There’s a chill in the air in Chicago, a hopeful, exciting chill that hints of fall and golden leaves and hot, frothy drinks that you sip while wearing cozy sweaters. Wednesday, as I walked out of work, I breathed in the fresh, crisp breeze and caught the smell of something baking—doughnuts? bread? And as I drove home, even on the trafficked expressway, the air changed to barbeque (whatever restaurant was responsible for the aroma should package that smell and sell it. I would wait in line) then to deep-fried and then back to doughy. As it happens, this is also the time of year when traffic gets especially bad, a combination of construction and kids going back to school and no more summer hours. While cars inched forward, my windows down and my radio playing, I started dreaming about something warm and comforting from the oven. And by the time I pulled into my driveway, I knew I wanted fresh bread.
If you haven’t made fresh bread before, I bet I can guess why: it takes time. And kneading. And more time. And more kneading. All this work can seem pretty pointless when an artisan loaf at Dominick’s goes for $2.69. But can I suggest something? Just as there are times when one should grab the fresh-baked grocery bread, there are times when she should spend an evening in the kitchen.
You just can’t beat the feel of elastic dough in your hands, its texture changing beneath your fingers as you fold and push, fold and push again. I don’t get the urge to bake bread often (believe me!), but when I do, it’s insatiable. Wednesday night, I wanted a sweet bread and chose stollen, which is a traditional German Christmas bread, a sweet and yeasty creation filled with raisins and nuts and candies.
This recipe makes three loaves, and the slices will only be as sweet as you want them to be. The add-ins are really up to you; I used golden raisins, Zante currants and sliced almonds, but you may want crushed candies or extra raisins, or you may want to forgo on nuts altogether. It’s a delightful breakfast bread, a yummy snack and a perfect reminder of the coming fall (and then holiday!) season.
Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook
4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup granulated stugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Zante currants
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds
The zest of one lemon
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon butter
In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, yeast and cardamom. In a medium saucepan, heat and stir milk, the one stick of butter, granulated sugar and salt until butter almost melts. Add to flour mixture, along with the egg. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high speed 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much remaining flour as you can. Stir in raisins, currants, nuts, lemon zest.
Turn dough out onto a lighted floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flower to make a moderately soft dough (probably for about 3 to 5 minutes–aim to fold, push down with the heel of your hand and fold again; repeat). Shape into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in size.
Punch dough down (as in, literally punch it straight down in the center). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into thirds. Cover; let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, grease 2 large baking sheets; set aside.
Roll one dough portion into a 10×6-inch oval. Without stretching, fold a long side over to within one inch of the opposite side; press edges lightly to seal. Place on one of the baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough portions, placing them on remaining baking sheet. Cover; let rise until nearly double (45 to 60 minutes).
Bake loaves in a 375-degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until golden and bread sounds hollow with lightly tapped. Remove from baking sheets. Cool 30 minutes on wire racks. In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, hot water and the one teaspoon butter; brush over warm bread.