Pizza al taglio (Italian for pizza ‘by the cut’) is a variety of pizza baked in large rectangular trays and generally sold by weight with prices marked per kilogram or per 100 grams. This type of pizza was invented in Rome, Italy.
Roman pizza al taglio came into existence in the 1960’s. These large slabs of pizza are generally thicker and softer. The main emphasis being not so much upon the visual aspect of the pizza, rather the taste and convenience of the process being the priority. The rectangular pizza shape makes it easier to cut and divide the pizza to the buyer’s desire.
Years ago, growing up on a farm, pizza was not a usual meal for our family. This was until my mother acquired a nice, little, glossy covered recipe book put out by Fleischmann’s Yeast Company. Among numerous good recipes it contained one for PIZZA! My mother baked bread every week so she had yeast baking down to a science.
I really don’t recall what it was topped with, just that it was sooo…… good! Brion and I refrain from ‘ordering’ pizza very often. Not because we don’t like it but rather just the opposite — we love it. The only problem is the calorie count is just too high. That being said, it doesn’t stop me from making a homemade version from time to time.
Today I used the crust recipe from that Fleischmann’s book and a copycat filling from Boston Pizza’s BBQ Chicken pizza. Yum!
Measure into bowl, 1 cup lukewarm water. Stir in 1 tsp sugar; sprinkle with the pkg of yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes, THEN stir well. Add 1 tsp salt & 1/4 cup oil; stir in 1 1/2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in additional 1 1/4 cups flour. Turn out dough on a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth & elastic. Place in a greased bowl; brush top with melted butter. Cover. Let rise in a warm place free from draft until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Toppings / Sauce
In a skillet, saute onion, red & green pepper & mushrooms in a small amount of butter. Shred mozzarella & cheddar cheeses. Chop cooked chicken. To BBQ sauce add water to make sauce consistency.
Preheat oven to 400 F. When dough is doubled in bulk, punch down. Press into a 16 x 12 x 1" baking pan. Spread BBQ sauce & water mixture over crust. Top with sauteed vegetables, chicken, mozzarella & cheddar cheese. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is golden & cheese is melted.
The puddingbrezel is a special kind of pretzel. Made with buttery ‘danish pastry’, filled with a smooth, sweet vanilla pudding. The term danish is connected to a strike among Danish bakers in the 19th century. When bakers from neighboring countries, especially Austria, were invited to work, they brought with them a new kind of dough. As soon as the strike ended, the Danish bakers started to experiment with this new dough adapting it to their needs.
This dough technique was called lamination. Although the dough is prepared with yeast, it is processed with cold ingredients. After kneading, it is folded and rolled out again multiple times to achieve the desired fluffy and flaky texture. For successful danish pastry, butter is needed as it works to separate the various layers of the dough as they bake.
To put it simply, we have an Austrian pastry that was adapted by the Danes, which is used to make a German delicacy. How is that for ‘interculinary’.
Dissolve sugar into lukewarm water & sprinkle with the yeast. Allow to stand 15 minutes. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar & salt; pulse in cold butter cubes. Mixture should resemble pea sized chunks. Remove mixture from food processor & transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Whisk together eggs & whipping cream. Stir in yeast mixture & pour over the flour mixture. Toss together with a wooden spoon, just enough to make dough form. Divide into two portions. Each portion makes about 8-10 pastries so if you don't need it all right away, double wrap one portion in plastic wrap & freeze for later. Refrigerate dough for several hours or overnight.
In a small dish, combine cornstarch with 1/4 cup milk & beat until completely smooth. Slice vanilla bean lengthwise & scrape out the seeds. Cut the remaining pod in half crosswise.
In a saucepan, add remaining 2 3/4 cups milk, sugar, salt, vanilla pulp & pod. Place on stove over high heat. As soon as the mixture begins to boil, remove from heat & add cornstarch mixture stirring constantly. Return saucepan to stove, continue cooking ONLY until bubbly & thickened. Remove from heat & take out vanilla pod. Cover with plastic wrap to avoid forming a skin as it cools.
