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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Kerststol (Christmas bread)

A kerststol is a luxury bread that is traditionally eaten at Christmas time: it is studded with candied fruit peel and raisins and sprinkled with powdered sugar. If the bread contains a ribbon of creamy almond paste it is called a "stol". If it doesn't, it's just Christmas bread. During the December holidays, slices of kerststol will be part of breakfast or brunch and may be offered to guests instead of a cookie with their cup of coffee or tea.

The stores and bakers will sell exactly the same bread at Easter, but then it's called paasstol.  

The commercially prepared stollen are heavy, chewy and rather rich. I prefer mine a little lighter so I use all purpose flour instead of bread flour.


1/2 cup of golden raisins
1/2 cup of candied peel (orange, lemon, citron)
1/4 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup of milk, warm
1/4 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick of butter, melted
2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1/4 cup of warm water (110-115F)
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 small can of almond paste

2 tablespoons of butter, melted
2 tablespoons of powdered sugar

Combine the raisins and the candied fruit and soak in the orange juice. Set aside. Mix the milk, the sugar, salt and the butter and set aside. Sprinkle yeast on the warm water, stir to dissolve.

In a large bowl, place two cups of flour. Make a well in the center and pour the yeast mix in. Stir. Add the milk mix, stir again and add the lemon zest and the egg. Stir or beat until everything is integrated, then knead on a lightly floured counter for five or six minutes. Drain the soaking raisins and candy peel and quickly squeeze them dry, then fold them into the dough. Knead the dough carefully until the raisins and candy peel are well distributed. Grease a bowl, place the dough inside, cover and rest for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Gently deflate the dough and pat into an oval. Place the oval with the short end toward you and make an indentation along the length of the dough, in the middle. Now roll the almond paste on the counter until it forms a roll almost as long as the dough. Lay the almond roll in the indentation and lift the left side of the dough over the paste. Make sure that the dough does not meet the bottom half all the way: a significant shape of the stol is the bottom "pouting" lip of the bread. If you want a more pronounced pout, fold the right side of the dough one-third towards the almond paste ribbon, and fold the left side of the dough in half, placing it on top of the bottom half and covering the paste.

Rest the dough on a lightly greased baking sheet or silicone mat. Cover it and let it proof for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350F. Bake the bread for 40 minutes on the middle rack, then reduce the heat down to 325F. Brush with melted butter and bake for another five minutes, then brush again and bake for another 5 minutes. If the bread is browning too fast, cover it with a piece of aluminum foil.

Cool the bread on a cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and slice.

Tip: If you have any kerststol left over the next day, toast a slice until nice and golden. Whip the almond paste out with the tip of your knife and spread it on the warm slice of bread. Yummm!!!!!!!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Time for Speculaas!

Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and white pepper are the main ingredients for a special Dutch treat called "speculaas". The word seemingly originated from the Latin word "speculum", mirror, in reference to the way the goods were prepared: the dough was pressed into a wooden decorated form, turned over and knocked out onto the baking sheet. The cookie now carried a "mirrored" image. In the old days by the end of November, bakers all over the country would initiate a subtle but effective sales strategy by throwing a handful of their speculaas spices in the bread oven's fire. The smoke would carry the wonderful smells into the streets, announcing the beginning of the speculaas baking season. Once you start baking this dough in your own kitchen, you'll know why: it makes the house smell wonderful!

Speculaas is no longer a unique December treat. An industrialized baking process has made speculaas an every day kind of cookie in the Netherlands and it's available year round for all to enjoy, even here in the US. As for me, I still wait until the beginning of December before I start baking speculaas, somehow the "once-a-year"-ity of it makes it into such a special occassion.

This year, I opted for two: cookies and "brokken". Speculaas can be eaten in  many shapes and sizes, but my favorites are "brokken", chunks. I bake a slab of speculaas in the oven until it's ready, and when it's cooling down on the counter, I break it into large chunks. Not pretty and fufu-ey, but a lot easier and just as yummie!

Before I start, I make my own mixture of spices. Everybody has a preference for one or more spices in the mix, so feel free to adjust and experiment accordingly. As for me, I am not big on either nutmeg or cloves so barely put in the minimum.

Speculaas Brokken

2 cups of self-rising flour*
2/3 cup of dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons of speculaas spices**
1 stick of butter, cold
3 tablespoons of milk

Optional: sliced almonds

Mix the flour, sugar and spices in a bowl until well integrated. Divide the butter into small pieces and cut into the dry mixture until crumbly. Moisten the mix with a tablespoon of milk at a time, and knead the dough until the butter and the spices are well blended, about ten times. Pat the dough into a flat oval, wrap securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate preferably overnight, but at least for four hours. This will allow the spices to thoroughly release all their goodness into the dough.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If you are baking on a silicone mat or on parchment paper, place the dough on top, cover with the plastic wrap and roll into an oval shape, about 1/2 inch high. Pull back the plastic wrap, sprinkle the almonds on top (optional) and softly roll the almonds onto the dough, just enough to where they're stuck.

Move your silicone mat or parchment paper onto the baking sheet, place it on the middle rack in the oven and bake for approximately 25-30 minutes. Check regularly as you want to avoid burning the bottom. Remove when the edges are crisping up (the rest of the speculaas will still be soft) and rest on a cooling rack until lukewarm. Break the oval into chunks and allow them to cool and harden, about another hour. Great with a steaming cup of coffee or a hot chocolate.

* If you don't have self-rising flour, measure out two cups of all purpose flour and add two heaping teaspoons of baking powder and a large pinch of salt.

** For the spices: start with a heaping tablespoon of ground cinnamon. Mix in a 1/4 scant teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon scant ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/8 teaspoon white ground pepper. Smell and decide if you like it. Too much clove? Add in a bit more cinnamon. Prefer more ginger? Feel free to add some more. You can also throw in a pinch of aniseed or cardamom to make it bolder. Store in an airtight jar.
If you don't feel comfortable mixing the speculaasmix yourself, try finding them on one of the many online stores that sell Dutch foods.