15 December 2009
I just wrapped up the last of my holiday bread classes for the season. This is my favorite class to teach because we bake my favorite breads to eat. With the students, I make German Stollen, Italian Panettone and Irish Barm Brack. Every culture has a holiday bread of some sort and they always have tons of fruit, sometimes booze, butter and sugar. Most of them keep for longer than a regular loaf of bread. In the case of Stollen, it keeps indifinitely. As a matter of fact, you're not supposed to eat it until a couple days after it is baked.
Stollen comes from Dresden, Germany. It is supposed to represent a swaddled baby Jesus. My recipe is for an almond stollen. It has a log made of almond paste and sliced almonds that resembles a breakfast sausage (according to my students and coworkers) running down the center of the loaf. The dough encasing the sausage is made of flour, lots of butter, sugar, candied fruits and almonds. At the Patisserie, I use candied orange and lemon peel imported from France. This isn't the candied fruit your grandma puts in her fruit cake at Christmas. No bright red cherries here! This stuff actually has flavor beyond sweet, tons of it!
The best, most decadant part of Stollen creation....it's dipped in butter. Does it get any better? When the loaf is hot from the oven it is dipped in clarifed butter (ours is an 83% fat, cultured butter). You dip it when it's hot so it absorbs more. Once it's wet and gooey, it gets rolled in vanilla sugar...that's sugar with added vanilla bean. I challange you to find a Christmas loaf more glutenous than this. The butter and sugar crust actually serves a purpose. This is how one is able to keep Stollen around for months without worry of decay. Last March, we found a hidden Stollen I baked in December and it was still yummy!
Barm means yeast and Brack translates to speckled in Gaelic. Barm Brack is a yeasted bread speckled with lot of fruit. It wouldn't be Irish without the booze and this one is boozed up for sure. The currants, raisins and candied fruit peel are soaked in whisky over night (for a non-alchy version you can soak the fruit in black tea but what fun is that?). The fruit represents 200% of the flour weight in this dough. That's pretty much unheard of in the baking community. Neither I, nor my students, would ever believe the dough would hold all the fruit if we didn't see it happen. Like a King Cake, this bread is baked with inedibles representing prosperity or demise in the comming year. Yes, the incredibly optimistic Irish include misfortune in their bread lure. Apparently you could find a matchstick in your slice...this means you will beat your wife or be a beaten wife for the year. Better yet, you could find a piece of cloth which represents how empty your pockets will be. You may get lucky and find the ring and marry or the coin and be rich. I think there are seven jujus in all. Maybe the true fortune is not breaking your teeth on one.
In our class, we made chocolate cherry panettone. This is not the traditional raisin, candied fruit peel bread that comes in the box in every department store around this time of year. I included this modern version in my class to distinguish it from the other two breads. It can get a little confusing jumping back and forth between doughs when they all have the same basic ingredients. So, I folded some melted chocolate into this dough and it stood out from the rest.
Panettone literally translates to Tony's bread. Legend has it, a poor baker named, you guessed it, Tony, won the heart of his society sweetheart's father by baking him this bread. The two were married, ate lots of bread and lived long happy lives. Now this bread is a customary Italian Christmas gift. You can find it everywhere. I saw the stacked boxes in TJMaxx last week. I'm sure the quality of those loaves is outstanding. My version is not meant to keep beyond a couple days. This bread is not as dense as the other two. It contains a lot of butter as in a brioche loaf and not nearly as much fruity bits as the other breads. We baked mini-loaves in the class. In order to demonstrate how easy it is to find alternatives to ring molds or expensive paper Panettone molds, I had the students bake their bread in soup cans. This is how our bread became affectionately refered to as 'Can'ettone!