On a recent Christmastime visit with my daughter and her family on the East Coast, she and I made stollen together for the first time.  She decided we’d make four of these wreath-shaped Christmas breads – one for her own family, one for her mother-in-law who lives nearby, one for her son’s girlfriend’s family in New Jersey, and one for her church’s Christmas bake sale the following day.  We doubled the recipe I’d included in the Holiday Baking class I’d taught in UNM-Taos’ culinary department only days before.  Both of us made two wreaths simultaneously on her large, flour-dusted kitchen table.

 

This Christmas stollen recipe is rather involved (see below) and not so easy to follow on the page.  Making the brioche-type dough, then the crushed-nut filling; rolling the halved dough into perfect rectangles, then gently spreading these rectangles with the filling; forming and pinching the rolls into wreaths, then clipping and twisting each section to display the interior filling – all of these steps benefit from hands-on demonstration.  But I believe anything is doable, once we’ve been shown how.  My daughter is an experienced cook, a talented baker, and a quick learner; so her first-time stollen results were picture perfect.

 

Perhaps the reason why television cooking shows have become so popular is that in many cases we need to see how some things are made, step by step, before we’re willing to attempt them.  Countless home cooks in this country – I’m guessing the majority – didn’t have the benefit of learning to cook as children at their mother’s knee, so the TV chef-instructor fills that gap.

 

In my own case, my mother, a gifted, natural cook, was also addicted to early TV cooking shows.  Her favorite was Julia Child’s predecessor, Dionne Lucas, a stern, mother-superior in the kitchen.  I’d sit beside my mother on the living room sofa as she stared, transfixed, at the TV screen, watching Dionne’s every move, then scribbling penciled notes on a small pad.  The minute the show ended, I’d trot beside my mother into the kitchen and quietly watch her try to replicate that day’s demonstrated recipe.  “Dionne says” became a family joke:  My impressionable, Dionne-disciple mother took to justifying her culinary choices to the family with, “Dionne says this is the way it should be done.”

 

Even better than TV, though, is a real, live cooking class.  Unlike my English classes at UNM-Taos, which are relatively cool and decidedly cerebral, my bread-baking classes in the culinary division are warm and visceral.  Working in four teams of four in a professional-level kitchen, my culinary students laugh and sing and practically dance as they work.  They watch and follow my demonstrations.  They improvise with impunity.  They swoon when their breads come out of the oven and proudly wrap them (once cooled) to carry home.  They hug me goodbye at the end of each class.

 

So here’s my New Year’s resolution suggestion:  Take a cooking class at your nearest community college or cooking school in 2011.  It will certainly bring some joy into your life.  And who doesn’t need a little more joy in their cooking?

 

Christmas Nut Stollen

 

(This is a yummy coffee cake that’s good any time of the year.  If you can follow these directions without needing to see a demonstration, you probably don’t need to take a bread-baking class.)

 

(1) Combine the following three ingredients and let stand 5+ minutes to proof:

 

1-1/2 envelopes active dry yeast

2 teaspoons white sugar                   

1/3 cup warm water

                    

(2) Combine the following three ingredients and allow butter to melt; cool to room temp.:

 

1 cup HOT milk          

1 stick unsalted butter     

1 teaspoon salt

            

(3) Combine the following three ingredients in a bowl and whisk until thick and light:

 

2 large eggs                      

2 egg yolks                           

2 tablespoons white sugar

 

(4)  Combine the following six ingredients (holding out ½ cup flour, to add as needed while kneading) in a large bowl; then add all of the above mixtures (from steps 1, 2, and 3) to form a dough; knead 5+ minutes:      

 

4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour     

2 tablespoons melted butter     

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest       

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom       

¼ teaspoon ground ginger              

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

              

(5) Knead 1 cup golden raisins into above dough; cover and allow to rise at room temp. until double in size (about 1-1/2 hours).

 

(6)  Meanwhile, make the nut filling:  Process the following five ingredients, then cook briefly until the sugar dissolves; cool to room temp.:

 

4 egg whites                          

3 cups chopped walnuts        

1 cup white sugar                  

4 teaspoons water                 

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

(7)  Make an egg wash by whisking the following two ingredients in a small bowl:

 

1 large egg                       

1 tablespoon heavy cream

 

(8) To form stollens:      

 

Place a 24” x 12” piece of aluminum foil on a dampened surface; sprinkle with flour and roll dough to 22” x 12”; spread filling over surface of dough, leaving 1” border.  Brush border with egg wash.  Roll up loosely; cut in half lengthwise, then form each half into ring with slices twisted out.  Allow to rise to double.  Preheat oven to 375.  Brush rings gently with egg wash.  Bake at 375 for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350 and bake for about 20 minutes more.  Cool on rack.  (Drizzle with white icing made of confectioners’ sugar mixed with a little milk, if desired.)