Because of some policy within the company, a four-day compulsory leave is mandated. Love it or hate it, every staff has to "go on vacation." That means, I'm now officially on my nine-day break in conjunction with Christmas and New Year's holidays. Boohoo ... ='( ... Seems I can finally settle down doing what I enjoy dearly.
The office closed two hours earlier than usual on Christmas Eve. So, I grabbed the chance and commuted to the opposite of the town (or the neighboring state, I should say) via the subway. Worth my effort even though it was raining pretty bad. I spent a few bucks at the baking supply store for my last-minute (compulsive) Christmas shopping. Phew! Glad that I made it--I was 45 minutes shy before it closed for the holiday tomorrow!
When I got back, something odd was, is and will be happening for the next two days. The neighbor on my right is having a wedding; the neighbor on my left is having a funeral. I was silent for a few seconds before I could open my mouth and say, "Boy, what a world!" How can such HUGE contrast happen!? Hmm ... I'm going to have fairly interesting outdoor photo shoot sessions this Holiday weekend--along with my snoopy puppy Chevy. =_=""
My wild ambition had persuaded me into making vánočka, the classic sweet Christmas bread invented by the Czechs. Unfortunately, my ego refused to use any recipes tailor-made solely for vánočka. I don't like biting into rock-hard and dry bread. And, my experience from the States told me most Western-style recipes yield bread that goes stale pretty fast. Blame this on our palate for soft and fluffy Japanese- and Taiwanese-style bread!
At the same time, I wanted something fruitcake this Christmas. And yet, didn't want to burden my body with the heaviness typical of European/American fruitcakes. They're too sweet, too rich for my family. Dreaming of something lighter, I bookmarked the stollen recipe from the Taiwanese bread cookbook Bread Doctor 《65C湯種麵包》. Having been using many recipes from this book, I've come to develop a trust for it. The Indiana Jones in me pushed me even further. So, I went ahead with my crazy idea of tweaking a stollen recipe for vánočka.
Probably, our forefathers back then didn't have baking powder or baking soda to leaven their baked goods. Thus, yeast was normally used. With the exception of the air-leavened génoise (Italian for sponges), classic European cakes such as kugelhopf, baba au rhum and babka are all yeast-raised. Stollen and vánočka are, in fact, yeast fruitcakes traditionally eaten during Christmastime. I like them for their lighter tastes! However, the only major differences I believe are:
- The use of ingredients--stollen has chopped dried/candied fruits, and no added citrus zest for flavoring normally; vánočka usually has raisins only, and with added citrus zest for flavoring
- The methods of shaping the loaves--this is a matter of difficulty, patience and will. It's much easier to shape a stollen than a vánočka. Stollen involves just single folding with aid from a rolling pin. Vánočka is giant braid built progressively from several smaller two- or three-braided bread dough
- Nationalities--stollen is German while vánočka is Czech. (Duh!)
... I realized the bread dough was pretty wet! Geez ... I was stuck wrestling with it. =D At that time, I told myself: "I want my vánočka. You've come this far. Heck, just do it!" So, I braided the wet dough. The tragedy came when it expanded horizontally--out of control--into a flat-looking gigantic fat braid. (A total of 600kg of flour was used.) I wouldn't say it warped because I forgot to dock it in order to retain its shape. It was because of the super wet dough. Nonetheless, don't be terrified by that! I broke my own principle by using flour to dust my own hands and the working surface. Ah ha! That saved the day.
That Sunday evening, I was rewarded with a spicy and fruity aroma. The climax came when I sliced the bread and savored it ... releasing the spiciness I'd been craving for in a mince pie! (That doens't mean I'm a super fan of mince pie though. =P) The cake had really soft, spongy crumbs untypical of yeast bread. Its crust was surprisingly crisp with a crunch! I could go without the powdered sugar! Nom, nom! Still, I'd to microwave it to revive its softness beginning its third day on Earth.
Let me proudly present to you this "multi-bred" Jewish-Czech-German yeast cake. (Yes, I coined the word "multi-bred" because it ain't crossbred.) Here's my Christollenočka! Wishing you a MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR in 2010!
**You can try braid the dough with five braids like how I did. But to be fair to the author and you all, I'm just going to share the original recipe here along with my modifications. Enjoy!
Adapted from Bread Doctor, by Yvonne Chen 《65C湯種麵包》。陳郁芬 著
240g bread flour
60g plain flour (I used wholemeal flour)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (I used mixed spice)
30g plain castor sugar (I used brown sugar; hence, my yellowish-looking bread)
6g instant dry yeast
Finely grated zest of half a lemon (this was an extra from me to make it Czech, optional if you want yours German)
30g egg, at room temperature
90g unsalted butter, slightly softened
Adequate amount of flour, for dusting your hands and the working surface (don't be overzealous with it; otherwise, the texture will be affected adversely)
75g liquer-soaked raisins (mine was rum-soaked golden raisins), drained well
60g candied and/or dried fruit (I used a mix of diced dried apricots, dried cranberries and green maraschino cherries. Soaked all in water till plumped up, then drain them well before use)
30g slivered blanched almonds, toasted and let cool completely before use
Some powdered sugar, for dusting the finished product
- Combine (A) together and make a well in the center; stir in (B), then mix them altogether till you get a dough that pulls away from the sides of a bowl.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured working surface and knead it with floured hands till gluten develops, i.e. the dough should be somewhat elastic but not smooth by now.
- Knead in the butter till incorporated, then gradually knead in (C), in 3~4 batches, until combined. Continue kneading till the dough is smooth and elastic, i.e. reaching the windowpane stage
- Round the dough up and place it into a large oiled bowl, then cover the whole deal with cling wrap and let proof till doubled
- Deflate the dough, then divide it into two equal portions, with each weighing at about 360g; round each up and cover with cling wrap, let rest for 15 minutes to relax the gluten
- Deflate the dough again. Working with one portion at a time on lightly floured surface, place the dough with its sealed side down. Next, flatten and shape each portion into a flat round of 1.5~2cm thickness--working with a lightly floured rolling pin helps, too!
- To each flat round dough, "flip" the discs of dough so that the sealed side faces you again. Then, fold it in half; with help from a lightly floured long rolling pin, press down in the middle and along the longer side of the half-folded dough to make a deep horizontal impression across
- Place the shaped dough onto greased baking tray(s)--with some room in between for expansion of the dough, then cover with cling wrap and let it proof again till almost doubled
- Bake it at 170C for 30 minutes or till it's turned golden brown; transfer to let it cool on rack completely
- Dust the stollen with some powdered sugar upon slicing to serve. Best served on the day it was made