For me, the entire holiday season is an athletic endeavor, a balancing act if you will, a Herculean effort to keep the naughty tummy right-size. It’s only logical, therefore, that by the time Christmas arrives I am battle weary. I’m ready to call it quits, and this is when the Real Trouble begins.
The stollen and I made it home safely. I removed it from its bag, inspected it, and admired its firm plumpness. Before Baker & Spice stollen, my experiences were akin to many people’s memories of fruitcake. I just hadn’t tasted the right one. But when first I encountered this annual offering six years ago, I knew I was home. Baker & Spice’s stollen begins with a heavy duty bread dough that is only a teeny bit sweet. Incorporated into this butter-rich dough are pulverized almonds and brandy-soaked fruits. Prior to baking, the dough is wrapped around a rope of almond paste, which I am told signifies the Baby Jesus. After the bread is baked, it is dipped in melted butter and rolled in confectioner’s sugar so that the white, oblong loaf brings up images of not only Baby Jesus, but also of swaddling. Those early Catholics had great imaginations!
Some version of this bread has existed since the Middle Ages, but not as the bread we know today. Ours was developed over the past 500 years, since the church-induced butter ban was lifted in the late 1400s, and has been perfected by generations of devoted, mostly German bakers. The fact that the people of Dresden have an annual Stollen Festival tells you something about the stature of this annual treat.
So, there I was alone with this thing. I’ve never been very good at differed gratification, but my stollen remained unviolated until the morning of December 24. I awoke with a ravenous hunger. The coffee was brewing, and when I walked into the kitchen I saw my little friend. Knowing that I’d be serving it Christmas morning when my daughter came over, I decided to try it out. I don’t want to serve her anything that isn’t up to the mark.
I removed the plastic bag and the festive twine and the cute little wooden ornament. Off came the parchment, and it was just me and a naked stollen!
I cut off the end and bit into it. The buttery, sugary crust yielded to dense, textured, almond-y bread with a just hint of sweetness, followed by a chewy blast of citrus. Nirvana. By the third slice, I’d found Baby Jesus! I would have laid waste to the entire thing, but it was too late to purchase another one. Back into the parchment it went.
Christmas morning I arose with another ravenous hunger. The daughter wasn’t expected for several hours, so I helped myself to a couple of slices and then finished wrapping gifts. When my guest arrived, I served (and we consumed) yet more slices of the stollen. We declared it good.
This morning I realized the honeymoon was almost over. I cut a couple of small slices and devoured them before a long walk with my neighbors. There was easily enough stollen left to last me another day. But when I returned home, yet another ferocious hunger overtook me. I warmed some coffee, then seized the remaining fist-sized hunk of stollen in my hands. I thought about Baby Jesus, and ate it all. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s over until next year.