Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Yule Log

Happy New Year!

I may be a little late reporting on the results of this season's holiday baking. Or I could be a little early. Start planning for December now!

As close friends and family know, Christmas is not my favorite holiday. Aside from being turned off by the excessive commercialism and consumer frenzy, I'm a perennial skeptic regarding the "Christmas Spirit": if we can be nice for a few weeks in December, why can't we do it all year? I believe generosity, peace and goodwill should be maximized every day. Plus, I have other nits to pick, such as the practice of killing a perfectly good tree to bring in the house and hang junk upon until it drops all of its needles on the floor.

But despite my well-deserved Scrooge reputation, I do manage every year to participate in some of the traditions, notably the ones involving food. One delicious treat I've been making for several years is Stollen, a sweet German bread stuffed with fruit and nuts and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I started with a recipe for a 100% whole wheat version from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book and modified it over the years until I was satisfied that I probably can't improve on it further. Here's how I make it:

Christmas Stollen

4 tsps active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups whole wheat bread flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps salt
1 cup cottage cheese
2 cups hot water
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup rum
3 eggs
2/3 cup butter

fruit mixture of zest of 2 lemons and 2 oranges, 1.5 cups of chopped toasted almonds and about 3 cups of mixed dried fruit (chopped apricots, raisins, cranberries, currants, anything!)

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Mix the flours and salt (I use a Kitchenaid stand mixer with a dough hook). Mix the cottage cheese, hot water, honey and rum, then add the eggs. Add to flour mixture and knead until you get a nice bread dough. I usually have to add more flour unless I reduce the water. Work in the butter. Cover and let it rise until you can poke a hole in the center and it doesn't fill in. This takes a few hours at my house because my kitchen isn't very warm. Punch it down and re-cover it for a second rise.

Meanwhile, prepare the fruit and nuts. I like to chop everything up fairly small. A food processor helps for this. When the dough is ready (your poke doesn't fill in, at least not very fast), roll it out on a floured surface and let it rest of about 10 minutes. Then spread the fruit and nut mixture over it and start working all that stuff in. This will build your biceps! After you have it evenly incorporated, divide  it into the number of loaves you wish to make and round into balls. I made 8 small loaves because I intended most of them as gifts. Let the balls rest for about 15 minutes, then shape by pressing each into a longish oval and folding it almost in half the long way. Place on a greased or non-stick cookie sheet or baking tray and let rise again, until the poke is slow to fill in. Bake at 375F for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the loaves. When cool, brush with melted butter, if you'd like, and dust with powdered sugar.


Bûche de Noël, before rolling
Bûche de Noël, completed
This year, I added a new baked item to my holiday repertoire, the Bûche de Noël, otherwise known as the Yule Log. My daughter received the recipe from her French teacher and was eager to try it. Although many recipes exist for this delicious confection, ours was chocolate throughout. Chocolate cake with a chocolate-cream cheese filling and chocolate icing. I added a thin layer of whipped cream before I rolled it up and more whipped cream as "snow" on the finished log. Due to having no skill in decorating, my log was undoubtedly the ugliest Bûche de Noël baked anywhere this holiday season, but it was tasty!

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