Yeah, I like to bake during the holidays. And every year I make stollen. It’s a dense, sweet German fruited bread, yeast-risen although some refer to it as a cake. The best thing about it is ease of shaping – you pat the dough into a rough oval, fold it over itself (and a log of marzipan, if you like), brush with a little beaten egg for a glossy sheen, and bake it until it’s deep golden. Then you get to shower it with icing sugar from a shaker or through a sieve, which is one of my favourite things. And no matter how wonky you think you’ve made it, it always comes out looking (and smelling) awesome.
Use any kind of dried fruit, but make sure it’s moist, or it will suck the moisture out of the dough—if your raisins are like little dried-out pebbles, cover them with hot water, tea or even booze and let them sit until they plump up a bit, then drain well before adding to the dough. (You don’t want them too soft, or they’ll break apart as you knead them in.) Stollen is supposed to be dense, on account of all that butter and fruit weighing it down, making it tough for the yeast to do its job. If you want your stollen a little lighter, let the dough rise on its own for an hour or two, then punch it out and add the fruit, folding the dough over it and gently kneading it in.
When I’m really on the ball, which to date has only been one Christmas, I mix up a bunch of loaves, let them rise overnight (the dough is heavy enough that it won’t overdo it, but you can stick it in the fridge to slow it down too), brush and bake them on Christmas eve, then wrap them in new tea towels and deliver them to some of my favourite people. I should say I’ve done this once, but in my head it’s something I imagine I’ll do every year.
But it’s enough to mix up a loaf for ourselves, to keep on the countertop to nibble and slice for toast during the week leading up to Christmas.