To make PUDDINGBREZELS: Roll a portion of the dough into a 12 x 18-inch rectangle. Cut strips on the long side of the rectangle, about just over 1/2" wide. Twirl two of the strips together & form into pretzels. Transfer carefully to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, with some room in between to expand during baking. Let rise 30 minutes before filling.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Using a pastry bag, pipe cooled vanilla pudding into the two holes of each pretzel. Brush each pastry with an egg wash consisting of 1 egg whisked together with 2 Tbsp water. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.Timing depends upon the size you chose to make your puddingbrezels.
When cinnamon, sugar and butter are mixed together, the result is something many people all over the world find irresistible.
The first cinnamon roll was created in Sweden, around the 1920’s. After World War I, several goods such as sugar, eggs and butter, which had been heavily restricted, eventually returned to the grocery shelves. The spice trade from Southeast Asia also led to the invention of the roll. Cinnamon was not grown locally in the European countries, hence the spice trade from Sri Lanka led to the development of cinnamon use in the European countries. The influences of German baking techniques combine with Swedish and Danish ingredients can clearly be seen in the making of the cinnamon roll.
In Sweden, October 4th is ‘Kanelbulle’ day or national ‘Cinnamon Roll Day’. This holiday was originally created by the country’s Home Baking Council in 1999 to commemorate their 40th anniversary. Swedish cinnamon rolls are not as sweet and heavy as they are in North America. The dough contains a hint of cardamom spice and they are generally baked in muffin papers to make a more delicate treat.
Our family definitely enjoyed a lot of irresistible cinnamon rolls. As is everything that becomes the ‘norm’, you take it for granted until you no longer have it and it becomes a ‘taste of a memory’.
I recall my mother also making ‘potato’ doughnuts. The mashed potato seems to really add to the flavor of a yeast dough. In keeping with this Swedish ‘holiday’, I am making POTATO CINNAMON ROLLS or ‘Twists’.
In a large mixing bowl, combine lukewarm milk with yeast; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Allow to stand about 3 minutes or until foamy. Add warm mashed potato, melted butter, eggs, sugar, cardamom & salt; mix well. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic.
Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning dough to completely coat it with grease. Cover with plastic wrap; allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size. Punch down, turn out on a lightly floured work surface & let rest for about 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar & cinnamon; set aside.
Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into a 14 x 14-inch square. Brush with melted butter & evenly sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture. Fold dough into thirds like a business letter, then roll again into a 14 x 8-inch rectangle. Facing the long edge, cut dough into roughly 18 -8-inch strips. Twist each strip several times, slightly stretching it as you do so. Take one end of the twisted strip & coil the dough around your hand twice, then over the top. Coil dough again & tuck the loose end in at the bottom.
Arrange on baking sheets. Cover with plastic & allow to rise in a draft-free place, 45-60 minutes or until doubled in size. Place oven rack in middle position & preheat oven to 350 F.
If you prefer, you can brush rolls with egg wash & sprinkle with pearl sugar or chopped almonds instead of using cream cheese glaze. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. While cinnamon rolls are baking, make glaze (if you are using it). With a mixer, beat together cream cheese & butter until light & fluffy. Blend in powdered sugar & vanilla. Add enough milk to achieve a drizzle-like consistency. Drizzle on rolls while still warm.
Freezer Instructions: Form cinnamon rolls into twisted shape & place several inches apart on baking sheet to freeze rolls individually. Once frozen, transfer to a resealable plastic freezer bag. When ready to bake, place on a lightly greased baking sheet & allow to come to room temperature before baking.
I was interested to know a little more about this idea of ‘food on a stick’. It seems its a fairly wide spread way of eating food. In Indonesia there are many forms of chicken satay and of course the shish kebab originating from Turkey. It all comes from a culture that has been around since before the 1840’s.
