Isn’t it appropriate for traditions to begin as a newly-married couple? I didn’t set out for that to happen, but after sinking my teeth into this fragrant, yeasty pastry, I decided right then that stollen would become mine and Matthew’s Christmas tradition. Stollen is a popular Christmas bread in Europe, where rum-soaked dried cherries and raisins combine with lemon zest, cardamom seeds and almond paste to form a sweet-scented bread. My family’s dinner tradition (hopefully to be posted soon) is something I look forward to every year — Cornish game hens in a brandied shiitake mushroom sauce with pancetta wild rice. Yum? But now — NOW, my friends — I have an amazing dessert to look forward to as well (and some hilarious memories).

I made this one with my mom, who came up with my stepdad to visit us for our first Christmas. We had a blast as we muddled our way through the recipe for the first time, giggling and cracking jokes every now and then. Who knew cardamom seeds looked so funny once they pop out from their pods? And who knew how far those little pellets can fly? We had our own rendition of “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” with the “precious” pellets.  I’m laughing just remembering it.

And, as with EVERY dessert I make, this one came with the inevitable mistakes. I really can’t say what happens to me when I make desserts, but it seems as if I’m handicapped against making them the way they were meant to be made. I must have handicapped my mom, too. Refrigerate dough overnight? Oops! Cool dough before putting browned butter on top? Cool again before sprinkling powdered sugar?? Heh…heh.. oops, oops and oh well! Improvise!

So we did, multiple times — and no one was the wiser when we all dived in and enjoyed the first slice of a new tradition.

*Note: The final, baked product freezes well. Also, try to go the extra mile and find cardamom pods for this recipe instead of ground cardamom. The pods can often be found in bulk bins, allowing you to pick out only as many as you need.

Stollen
slightly adapted from Relish Magazine

Stollen:
8 cardamom pods
1 cup soy milk (or 2% reduced-fat milk), scalded
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup dried cherries
3 tbsp dark rum or orange juice
2 (.25-ounce) packages active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1/3 cup sugar, divided
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
2 eggs
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
5 ounces almond paste

Topping:
½ cup butter
powdered sugar

Put cardamom pods in bowl and add hot milk. Let stand for 10 minutes. In separate bowl, combine dried cherries and raisins and add the rum. Let stand. Combine yeast, warm water and 1 tsp sugar in another bowl and set aside until mixture foams (roughly 10 minutes).

Remove cardamom pods from milk and squeeze each softened pod open until black seeds come out. Scrape seeds into milk. Discard the pods. In large bowl, stir yeast into milk mixture. Add 1 cup flour and beat well. Cover mixture (called “sponge”) with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.

Place 2 cups flour and butter in food processor (or use pastry cutter) and pulse until combined. Add salt and remaining sugar and pulse a bit more. Drain fruits, reserving liquid. When sponge is ready, add to flour/butter mixture. Add lemon zest, eggs and soaking liquid from fruits. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Now, add fruit, toasted almonds and remaining 1/2 cup flour and mix. Scrape dough into large, oiled bowl and set aside. At this point you can refrigerate the dough overnight or, as I did, let rise for four or five hours.

After dough has risen, punch down and divide in half. On heavily floured surface, gently pull dough into large, oval shape (each of mine were a bit bigger than a sheet of paper). Divide almond paste in half and dot half of oval, the long way, with pieces of almond paste. Fold other half of dough over almond paste and gently close seams. Repeat with second piece of dough.

Transfer to silpat or parchment paper and let rise until dough is puffy or nearly doubled in size (roughly one hour). Preheat oven to 350 and bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Before end of baking time, begin browning butter. Put 1/2 cup butter in saucepan over medium heat; when butter melts, lower heat and cook until browned (roughly 8 minutes). Once dough has cooled a bit on racks, pour browned butter over top of loaves. After butter has soaked in a bit, generously sift powdered sugar over top.

Let cool (roughly 10-20 minutes, depending on self-control) and cut into thin slices and serve warm, making sure to lick your fruity, buttery and sugary fingertips afterward.

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