BY TOM YATES
Re-gifted again and again —loved or loathed —there will always be fruit cake. I’m totally on team fruit cake. Yep, I was that oddball kid who wanted to win those cellophane-wrapped fruit cakes that mysteriously appeared at festival cake walks.
During the holidays, I still live for the sound of that glorious thud a fruit cake makes when it hits the front stoop for a holiday delivery.
While I didn’t grow up eating those dense holiday cakes packed with sweet candied fruit, I always adored them because they reminded me of Christmases past. My primer for fruit cake was German Christmas stollen or Christstollen, a dense yeasted spiced bread packed with boozy plumped dried fruit and covered with confectioner’s sugar.
In Germany, it was (and still is) unheard of to have Christmas without stollen. Whether scratch made or outsourced, most every household had stollen during Christmas. Ours was no exception. Frau Olga loved making stollen. Gliding through the kitchen like a graceful stout swan, she’d spend days proofing dough, rolling dough, and soaking various dried fruits in rum before shaping the dough, proofing it again, and sliding it into the oven to bake. When cooled, she showered the bread with an avalanche of powdered snow. Frau Olga’s Christmas miracle. The stuff of boyish dreams.
When my family left Germany and moved back to Kentucky, the familiar flavors of holiday fruit cake took my heart back to stollen.
Stollen (jazzed up Christmas bread) is simple enough to throw together, but it takes time and planning. Like fruit cake, it’s best aged for a few days or weeks. The plumped fruit gets fruitier and the booze gets boozier. Total win.
Although traditional stollen has hard-to-find dried citron in the mix, any combination of dried fruit works with this sweet/savory Christmas bread.
Using separate containers to keep the dried fruits from bleeding into each other, I soaked 1 cup dried currants, 3/4 cup candied orange peel, 1 cup chopped dried apricots, and 3/4 cups dried sour cherries in 12 tablespoons white rum (3 tablespoons per fruit). After letting the fruit macerate for a couple of hours, I slipped them into the refrigerator to absorb the rum and plump overnight.
I dissolved 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast in 1/4 warm (not hot) water and set it aside to proof and bubble up.
I love playing with dough. After sifting together 5 1/2 cups Wiesenberger Mill all-purpose flour, 2/3 cups granulated sugar, 1 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground mace, 1 teaspoon ground cardamon, and 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg into a large mixing bowl, I added 1 cup warm whole milk, 1 1/4 sticks melted unsalted butter, 3 lightly beaten eggs, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon almond extract, and the reserved yeast. I turned the shaggy dough onto a lightly floured work surface and kneaded the dough until it was smooth.
I flattened the dough into a workable rectangle before adding the reserved soaked fruit, 1 1/2 cups chopped blanched almonds, and 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest.
After kneading the dough for roughly 10 minutes until smooth (poking wayward fruit back into the dough from time to time), I transferred the dough to an oiled bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and tucked it aside in a warm place for 2 hours until it doubled in size.
Traditionally, stollen is folded and formed into the shape of a swaddling baby. I took the braided route.
I punched the dough down and used a bench scraper to cut the dough into 6 even pieces for 2 loaves. For each loaf, I rolled the individual pieces into 14″ ropes, pinched the ends of 3 ropes together, braided the dough, and placed the loaves onto half sheet pans covered with parchment paper.
After covering the loaves with oiled plastic wrap, I tucked them away to rise again and double in size for 2 hours.
When doubled in bulk, I brushed the loaves with melted butter and slid them into a preheated 350 degree oven to bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pans midway, until they were golden brown before cooling them completely on wire racks and showering them with powdered snow.
Christmas Stollen. Home for the Holidays.
This article also appears on page 16 of the December 2019 print edition of Ace.
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