I’ve been on a little bit of a Christmas baking kick. One of the things I got hungry for a couple of weeks ago (before Thanksgiving, even) was stollen–a German Christmas bread with cardamom and almonds.
My mom used to be all over the bread-making–she did a batch of whole-wheat bread every week or so, she made fantastic sticky buns every so often, and she was not daunted by making stollen, which is also a yeast bread. We had it every year for Christmas breakfast.
But then…the regular bread-making tapered off. Then the treats like sticky buns went. (I think this had to do with my mom starting to do real paying work–the brutal ’80s. Also, we moved to a house with a less inspiring kitchen.) And then the stollen gave out.
But not in a bad way. It’s just that my mom found a recipe for a quick-bread version of stollen (ie, no yeast required) in a most unlikely spot: The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas. In its day, it was a classic, but it now seems to be out of print. Vegetarians don’t have a great reputation for baking, but this recipe alone rights several decades of carob-based wrongs.
Which is not to say I haven’t tinkered with it. I replaced mace with nutmeg, for instance–I figured that if I, who keeps a very extensive spice rack, have no other call for mace the whole rest of the year, it’s just not worth it. And candied lemon peel–too icky-sweet. I also make it in a food processor sometimes, which is handy (and helps infuse the bread with the flavor of the fresh lemon peel).
And in perhaps the most genius innovation (if I do say so), I split the recipe into two small loaves–one for eating fresh, and one for freezing and eating later. We’ve only got two mouths here on Christmas morning this year, but that wouldn’t stop me from trying to finish the better part of a whole loaf myself, and then moaning all day about how my stomach hurts. The bread has quite a bit of butter in it, see, but that doesn’t stop me from slathering a little bit more on each slice.
Almond-Cardamom Christmas Bread (aka Faux Stollen)
This recipe relies heavily on a food processor, though I do suggest other options in the instructions. The only thing that it’s really nice to have a food processor for is grinding the almonds. So if you don’t have one, you’ll want to buy 3/4 cup of ground almonds or really go to town on some sliced almonds with a sharp knife, or pound them in a mortar.
Makes 2 6-by-4-inch loaves, or one 10-by-6-inch loaf
3/4 cup sugar
zest from 2 lemons
1 cup blanched sliced almonds, divided
2 1/2 cups flour, divided, plus more for kneading
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (about half of a whole nutmeg)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (seeds from 8-10 cardamom pods)
13 tablespoons butter, chilled and divided
1 cup cream cheese (one 8-oz. package)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons brandy
1 cup golden raisins
Confectioner’s sugar (optional, for garnish)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sugar and lemon zest. Pulse to combine–about 6 or 7 one-second pulses. (If you’re not using a fo-pro, just mix the sugar and zest together well in large bowl.) Add 3/4 cup sliced almonds and pulse again, until they are coarsely ground. Add 1 1/2 cups of flour, plus the baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cardamom. Pulse again to blend well.
Cut the butter into tablespoons. Add 12 tablespoons to the food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand. (If no fo-pro, mix the butter in using a pastry cutter or two knives–whatever strategy you’d normally use for making pie crust.) Pour the contents of the food processor into a bowl.
Cut the cream cheese into small blocks and place in the food processor bowl (no need to wash it). Add the egg and run the processor to combine. While the processor is running, add the vanilla and brandy through the feed tube. (The Vegetarian Epicure suggests using a blender for this–so ’70s! And of course you could also use an electric mixer.)
Pour the cream-cheese mixture into a large bowl and stir in the raisins. Gradually stir in flour mixture with a wooden spoon or wide spatula, then add the remaining cup of flour, until you wind up with a thick, ragged dough.
Work the dough into a ball and turn it out on a heavily floured board. Knead it for just a minute or so, until it is reasonably smooth and holds together. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into an oval, about 6 inches long and 5 inches wide. With the blunt edge of a knife, crease it just off center, lengthwise. Fold the smaller side over the larger and place the stollen on an ungreased baking sheet. (You can also make one large loaf, starting with an 8-by-10-inch oval.)
Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small pan. Brush the loaves lightly with melted butter, then scatter over the remaining 1/4 cup sliced almonds. Bake for about 50 minutes–the bottoms of the loaves will be dark brown, and a toothpick stuck in the center will come out oily, but with no crumbs, though the whole thing will seem alarmingly underbaked. (A single large loaf will take more like 1 hour and 10 minutes to bake.)
Allow the loaves to cool slightly on racks, then dust with confectioner’s sugar. Allow to cool fully–at least a couple of hours–before slicing, to allow the center to set; plus, the cardamom and lemon flavors are stronger in the cooled bread.