I’ve been thinking a lot about memories lately. Really, I’ve been mostly thinking about which memories we hold onto and which ones fall through the cracks. There are the moments I want to relive again and again like my wedding day or Maeve’s birth. I replay them over in my mind like a broken record until they are more blurred then clear. I admit I panic a bit as they fade. On the other hand, there are some more random memories that pop into my mind frequently. Out of nowhere these moments that shaped me for one reason or another surface with alarming regularity. It’s a love hate relationship, I suppose. I wish I could chose what moments during my lifetime will make a lasting impression.
There is one moment I return to frequently. It happened years ago when I was in college. I was spending the afternoon with several girlfriends when we collectively decided to drop in on another friend to say hello. Popping by in this manner was something you did back in those days when you had loads of time on your hands and you went about town carelessly drifting from one outing to the next. Yes, it was long before babies or an awareness of social norms and politeness.
I remember parts of the day so clearly. Our dear friend was surprised to see us that afternoon and sort of clasped her hands like any kind host might do looking around the room for something to offer all of us. She looked a bit bewildered until one of the girls, who possibly sensed her helplessness, grabbed an apple off the counter. She quickly sliced the red fruit into thin slices and fanned them out into a circle on a plate. She then flipped open a couple of cupboards until she discovered the cinnamon sugar, which she sprinkled atop the apple slices. It was just enough sugar to dot the wet slices and make them more appetizing. She then placed the plate on the table before us and causally stated something about the necessity of having tricks up your sleeves for unexpected guests.
Mind you, this was no ordinary college student. This kitchen goddess was the same girl who had a collection of dainty 1950s aprons in various pastel shades. She was spritely and cute with doe eyes and strawberry blonde hair. And, in that moment, I idolized her. I suppose I still do. Even today, with years of practice, I am not nearly the the relaxed hostess she appeared to be. Can you imagine?. She wasn’t even in her own kitchen!
And so I find myself returning to this fleeting moment again and again. I do my best to adhere to those words of wisdom. It is important to have something around your home just in case guests pop in to say hello. This, of course, is particularly true around the holidays when people, feeling festive, might actually make the effort to stop by and give a kiss to Maeve on their way elsewhere. So, in anticipation, I try to have a sweet bread on hand. German Stollen is perfect. It’s something that is so full of butter it will last for days on the counter without going dry. It’s also something to be savored over a cup of coffee or tea. It’s perfect, really. Your guests will feel loved and toasty when they part. And you will feel like a superhero even if you don’t own a single apron and never once expertly fanned anything onto any plate.
I won’t lie to you and tell you this bread is healthy, but German stollen bread is sweet and wonderful. It is worth every calorie. It’s dense without being too heavy. It’s sweet without being cloying. Perhaps you will feel a touch better about eating it because it is full of fruit?
It’s also Maeve’s new favorite treat. She is feasting on it today. I’m hoping she walks into a home or bakery someday and breathes in a rich buttery smell and remembers that December day long ago when her mama first treated her to a healthy slice of German Stollen smothered in salty butter. Instead, she’ll probably remember her father being carted off by an ambulance the night before for a herniated disc. Alas, I know I can’t chose her memories any more than I can choose my own, but a new mom can hope.
For Dried Fruit Mix
1/2 cup each, dried cranberries, currants, and flame raisins
1- 2 cups boiling water
1 (1/4 oz.) package active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
3/4 cup warm whole milk (105 – 115 degrees F)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
For Brushing and Glaze
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Make the Fruit Mix
Place the dried fruit in a medium sized bowl and pour the boiling water over the top until the fruit is covered. You might need more than 1 cup of the water depending on the size of your bowl. Set aside for at least 1 hour until the berries are plump.
Make the Sponge
Stir together yeast, sugar, and warm milk in a small bowl until yeast is dissolved. Let stand in a warm and draft-free spot until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.
Add the flour to the yeast mixture and beat with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm draft-free spot until doubled in bulk and glistening, about 45 minutes.
Make the Dough
Add flour, salt, 8 tablespoons of melted butter, eggs, and sugar to the sponge and beat at medium speed with a mixer using the paddle attachment until incorporated. Switch to the dough hook. Drain the water from the dried fruit mixture. Add almonds and dried fruit mixture to the dough. Beat at medium speed until the dough is smooth and pulling away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Beat for 5 minutes more. The dough will be sticky.
Put dough in a lightly oiled large bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Punch down dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead briefly. Roll out dough with an unfloured rolling pin into an oval about 12 inches long and 7 inches wide (1 inch thick).
Brush top of dough with remaining melted butter. Fold dough lengthwise in half so that bottom half extends about 1 inch beyond the top half, and press folded edge lightly together with fingertips.
Generously butter a baking sheet. Arrange stollen diagonally on it. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 and 1/2 hours.*
Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush stollen with melted butter and bake until the loaf is deep golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped, 40-50 minutes. Transfer stollen to a rack and cool, then sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
* Note that my stollen is quite wide. This is what happens when is rises for twice the amount of time (due to our stint in the emergency room). However, it’s still absolutely delicious!
Adapted from Gourmet.