The North American classic ‘corn dog’ was patent in 1929. The patent cited that it was for a ‘combined dipping, cooking and article holding apparatus’ and was intended for ‘impaling foods such as wieners, boiled ham, hard boiled eggs, cheese, sliced fruit, etc., on a stick, covering them in a batter and deep frying it’.
This food on a stick phenomenon has grown greatly over the past 20 years or more. It has become some sort of extreme ‘sport’ on a stick. For entrepreneurs, its whatever I can put on a stick that nobody’s done before. I was reading an article that listed 83 different possibilities!
Here’s a couple of ideas I found interesting to try. TURKEY MEATBALL BREADSTICKS and BACON WRAPPED MUSHROOMS ON A STICK.
In a large bowl, combine lukewarm water, yeast, sugar, oil & salt. Allow to become frothy, about 10 minutes. Gradually add flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until dough forms a ball. Transfer to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise about 1 hour in a warm, draft-free place. While bread sticks are rising, prepare turkey meatballs.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a bowl, combine turkey, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, oregano, basil, parsley, red pepper & garlic. Form into 36 - 1" diameter meatballs. When dough is ready, turn out onto a floured surface. Press or roll into a 12 x 8" rectangle. Cut into twelve strips about 1-inch wide x 8-inches long.
Starting with one bread stick, thread dough then a meatball, repeating process with 2 more meatballs alternating dough-meatball, ending with dough. Make sure to spread dough & meatballs away from each other by about 1/4", so the meatballs bake through & the dough has room to expand.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Stir together garlic powder & melted butter. Brush bread stick dough ONLY with mixture. Bake for 20 minutes until meatballs are cooked through. Remove from oven & sprinkle each skewer with 1-2 Tbsp of shredded mozzarella cheese. Place back in oven for 2-3 minutes until cheese is melted. Serve while hot with warm marinara sauce for dipping.
Bacon Wrapped Mushroom Kebabs
Soak skewers 30 minutes. Cut bacon strips in half. Wrap each mushroom with a bacon strip & thread 4 on each skewer. Grill on medium heat until bacon is done, about 10-15 minutes, basting with barbecue sauce. Serve immediately.
With my passion for food history and preparation, there is always a draw that pulls me back to my German roots. A lot of these recipes I recall my mother making but some are new to me that I just can’t resist trying.
In 2016, I posted a couple of recipes ( one in April and the other in August) for Potato Bread that had a meat filling baked inside. These take sandwiches to a whole new level and are so great for picnics — the perfect meal all in one.
The hand held meat ‘pie’ has a worldwide history. The British serve Cornish pasties, while empanadas are found throughout Central and South America. Italians are drawn to calzones (which are often made without meat). That brings me to eastern Europeans with their bierocks.
A bierock is made from a yeasty dough stuffed with ground or shredded beef, cabbage and onions. They were created to be carried by miners and farmers to work so they could enjoy a hearty lunch. What began as a ‘pocketful’ of beef and cabbage eventually led to the Reuben that we know today. The BIEROCK is a characteristic food of Germans from Russia.
These bierocks freeze well, so making them ahead of time is no problem. Just take them out of the freezer in the morning to thaw by lunch time. You can warm them in the microwave for 1-2 minutes in 30 second increments to heat through if you wish.
In a large bowl, place milk & butter. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time until butter has melted. Add sugar & whisk to dissolve. Whisk mixture until it has cooled to lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast over milk mixture & allow to stand 5-10 minutes, until foamy. Whisk again, adding in 2 cups of flour, egg & salt.
Stir in remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time until dough comes together. On a floured surface knead dough 10-15 minutes until soft, smooth dough forms, adding flour as needed. Dough should be tacky but not sticking to your hands.
Shape dough into a disk; place in a greased bowl, turning dough to coat. Cover loosely with plastic wrap & place in a warm, draft-free place to rise, about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.
