Days 5 and 6: Holiday Baking Party

Well, party of one. Unless you count the Toddler, who does help measure the spices, lick the beaters and steal chunks of dough.

My sister works for Fed-Ex, which means instead of extra time off, she works overtime for the holidays. So for the second year in a row my Christmas present for her will be all our fave holiday goodies, that she doesn’t have time to bake.

In the box will be:

Stollen. (There’s s’posed to be a double dottie doo-hickie on that thar ‘o’) This is the German Christmas bread with the powdered sugar on top. Except that over the years I’ve perverted it to suit me. I skip all the nasty dyed, candied fruit and just use good old fashioned raisins and sliced almonds. The dough is rich with butter and eggs, but just slightly sweet. Most importantly, and heretically, I use a heavy Danish hand with the cardamom. It’s the premier flavor in my Stollen, and really makes it, I think. Recipe follows.

Russian Tea Cakes. The little butter and powdered sugar bombs. Gotta love those suckers.

Molasses Cookies. The soft kind. My recipe rolls them in granulated sugar before baking, so they get all crackly and sparkly. Very pretty, but also really yummy. I add a little fresh grated ginger for extra kick.

Cinnamon Orange Truffles. These really dress up the box. But in fact, didja know that truffles are super easy to make? Especially with my special technique. See below for the secret.

All these things hold pretty well during the week it takes a priority mail box to ship at x-mas. The Stollen will appear pretty stale after a week, but freshens right up in the toaster, and is quite delicious. You must wrap each kind of cookie separately, or you’re recipient will get soft tea cakes, and hard molasses cookies. And the truffles have to be wrapped individually, or they’ll stick together. I like to pretty up a (re-purposed of course) big chocolate box with some ribbon and paper snowflakes. I think this makes a lovely gift. Not so stodgy as old aunt Verna’s box of stale, broken up, mysteriously waxy tasting Christmas cookies. Bless her heart.

Stollen (from ze Germans!)

This recipe makes 2-4 loaves

  • 2 Tablespoons yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm (not hot) water
  • 1 1/4 cups warm milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cardamom– I know it’s expensive, but if you skimp on this your bread will be more German, but less Calamity
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 6+ cups white (pref. bread) flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1 cup sliced almonds (slivered are okay, but whole won’t work)
  • butter + powdered sugar for the top

Mix yeast and water and let sit ten minutes. Add everything else up through the flour, and then just half the flour. Beat vigorously with a stout spoon until your arm gives out, hopefully 3-5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir till you can’t anymore, then turn out onto your counter-top and knead for 2-4 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to keep from sticking. You’ll probably need at least another cup, maybe more, but don’t add too much, the dough should be luxuriously soft and supple. Like a just-nursed breast. Cover dough with plastic (I use a clean trash bag) and let rise for an hour or so, until doubled in bulk and when you poke it with your finger, the dough doesn’t spring back at all. Cut into 2-4 pieces. 4 makes good gift size loaves. Of course, you can do 1 big loaf for your own greedy self, and 2 small gift loaves…

To form loaves you can either go simple with just a log shape, or fancy festive with a nice 3 or 4 strand braid. I’m not going to tell you how to braid dough. Google it.

Place loaves on well greased pans, with plenty of room for expansion, cover again and let rise 40-60 minutes, till the dough looks like it did before when you poke it. Except that halfway through the rise, start your oven up at 350. Bake 25-40 minutes, depending on how thick your loaves are. Till nicely golden brown. Watch the bottoms though, with all the sugar, these like to burn on bottom. Or maybe it’s ‘cuz I always fill my oven so damn full the heat can’t circulate properly….

Cool 10 or 15 minutes on a wire rack, then rub a stick of butter all over the tops. Holding the rack over a baking sheet to catch the extra, sift powdered sugar generously on top. Do this once more after completely cool, just to touch up.

If you’re sending them, wait until absolutely, 100% cool before wrapping in a double layer of plastic.

Cinnamon Orange Truffles

You can use plain old chocolate chips, and these will be divine, and everyone will be impressed. But if you use some part good, bittersweet chocolate I promise you, you won’t regret it. The butter is optional. My special patented technique makes square truffles that look like fudge, but oh man, look out! These puppies blow fudge right outa the water, and are 12 times easier to make.

This recipe makes a bunch. If you’re just making them for your own family, make a 1/3 recipe.

1 cup cream

zest of one orange

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 Tablespoons butter

18 oz chocolate

Bring the first three ingredients to a simmer and remove from heat. Dump in chocolate (if you use any bar chocolate, chop it up to the size of chips first) and butter and let sit five or ten minutes. Erstwhile, line a 7×9, 8×8, or 9×9 inch baking dish with parchment paper, fold the paper so that it goes up the sides with a clean fold, then fold it over the top edge, down, so that it’s kind of held in place instead of popping back up out the top. When all the chocolate is melted, get a whisk in there and stir until smooth and velvety. Once every bit of chocolate and butter is stirred into the divine homogeny, pour the lot into the parchment lined pan, taking care not to let it get inside or behind your corner folds. Let cool to room temp, then cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

The next day remove the brick of chocolate by the parchment handles and move to the freezer for 30 minutes. Don’t leave too long though, you don’t want it to actually freeze, just get extra cold. When it’s good and cold, set on a a cutting board, and cut into small, bite sized squares. But here’s the thing, the only catch to this easy way, to keep ’em pretty you’ve got to wash the knife blade in hot water between every cut.

Now, if you want to just set them on a plate for serving at a party, you can roll them in cocoa powder and then plate them. But if you want to ship them, or keep them around awhile (they keep quite a long time in the fridge, like weeks) you should wrap each one individually in plastic wrap. In which case, you don’t need to cocoa powder ’em. And they’re much prettier not cocoa-ed, though the cocoa coated round ones are how they got their name (cuz they look a lot like the black truffle fungi). There’s no fancy look to these truffles, just deep down intensely chocolately goodness.

Note: These are rich! I cut them in inch by inch squares, but that’s too big really. Any but the most hard core chocoholic will want to share one that big. So for gift giving, keep that in mind. Four is a nice gift for a couple. Eight is decadent. Any more would just be too much.