur cookbook recipe, was a disaster that “died aborning,” so to speak, scraped out of the mixing bowl and dumped directly into the trash before going any further. Then I phoned the King Arthur help line and discussed the problem with one of their bakers. I forget which flour I had been using, pastry or all-purpose, but whichever it was, it needed a bit more liquid than what had been called for in the recipe. Second attempt was the charm.

I have been making Stollen at Christmastime since then, and although it is more graciously received by those to whom I serve it than is the fruitcake, I love it and look forward to both the making of it and the eating of it every year.

The online recipe I now use (you can Google it at “Best Authentic Stollen … The Daring Gourmet”) strongly suggests making your own candied citrus peel. They said it was easy, and it pretty much was. The only problem was that during clean up after the fact, I found that I had inadvertently also candied the whole stovetop. The gentle but prolonged simmering of the citrus strips in syrup had sent a very fine mist of colorless sugary droplets airborne during the process. It cleaned easily and made me laugh, but the jury is still out on whether or not I will be doing it again this year.

(F.Y.I. If you don’t feel like baking your own Stollen, you can buy it ready-made at Wright’s Dairy Farm and Bakery in North Smithfield, plain and “nothing-looking” just like the homemade ones. But hang onto your hat if you do, because they don’t come cheap. Nor should they.)

Christmas cookies were also on my list, and as he has done for the past few years, my grandson Matt drove down from New Hampshire last week for our annual cookie bake.

I made a shopping list of what we needed. Things like dark brown sugar, dark corn syrup, candied ginger, mace (the spice, not the spray), candied pineapple, candied red cherries and dates for the fruitcake, pine nuts for Matt’s Winter Cakes (from the Game of Thrones Cookbook), extra sugar, and butter. Lots and lots of butter. Matt remembered to bring fresh eggs from his own flock of chickens.

As we have done in the past, we opened the dining room table to full-length, covered it with a plastic tablecloth, and broke out my full collection of cooling racks. In addition to the thick and delicious Winter Cakes, we made Russian Tea Cakes, Nut Cups, Scottish Shortbread, and biscotti, half for him to take home to N.H. and half for me to share with family and friends here at home.

Life is good, and it’s even better with cookies fresh from the oven.

Sending sweet warm Christmas wishes (if not cookies) from my home to yours!

Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.

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