In a large skillet, brown meat until almost cooked, 5-7 minutes. Drain grease from pan, add onions & cook 2-3 minutes or until they begin to soften. Add cabbage & cook 7-10 minutes, until cabbage is tender. Remove from heat & season with salt & pepper.
Place dough on a floured work surface, knocking it back. Divide into 8-12 balls (about 85 g each). Flatten each ball to a circle 4-5" in diameter. Spoon 2 large Tbsp of filling onto the center of each circle, leaving edges clear. Bring the edges together & pinch them to seal dough completely. Continue with rest of the filling & dough.
Place the shaped 'bierocks' on a greased baking sheet & allow to rise, covered 30-45 minutes until roughly 1 1/2 times the original size. Preheat oven to 375 F. during the last 10 minutes of rising time. Brush bierocks lightly with milk & bake 20-25 minutes or until golden & hollow sounding when tapped. Remove from oven & cool on a wire rack.
I know it sounds quite ordinary but we are not just talking about just any plum cake. Variations of the German specialty, ‘zwetschgenkuchen’, exist where some versions are made with a shortbread pastry verses a yeast dough, some have streusel – some do not – some are round, other’s are rectangular. One thing for sure is that they all use the plump, sweet, juicy European plums also known as Italian Prune Plums or Empress Plums. This variety is ideal for cooking not only because of their texture but also because their flavor becomes more complex through cooking.
Fruit and yeast-based cakes are a German hallmark with this cake being a perfect example. Its not overly sweet, has a touch of tartness to it, a small hint of cinnamon and that tender yeast dough.
When I was growing up and my mother used Italian Prune Plums in her canning or baking, I just thought it was because they were available at the time. I had no idea that they played such a special part in German baking until I was older.
I realize this is probably not the kind of thing you feel like making on a hot summer day. I suggest putting it on hold for a rainy day because it is well worth the effort. Just to encourage you further, I’ve added an alternate yogurt dough you could use instead of the yeasted one which would speed things up.
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup warm milk & allow to become frothy, about 5-10 minutes. With an electric hand mixer, beat together sugar, salt, warm melted butter, egg & vanilla. When yeast is ready, Combine with egg mixture. Add flour, 1 cup at a time to wet mixture. Stir well after each addition; dough should become smooth & elastic. It will not be firm enough to knead into a ball, more like thick batter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap & set in a warm, draft-free place to rise for an hour or until doubled in bulk.
In a small bowl, combine streusel ingredients. Using fingertips, rub mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
'ALTERNATE' Yogurt Dough
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder & salt. In small bowl, beat together yogurt, milk, oil & vanilla. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; add wet mixture & combine until dough forms a ball.
To make Plum Cake Tarts
Generously butter eight - 4 x 3/4" mini tart pans or press out a rectangle of dough about 8 x 10" size on a baking sheet or a jelly-roll pan could be used. For tart pans, divide dough into 8 pieces & press dough out over bottom & up sides. For the rectangle shape, dough could be rolled out on parchment paper & laid directly on pan.
Lay plums close together in rows, covering the entire dough. If using YEAST DOUGH, set pan in a warm place & let rise rise an hour. Sprinkle the streusel over the top & bake at 350 F. for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden. If using YOGURT DOUGH, evenly sprinkle farina over dough before placing the plums on the pastry ( it helps to keep the pastry from becoming soggy). Arrange plums on pastry; distribute streusel over cake. Bake at 350 F. for 30 minutes or streusel is light golden.
The aroma of Easter bread baking certainly brings back precious childhood memories. What I recall about my mother’s Easter bread, was that it was a dense, mildly sweet & a very egg rich bread. It was always baked in round ‘cans’ and the taste was unforgettable.
Nearly every country around the world has a traditional Easter bread. Each one is different in some way, a mix of symbolism and satisfying taste. They represent a continuity of traditions from centuries past, including much earlier pre-Christian times. Often these rich, yeasted breads are made in symbolic shapes and are elaborately decorated.
