A Festive Family Tradition

by Dagmar Kaffanke-Nunn and Cassidy Nunn – 

Dagmar: as an immigrant child growing up in a German family, Christmas was the most exciting time of the year. Our mother would send us to the post office with the sled to fetch enormous parcels from our rich aunt in Hamburg. They were filled with beautiful clothing, toys, chocolate pralines, Nivea cream and other wondrous things! But watching Mama making her Christmas stollen in our tiny kitchen was just as thrilling. The intoxicating aroma of almonds, raisins, rum, candied citrus peel, marzipan and butter wafted through our home as the sweet bread baked. Afterwards, Mama dusted the loaf liberally with powdered sugar, signifying snow or the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes.

Traditionally, stollen is made with yeast, but my mother found an excellent variation, using baking powder and quark, or cottage cheese. It’s quicker to make, has a wonderful flavour, and remains moist for weeks. And the best part is the roll of marzipan down the middle (can be omitted, but for me it’s a must!).

Since leaving home, I’ve made huge fleets of stollen every December. I quadruple the recipe which yields fourteen 500g loaves and give them to family, friends and colleagues at Christmas. After I retired, I thought I’d stop but friends would tell me how much they were looking forward to having my stollen for Christmas breakfast and so I carry on the tradition. Now I’ve shown my daughter how it’s done and perhaps she’ll be making stollen next Christmas!

Cassidy: This is the first time since I was a child that I’ve helped with my mum’s yearly batch of stollen baking. Stollen is a traditional German holiday cake that dates back to the 15th century in origin.

It’s always a huge endeavour; I remember her blocking off a full weekend day, taking the week before to shop for all the specific ingredients and then spending most of the day in the kitchen, apron on, hands covered in flour, measuring, preparing, weighing, baking, cooling, icing and lastly wrapping each of the holiday loaves.

It took us a full afternoon to prepare this year’s quadrupled recipe. We had to make our own almond paste (marzipan) from scratch since we couldn’t find it this early in the season anywhere in stores, but the good news is, we searched online and found a recipe that’s incredibly easy to do in a blender at home. Mum always uses the cottage cheese-based recipe that my Oma passed down to her, but a quick internet search yielded many variations of stollen recipes so there are plenty of options to try!

We poured all the ingredients together in a large pile that resembled a volcano, with mum cracking eggs into the crater and sprinkling baking powder over the mixture before diving in with her hands, kneading the massive pile until it finally resembled an enormous ball.

She then broke the dough into smaller loaves and weighed each one on her kitchen scale so that each loaf would weigh the same and bake through consistently. She pressed each lump of dough into an oval shape and made a trench down the middle where the strip of almond paste was added, before folding it over the marzipan and pinching the ends closed.

At the end of the day, the house smelled like the holidays, the counters were covered in a light dusting of icing sugar, and we had 14 stollen loaves to wrap up and tuck away until the holidays. All but one made it into the freezer … it’s important to sample the goods before gifting, no?!

RECIPES

Pre-heat oven to 450°F

500 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 packet vanilla sugar
bit of salt

Sift above ingredients together onto counter top (don’t use a bowl)                        

Make a depression in the middle of the dry ingredients and add:

150 g sugar (or try 125 g if you prefer it less sweet)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1 tbsp rum
pinch of cardamom
pinch of nutmeg
2 eggs

Stir some of the flour into the wet mass and mix into a porridge-like consistency. Then pile the ingredients below on top.

125 g cold butter, cut in small chunks
50 g shortening or lard, cut in small chunks
250 g cottage cheese or quark
125 g currants
250 g raisins (I use the larger amount)
250 g ground almonds (I use the larger amount)
50 g mixed citrus peel (I grind it to almost a paste; I hate the texture of bits in my mouth!)

With your hands, work the pile into a well-mixed dough. Use some flour on the surface if it gets sticky.

Shape the dough into an oval about an inch thick. Form a shallow well down the middle and put in a small amount of almond paste* (recipe: https://www.daringgourmet.com/how-to-make-marzipan-almond-paste/ or purchase ready-made)

Fold over to form a stollen shape (see picture); place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Make sure to pinch the edges really well so the almond paste doesn’t melt out. Lower oven to 350° and back for 50-60 minutes until stollen is lightly golden.

Cool on rack, then brush with melted butter and generously sprinkle icing sugar over top. Wrap well in saran wrap and store in a cool place; it will last a long time.

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