What a difference a day - and a trip to the shops makes. Presents have been purchased, the tree is up and there is food in the fridge. The Husband is returned from his last week away of the year. And lo! Christmas can begin.
I'm not a huge Christmas fiend in the way that some people are - seeing Christmas adverts in September makes me groan, and I can't get worked really up about it - piling too many expectations into one day is a sure fire recipe for disaster. But I do like having time to be with family, to catch up with friends, to switch off. I love a good carol, a 'Christmas film' - either one that's themed around Christmas, or failing that, the Sound of Music. As the kids have grown older, we're developing our own traditions - different from those of the Husband & my own childhoods (the Husband was never going to let me maintain the tradition of not opening 'main' presents till AFTER the Queen's speech, which is what happened in our house when I was a child...)
But I don't think of myself as a Christmas purist - more a bit of a Christmas pirate, and I'll pick and choose from new ideas, mostly happy to go with the flow, and frankly, when the traditions of other Christmases are so tasty why wouldn't you? In the interests of making sure we have the means for a bit of a party next weekend, I have been trying out various drink options of the mulled variety (hic), and I made a stollen.
Stollen is, I think German/Austrian in origin but for the opportunities it presents for Marzipan, it's a winner for me. I've never made one before, and only occasionally eaten it (there's lots of other things to eat at Christmas, aren't there?), but having had a go, I can see this becoming a bit of a fixture. I mean what is not to like? Enriched bread dough, all those Christmassy spices and of course, marzipan... I ate it unadorned for breakfast this morning in a quiet house (the Husband took the kids off kayaking) with a cup of coffee. The marzipan melted into the dough, a sugary hit from the icing sugar drenched over the rop, plenty of dried fruit, turning it immediately into a health food...Bliss.
I wouldn't begin to suggest this is an authentic recipe - I started off with a Paul Hollywood version and went from there - but I think in terms of flavour and sheer Christmassy food joy, it hits the spot.
250 semi-skimmed milk
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
500g strong white flour
100g caster sugar
10g dried easy blend yeast
400g dried fruit (I used a bag of luxury dried fruit mix left over from the Christmas cake)
130g marzipan, grated
2 good shakes of ground all spice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
25g unsalted butter
1 tbsp icing sugar
a good handful of flaked almonds
You'll need a lined baking sheet and a seive to sift the final icing sugar over the hot loaf.
Warm the milk in a small pan then remove from the heat and add the butter and allow it to melt in to the milk.
Combine the stong white flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a bowl, then gradually incorporate the milk/butter mixture. Once combined into a rough dough, knead until you have a smooth dough (I did this in a food processor with the dough hook)
Combine the dried fruit, marzipan, all spice and vanilla & almond extracts in a bowl.
Flour the work surface (again if you kneaded by hand and it's necessary) and pat the dough into a rough rectangle, then carefully tip the fruit mixture onto it and knead it all together. You may think the fruit will never incorporate into the dough, but it will - just go steadily!
Once the fruit is incorporated into the dough, place the dough in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.
Pre-heat the oven to 190C (170C Fan). Tip the dough onto a floured work surface, form into a rectangle, about 30 cm by 20 cm, then roll tightly into a sausage shape, and place on the lined baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and leave for 30 mins-1 hour.
Remove the tea towel, put the loaf in the oven and bake for 50 mins-1 hour. Keep an eye on it and cover with foil if it looks like it's catching.
Just before you take the stollen out of the oven, melt the final 25g of butter. Remove the stollen from the oven, brush it with the melted butter then chuck the flaked almonds over it, then sift the icing sugar over the top and leave to cool completely.
Christmas? Bring it on.