Germany and Austria make several shapes such as : Osterzopf – Easter braid, Osterkranz – Easter wreath or crown, Osternester – Easter nests, Eierimnest – Easter egg nest, Striezel – stacked braided bread.
That being said, I couldn’t resist doing a little ‘version’ of my own. I started with my favorite sweet yeast bread, added some anise flavor and a cream cheese filling. So now you have German osterkranz, Italian panettone and Romanian pasca all in one beautiful EUROPEAN EASTER BREAD.
In a large bowl, whisk yeast & sugar into lukewarm water; let stand about 10 minutes. With an electric mixer, beat together 3/4 cup sugar, eggs, oil, anise extract, lemon zest, lemon extract, salt & anise seed. Combine egg mixture, melted butter & milk with yeast mixture.
Add 4 CUPS flour, 1 cup at a time to wet mixture. Stir well after each addition. Turn dough out onto a floured surface & knead until smooth & elastic, about 5-6 minutes, adding remaining 1/2 cup flour if necessary.
Coat a large bowl with oil. Place dough in bowl & turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap & set in a warm place to rise until it doubles in bulk. Meanwhile, cut a piece of parchment paper big enough to cover the bottom & go up the sides of a 10" spring form pan. When dough has risen enough, cut into four pieces.
On the parchment paper, press one piece of the dough into a circle measuring about 10" in diameter. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the mixed peel, leaving a gap at the edge. Press out second piece of the dough on a lightly floured piece of wax paper, place it on top of the first layer & sprinkle with another 1/3 of mixed peel. Repeat with the third & fourth pieces of dough but do not sprinkle mixed peel on the final layer.
Place a glass tumbler on top of the center of the dough circles. Cut dough into 16 segments, starting a the edge of the glass. Lift & twist them away from each other through 180 degrees. Lift & twist through 90 degrees so that the ends are vertical. Press the edges together firmly. Repeat this process with all pairs of segments. Leave glass sitting on top at the center of the circle to form an indentation for the cheese filling. Cover with plastic wrap & set in a warm place to rise for about 1/2 an hour.
Preheat oven to to 325 F. In a bowl, place cream cheese, eggs, sugar & vanilla; mix well. When bread has risen, remove glass & fill indentation with cheese mixture. Bake for about 40-45 minutes. Allow to cool. Brush with honey/water glaze. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
German-inspired yeasted coffee cake is a very popular type of cake all over Germany and Austria. It is very different from the typical butter cake associated with streusel coffee cake in North America. Whereas a butter cake is rich, sweet and fine grained, kuchen is light and slightly porous with a complexity of flavor that can only be found in yeast leavened baked goods. Of course, there are many different variations, but the important part is the streusel or crumbled topping, which consists of a combination of flour, sugar, butter and spices.
In the past, most German towns and cities had orchards planted all around them, on land that belonged to the community. Cows or sheep grazed underneath the trees and people were free to pick the fruits when they became ripe. Today most of those common lands have been turned into suburbs and the trees are gone. Destruction of the remnants of ancient orchards is ongoing, contributing to the loss of heirloom varieties. Even though the diversity of choice is decreasing, the apple is still by far the most popular fruit in Germany.
Here is my best adaptation of an APPLE STREUSEL COFFEE CAKE that I think you might enjoy to try.
In a large bowl, combine yeast, 1/8 cup sugar & lukewarm water; allow to dissolve. Stir in remaining 1/8 cup of sugar, salt, milk, sour cream, lemon juice & vanilla; mix well. Add egg & blend.
With fingertips, rapidly work the butter into 2 1/2 cups of the flour until coarse, meal-like consistency. Add to the yeast mixture & knead in bowl, adding more flour if necessary to make a smooth, elastic dough. Shape into a ball & place in a lightly buttered bowl. Cover tightly and let rise in a draft-free place until doubled in bulk.
