Anyone who has spent time with Martha and Norman at Christmas in the past 10 years will know that their huge plum tree is abundantly laden with beautiful and delicious red plums at exactly this time. The plums are great but they have to compete with so many other delicious and special foods that they are more decorative than eaten.
My favourite thing about Christmas has always been Martha's cooking, especially her stollen and caramel coffee cake, made only once a year. This year, since I am living in Hamilton and not just passing through on a flying visit, I asked if I could help her make the stollen. Christmas Eve was thus spent baking.
Martha uses her trusty old Joy of Cooking recipe with variations based partly on memories of Grandma Ada's version, partly on refinements developed over decades of making this annual treat.
The secret is in the butter: starting with one and a half cups creamed til light and fluffy with caster sugar. Meanwhile the yeasty base has been rising, made with blood temperature milk instead of warm water. Testing the milk's temperature with a drop on her wrist reminds Martha of Ada, not only baking but also testing baby bottles: there were a lot of babies feeding from bottles when Martha was a girl!
After the yeast base has risen, it gets punched down which is always fun. Then the butter and sugar are mixed in along with fresh high grade white flour. The dough is very soft and loose. We divided it into four balls and shaped and filled them one at a time.
There were two wreath shaped stollens, made by first brushing the rolled dough with melted butter (I told you there was a lot of butter), then sprinkling it with cinnamon sugar, then chopped nuts. One stollen had almonds and lemon zest and the other hazelnuts and orange zest along with raisins and glace cherries.
The dough is then carefully rolled into a sausage and shaped into a ring on a baking tray. We cut the ring part way through and all the way round, then turned each cut section on its side and finally decorated the top with cherries and almonds. The caramel coffee cake and rolls were made the same way except with brown sugar instead of cinnamon, and the roll was sliced apart and the rolls set into tins awash in butter and brown sugar with a decorative nut under each roll.
The shaped dough was put to rise in a hot car (there is nowhere in mum and dad's shady house that is warm enough to rise dough). When doubled, it was brushed with milk and then baked for half an hour until golden brown.
I didn't get any photos of the caramel coffee cake, but that's actually my favourite. When turned out of the pan it's presented upside down so the caramel and nuts are on top. It's irresistible!
We always have a slice (or three) of stollen on Christmas morning while opening the presents from under the tree. Thanks David, Penny and Louise for your lovely gifts. We missed you this morning.
Merry Christmas to all the Kellerman clan around the world. I hope you think of us downunder as you are sharing stollen or other traditions from Ada and Jess.