Our home is perfectly silent right now; completely still apart from the hum of the refrigerator and the creaks of the heating system settling into the joints of the house. The washing machine is done. Evey is napping. Frank is holed up in his office. Even Georgie is sleeping on the chair without snoring. It’s lovely.
The only thing that would make this moment more perfect would be if there were silent white snowflakes fluttering down from the sky. No such luck.
I know for a fact that I am the ONLY one on this entire island who is hoping it will snow for Christmas. Everyone seems to dread the possibility of being snowbound – as we were last year – but I can’t think of anything that would excite me more at this point! One reason being that Santa is bringing Evey a sled! They needn’t worry though – there is no sign of the white stuff in the upcoming forecast, just rain, rain, rain and chilly 40ish temps.
I was born a snow baby – even though it was the 27th of May, my mom still brought me home from the hospital after a late spring snowstorm. Bozeman, Montana, was a magical place to live in winter, and lucky that I liked it, because winter in the shadow of the Bridger Mountains could last six months or longer. I loved to sled, ice skate, ice fish, ski, snowboard and generally roll around in the white powder as much as I could. I lived in swishy snowpants from November to March and I remember many of my favourite earmuffs, gloves, hats and scarves way better than anything I would have worn in summer. Snow is great. Snow, snow, snow!!!
It’s never snowed much while I’ve lived in Ireland – at least not much by my standards. We had a couple good weeks of solid, heavy, wet snow last December/January, so I almost got my fill, while everyone else moaned and groaned. We’re just not prepared for it here – sparse snow plows and a climate that quickly coaxes snow pack into ice pack are bad news for commuters, elderly and people with small kids. Most shop and home owners do not clear their walks – if they do anything, they just throw a bunch of salt or grit right on top of the snow, so it ends up melting into a slippy, muddy mess far more dangerous to pedestrians than in its original form! All that said, I do still hope we get some snow this year, because Evelyn is finally of the age where she could play in it, and I just get downright grouchy if I don’t have a bit to play in myself. Hee hee.
In the meantime… I’m baking a few loaves of my Grandma Evey’s special Christmas Stollen, and I’ll cover it in a generous avalanche of powdered sugar to at least emulate the real stuff I’m dreaming about.
Stollen is a German fruity, slightly boozy, flattish bread traditionally made for the holidays. Sometimes there is marzipan in the middle, but, like Grandma, I like mine simply sliced, warmed and spread with butter for Christmas morning breakfast. It’s a great fruity alternative to American or European fruit cakes, which can be very heavy and rich. You can find it for sale in a lot of places now – Trader Joe’s or World Market in the States have pretty good loaves (my mom says Rosauer’s does as well) and I’ve seen it here at Marks & Spencers and Tesco, but haven’t tried these versions. My grandma’s is still my favourite anyway, and as I don’t mind fiddling around with yeast and such, I wanted to give it a try this year. I’d share her recipe, but I’m not sure if it’s a family secret…? so the one below is hers with a few of my own adaptations due to what I actually had on hand.
While my Stollen dough is rising, here are my
Top Ten Reasons You Should Love the Cold:
2. Rosy cheeks and frosty air just feel so healthy and invigorating
3. Sweaters and Coats hide the holiday bulge quite well.
4. No other weather pattern feels as magical as frost and snow
5. Hot chocolate, hot coffee, hot tea, hot toddy…
6. Dogs love to run around in it too
7. Fuzzy jammies for the kiddos
8. You can wear a skirt with tights and Ugg boots (or Ugg-type knock-offs) for ultimate cool-yet-comfy fashion
9. Being snowbound just means you get to watch your favorite movies all day and not worry about the world outside for a while.
10. When you do get out, it’s a bit of an adventure
* * * * *
Now, doesn’t that look nice? Time to share the recipe.
1/2 Cup diced glace/candied fruit
1/2 Cup raisins
1/4 Cup brandy
Mix together above ingredients and let stand for one hour. Drain, reserving brandy.
2 pkg active dry yeast
1/4 Cup warm water
Dissolve in a large bowl. To this add the following:
1/2 Cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled)
1/2 Cup butter, softened
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Cups all-purpose flour
Beat until smooth. Then stir in:
1/2 chopped or slivered almonds
zest of 1 orange
2 1/2 Cups flour, or enough to make dough easy to handle.
Knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size.
Punch down and divide dough in half. Press each half into an oval. Melt 2 Tbls butter and brush each oval with melted butter. Fold each loaf lengthwise in half and press folded edge firmly together. Place loaves on greased cookie sheet. Cover and let rise again until doubled in size.
Brush loaves again with melted butter. Bake at 375 degrees F (180 degrees C) for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown and bottom of loaf sounds hollow. Once removed from oven, brush with last of the melted butter and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Add additional powdered sugar right before serving. This bread is great for freezing – we’re going to eat one loaf right now, and save another for Christmas morning. Brilliant!
Note: If you’re any kind of bread-baker, you will notice right away that I should have trusted my instinct and let these loaves have another 5 minutes or so in the oven as they’re still a bit too soft a bake. Still delicious, though!
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