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Low-stress Stollen: Bread machine takes some of the toil out of traditional German yeast treat

Thursday, December 09, 1999

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If you are on my holiday gift list this year, put on the coffee pot. You'll be receiving Christmas stollen, studded with nuts and boozy fruits and drifted with snowy confectioners' sugar. I made 20 of the traditional German Christmas yeast breads. The project gave me the opportunity to compare and contrast breads made with a bread machine vs. the traditional hand method. I used a classic brioche dough recipe. The first four stollen were made using the bread machine to mix the dough. It was as easy as pie. But when I decided to mass produce the loaves for another 16 gifts, I hauled out my stand mixer and switched to the traditional method so that I could double the recipe.

Results? I could see no difference in the dough and no difference in the finished product. Bottom line recommendations: Use the bread machine for small batch baking, and use a stand mixer for big batches.

Either way, the doughs have these things in common.

After the dough has chilled, it's as malleable as children's modeling clay. It can be pressed into shape by hand or flattened with a rolling pin.

Dried fruit such as bits of apples, raisins, apricots and peaches are natural, sweet and tangy. They replace cavity-inducing candied fruits such as cherries and orange peel that are used in fruitcakes and in other versions of stollen.

The dough can be frozen up to 30 days. For convenience, shape the dough into ovals, wrap and stack in the freezer, then thaw and shape. Or better yet, shape the dough, freeze and defrost and allow to rise on a cookie sheet.

Traditional bakers might balk at the mere thought of plug-in technology replacing the sensitive personal touch of kneading. But nowhere is it written that homemade breads have to be made by plunging one's hands into dough up to the wrists.

This bread machine savvy comes from talking to Tom Lacalamita, author of "The All-New Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook." He was in Pittsburgh last month demonstrating bread machines at Kaufmann's.

As for having the pleasure of working with dough, that's still an option. After the machine makes the dough, any dough, the baker can then hand-shape the stollen (or pizzas, sweet rolls, coffeecakes, doughnuts or focaccia).

Are there drawbacks to using a bread machine? Yes, according to Lacalamita, but adjustments can be made.

For starters, one of the biggest mistakes is using liquids that are too hot or too cold. As the machine heats up, the motor and friction of kneading the dough will warm liquids. The fix: Don't second-guess the recipe. It will tell you what you need to do.

A bread machine does not preheat as a range oven does. So initially, it bakes hotter and drier. It also bakes hotter because of the small space. The fix: Throw a towel over the finished hot bread to keep in the moisture.

Often machine breads are pale on top. The reason is that there is a window on top and therefore some heat loss. The fix: Place a piece of metal foil over the window while the machine works.

Breads made in the machine can taste yeasty when made with traditional active dry yeast. The fix: Always use specially marked bread machine yeast, which is a fast dissolving, quick-rising yeast that makes the dough rise better. Fleishmann's seems to work best.

Tick, Tick, Tick

But why make stollen in a bread machine? Why make any bread in a machine? Ask the clock, Chum.

According to Tom Lacalamita, author of "The All-New Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook," bread machines are a perfect fit with today's busy schedules.

Lacalamita is an avid bread baker, cookbook author and housewares consultant who has used at least 100 different bread machines during the past 10 years to make thousands of loaves of bread.

"In a world where many kids are computer literate before they get to kindergarten, bread machines fit right in," says Lacalamita. "Kids are attracted to buttons, lights and automatic happenings. Since a bread machine is nothing more than a mixer and oven with a built-in computer, it's a natural for kids to use after some introductory adult supervision.

"There's nothing like a loaf of freshly baked bread to give them some fun, pride in contributing to the family and the satisfaction of eating their own creations. And with more and more teen-agers taking over cooking chores for working parents, there's a big payoff for just doing some measuring and button pushing."

These Pittsburghers back that up. They find the convenience of the bread machine far outweighs any drawbacks.

Hampton's Marte Novak works with the mentally and physically challenged. "My husband's mother made homemade bread the traditional way, but I don't have the time. I set the timer to have the bread all done when I get home from work. And I sometimes give a loaf to my neighbors and friends. My kids experiment with it, too. Last Easter they added jelly beans to a sweet dough and it made purple, pink and green swirls. I bought a bread machine for both my mother and mother-in-law."

Betty Harrold, also of Hampton, manages a business office. "I grew up with homemade bread always on the table, and I wanted to carry on the tradition. I make mostly white breads. My boys are involved too, and they bake on the weekends."

Sue Locaitis, who lives in McKnight Village in Ross, works at the Port Authority. "I grew up on the South Side and we always had homemade paska, a Polish sweet bread. Here I moved 15 minutes away, and now I make my paska in the bread machine. I'll take a loaf of bread to my mother or mother-in-law, but mostly I use the bread machine to make pizza dough."

Robert Rinn, of Seven Springs, works for the Lenox company. "I got my bread machine for Christmas two years ago," he says. "I bake for myself mostly, often a cinnamon loaf bread for breakfast. Mine has a timer, so it's a breeze. It's the easiest thing imaginable. If I'm going over to someone's for a weekend breakfast, I like to take along a loaf of bread."

You know what they say. Nothin' says lovin' like somethin' from the oven.

Related Recipes:

Classic Brioche Dough (made in the bread machine)
Christmas Stollen
Christmas Trees

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