December 21, 2007 in christmas
Living in the Northeast means that we get nice long summer days and sad short midwinter days.
I was born very near the equator, in the mountain city of Pereira, Colombia (up in the Andes). I moved to Wisconsin when I was 3 1/2 years old and have lived in the snowy lands of the US for some years (when I wasn’t living in the humid sweaty southern swampy parts of the US that is). There is some part of my inner child which misses those 12 hour days and 12 hour nights.
As a result of all this, I am very sensitive to the shortness of these days so I get really excited when we hit the winter solstice and our days begin to get longer.
In an effort to not be overly depressive during this time, we learn about solstice traditions across the ages and across the globe.
There is a huge amount of interesting information about solstice celebrations, from the Maya to the ancient Romans to Sweden to Germany to other countries on the Wikipedia. Follow this link for that page on the Winter Solstice.
Today is mid-winters eve with tonight being the longest night of the year where I live. The winter solstice will occur tomorrow morning at 1:08 AM and tomorrow will be the shortest day of the year.
Last year we made an edible Stonehenge, the neolithic structure dedicated to the winter solstice. That was a lot of fun.
This year I made a winter solstice stollen.
This bread is filled with rum-soaked fruits and nuts (in those homes where they do not have nut allergies). It has pagan Germanic roots although that would be hard to tell in recent times. If you look at the wikipedia page for stollen, the references are all christian. The stollen is meant to symbolize the baby jesus wrapped in a snowy white blanket. Other sources speak of how this festival bread was made by the pagan germanic tribes in times before the Romans invaded.
Nevertheless, the stollen is taken very much to heart by the German people. It is said that in 1730, King August the Great commissioned the baking of a 1.7 ton stollen for the people of Dresden. These days, the stollen has grown to 3 to 4 tons for the Stollenfest. To learn more about this oversized stollen, see the official page for the Giant Dresden Stollen. A few photos can be found at these links: The stollen cart pulled by draft horses, mega-stollen and the mega stollen knife (with stollen maiden), hefting the stollen knife at the mega-stollen, cutting some stollen for the townsfolk, stollen maiden with stollen knife.
Yeah, you have to see the photos to understand, I promise.
I found this recipe at About.com and I doubled it with no trouble. I soaked my dried fruits (apricots, dates, and raisins) in rum for a week before I made the bread. I also made my own candied lemon and orange peel.
This bread has delightful notes of citrus and also decadent rum soaked moments of apricot and date. Keep some on hand for Solstice and Christmas, its festive and delicious. You might want to be liberal with the simple sugar icing (powdered sugar with a bit of milk or lemon juice until the desired consistency) in case the crumb gets a bit dry.
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water, about 105 to 110 degrees
- 1/3 cup butter
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- zest of 1 small to medium lemon
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
- 1/2 cup chopped mixed candied fruits and peels
- 1/2 cup raisins or chopped dates
- melted butter
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Melt the 1/3 cup butter in a small saucepan; add the milk and heat until warm, about 110F. Combine milk mixture with yeast mixture, the 1/3 cup sugar, the salt, lemon zest, eggs, and 2 cups of the flour.
- Beat on low speed of mixer until blended and smooth. Cover and let rise for about 45 minutes in a warm draft-free place. Stir in the chopped almonds, candied fruits, and raisins or dates. Beat in remaining flour, about 1/3 to 1/2 cup at a time.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 12 minutes. Divide in half and shape each half into a 12×8-inch oval loaf. Brush each loaf with melted butter; fold lengthwise almost double. Press edges together. Place in a large greased baking sheet and let rise for 40 minutes. Breads should be almost doubled. Bake in a preheated 350F° oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Brush loaves with melted butter. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle over loaves. Cool on rack then wrap tightly and store in refrigerator or freezer.
Let me know if you try this and how it goes for you!