Peel & slice apples. In a small saucepan, combine all filling ingredients except pecans. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until apples are tender, & juice has evaporated. Stir in pecans; set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon & lemon zest. With fingertips, rub in butter until mixture is coarse & crumbly. Set aside.
When dough has doubled in size, turn out on a lightly floured piece of wax paper. Press out gently into a rectangle about 10 x 14-inches in size. Spread apple filling to within 1/4-inch of edges & very gently press into dough. Roll up from the wide end, jelly-roll fashion.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a 9-inch tube or bundt pan. Sprinkle half of the streusel in pan. Carefully, (dough will be very soft) with the help of the wax paper, fit the roll into the pan so that the ends of the dough join. Pinch ends of together. Sprinkle cake with remaining streusel. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven & allow cake to cool before slicing.
Germany’s love of poppy seed is no secret, you can find it in everything from sweet to savory foods. For many German and central eastern Europeans, poppy seeds are a symbol of wealth, the tiny seeds representing coins. They figure prominently at Christmas and New Year’s, expressing hoped-for prosperity in the coming year.
Poppy seed cultivation dates back to 1400 BC. Early Egyptians pressed the seed into cooking oil whereas the the ancient Romans mixed them with wine and honey for Olympic athletes or home use. It should be made clear though, that this spice is not narcotic because opium is found in the pod and not in the seed itself. The dried pod loses any of it’s opiate properties long before the seeds are harvested.
‘Mohn Kaffee Rolle’ is considered a nostalgic German Christmas pastry much like Stollen is. One thing for certain, in keeping with true European tradition, poppy seed is added in such large quantities that the dough sometimes looks black.
When I recall my mother’s poppy seed roll, it was never dry. It seemed like a vanilla custard with ‘wall to wall’ poppy seeds in it. There were numerous recipes in her file — cake, roll, twists, cookies, strudel, pudding — everything and anything poppy seed! This recipe seems unique in that it uses a ‘Zwillingsteig’ (zwilling=twin, teig=dough) dough, a rich, moist dough used in the past when making cakes with fresh fruit. The dough is a combination of yeasted and shortcrust dough kneaded together. It seems a little involved but is well worth it in the end. One more special ‘taste of a memory’ before the holiday season is to far behind us.
In a bowl, place all shortcrust ingredients & quickly knead together until well combined. Shape into a disk & set aside. Dough can be made a day ahead, wrapped in plastic wrap & refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before combining with yeast dough.
In a small dish, sprinkle yeast over lukewarm water, add 1 tsp sugar stirring until dissolved. Let stand 5 minutes. Sift flour with 3 Tbsp sugar & salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender. Add lukewarm milk, egg & vanilla to yeast mixture, then gradually add to flour mixture & blend.
Press dough out to about 1 inch thickness & lay disk of shortcrust on top. Knead together by hand until fully combined, about 2 minutes. Shape into a ball & place in a greased bowl. Cover with a tea towel, let raise in a warm, draft free spot for about an hour or until doubled in size.
Poppy Seed Filling
Grind poppy seeds. In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds, sugar, semolina & salt. Add butter & milk. Place over medium high heat; stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately & set aside to cool. When mixture is lukewarm, stir in egg, vanilla, rum & walnuts. Set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. When dough has risen, punch down & roll out on a lightly floured surface about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thickness.
Spread with cooled poppy seed filling leaving a 1 inch border on each of the shorter ends. Brush shorter ends with egg wash. Starting from shorter end, roll dough, jelly-roll style, into a tight log. Cut into 2 loaf pan lengths.
With a sharp knife, cut each log of dough in half lengthwise. Carefully twist the two pieces of dough together & place into prepared pans. Brush dough with egg wash, cover with greased plastic wrap & let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 F. When dough has risen, brush again with egg wash & bake about 40 minutes or until golden brown. When loaves have fully cooled, whisk together powdered sugar, water & lemon zest until smooth. Brush glaze over loaves & allow to set before slicing.
