Ellen Kramer McNeal celebrates Christmas Eve by honoring the memory of her grandfather, C. Paulus Kramer, whose bakery instilled in her the sights, smells and pleasures of baking. One of his holiday specialties has become one of her own.
McNeal, now in her 70s, is retired and lives in Summerville with her husband, Scott. One of her sons, Andy, lives "just over the hill."
She is a practicing, published poet and editor for a poetry journal out of Syracuse, N.Y., where she once lived.
McNeal's late father, Frederic Kramer, taught German at Ohio State University. He also baked, and she learned much of what she knows from him. She recalls one of his last concerns: to be sure that "the dough was rising."
This is her Christmas Eve ritual:
"My grandparents on my father's side were German immigrants who settled in Batavia, Ohio, and established, on Main Street, Kramer's Bakery. There, the windows were filled with cookies and bread, rolls from wood-fired ovens, and at Christmas, Dresdener Stollen, fruity and sweet, braided and brown, sprinkled with brandy, powdered sugar.
"If you stop by my house on Christmas Eve Day, you'll smell Grandpa Kramer's Stollen rising in my kitchen: lemon and mace, citron, blanched almonds bound by butter and eggs, golden raisins and currants plumping in the nest of dough. It's had its night, that mound of dough, a first rising, the early morning punch down, a rest, the rolling into lengths, the forming into plump braids on a floured board.
"Now covered with damp towels, the braids do their yeasty thing, and I wait. The air is filled with sweetness; carols play. A picture of Grandpa at the bakery hangs over my work space, witness to the ritual I keep.
"Eventually, the braids go in a 350-degree oven. I'll know when they're ready, when they're done. I'll pull them from the oven, brush them with unsalted butter, splash on a little extra brandy and sprinkle them with powdered sugar, let them cool in the quiet room. I do this in remembrance."
Makes 2 stollens
This is Ellen Kramer McNeal's recipe for stollen that she makes on Christmas Eve every year.
Stollen is a cake-like bread made with candied or dried fruit, nuts and spices and is sprinkled with powdered sugar or iced.
It is a German cake dating to the 15th century and is usually eaten during the Christmas season.
1 package dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
5 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
2 cups milk
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
4 ounces chopped citron
1/4 cup blanched chopped almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Melted butter for brushing baked loaf
2 teaspoons cognac
Sifted 10X sugar for sprinkling loaf
Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water (as directed on yeast package).
Sift dry ingredients into large bowl. Make a well in the center.
Soak raisins and currants in water for 10 minutes. Drain well.
Beat eggs. Scald milk, remove from burner and add butter to melt. Cool slightly. Add eggs, milk and butter, and yeast to flour. Mix thoroughly. Add fruit, nuts, lemon rind and lemon juice and mix until well distributed. Dough will be soft.
Cover bowl with dish towel. Set bowl in warm place and let dough rise overnight (10-12 hours). Transfer dough to large lightly floured board and punch down. Let dough rest slightly.
Cut dough in half. For each stollen, make three 12- to 14-inch ropes. Transfer the ropes to lightly greased pans and shape into braids. Crimp ends. Cover with dish towels and let rise again until almost double (1 to 2 hours).
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes until lightly browned. Remove stollen from oven and let cool slightly. Then brush with melted butter, drizzle with the cognac and sprinkle generously with sifted 10X sugar. Serve warm.