Unless you can find freshly ground poppy seeds, it is best to buy the whole seeds, store them in the freezer and grind them right before using. Because of their high oil content, the seeds easily turn rancid.
Good poppy seeds smell slightly 'musty' and have a nutty flavor - not bitter or harsh.
I realize we are still weeks away from Christmas, but there are some things that are just better if given the time to ‘ripen’ and develop a rich and complex flavor. German stollen, also known as (Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen) is one of them.
In my previous blog I mentioned that stollen was a close ‘kin’ to fruitcake, but one thing it is not– is fruitcake! Stollen is a yeast bread that is fortified with a colorful collection of candied fruit, citrus peel, raisins/currants, nuts, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, mace or cloves, brandy or rum and lots of butter.
The tradition of Christmas stollen dates back to 14th century Germany. The sweeteners in this period were honey and dried fruits; until the 17th century, sugar was a scarce and expensive commodity. For this reason, sweets were only meant for times of great festivity and joy. Originally it was made without milk or butter because these items were forbidden by the church during Advent. That changed in 1490 when Pope Innocent VIII signed the ‘butter document’ allowing bakers to use butter. It was much later when the use of milk was finally permitted.
The cake’s distinctive shape, which it retains to this day, is meant to symbolize the Christ child ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager’. Baked loaves are brushed with butter then cloaked in a thick layer of powdered sugar.
Holiday food traditions are a miraculous mix of time, place, ideology and ingredients. Often times, a single person can be the catalyst for a family culinary tradition. They bring it to the table as a delectable ‘gift’, wrapped with their own cherished memories and life experiences, enriching our holiday celebrations.
When I think of German stollen, a very unique memory comes back to me. One of the few newspapers my folks were interested in and had access to was the ‘Free Press Weekly Prairie Farmer’. It was a small newspaper published by the Manitoba Free Press for the prairie provinces in Canada. The newspaper’s middle section, ‘Home Loving Hearts’, contained ads from people requesting pen pals across Canada as well as recipes, ads for patterns of aprons, dresses, pot holders, baby clothes and knitting.
It was here my mother acquired a pen pal by the name of Renate Leitner in about 1956, that lasted for over 20 years,until the time of my mother’s passing. Every Christmas, Mrs. Leitner would send our family a beautiful loaf of German stollen bread in the mail. I remember how we looked forward to receiving it and how good it always tasted. This definitely attests to the durability of this bread.
German Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen)
Marinate raisins, candied fruit & almonds in rum overnight, Stirring occasionally.
Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water with 1 tsp sugar. Set aside for 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, sift 2 cups of the flour. Stir in yeast mixture & lukewarm milk. Cover with plastic wrap & let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down dough firmly & work in beaten eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest, vanilla & pieces of softened butter.
Sift remaining 3 cups of flour with salt, nutmeg & cardamom & work in 2 cups to form a soft dough. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead in remaining cup of flour mixture to form a smooth and satiny dough without any stickiness. Work in fruit & nut mixture.
Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, pat or roll each portion into an oval shape about 12 x 8 inches (30 x 20 cm) & 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick. Brush each piece with melted butter & fold the dough over lengthwise, almost in half.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly press edges together to seal (brush tops with a beaten egg if you wish). Bake 35-40 minutes or until golden. Cover with foil if loaves are browning to fast. Brush warm loaves with melted butter & dust thickly with powdered sugar. Cool on a rack.
When completely cool, wrap tightly in foil & keep in a cool place for 2-3 weeks to ripen.
You can customize your filling ingredients any way you like. For example, use dried cranberries or cherries instead of raisins -- candied citrus peel or candied ginger instead of citron peel -- your favorite dried fruit instead of apricots. You can even use sweet poppy seed paste or marzipan to fill your stollen -- your choice!
Stollen freezes well so it can be made weeks in advance of Christmas.