Sweet German Christmas specialties are the only area that seems to be untouched and untainted by the stereotype surrounding German cuisine.
Every Christmas season, German producers ship their goods all over the world, in wooden boxes and colorful metal tins embossed with winter village scenes. During GDR times, Salzwedeler Baumkuchen, the famous tree cake consisting of a mass of layers, was nationalized and the cake was produced solely for export. This not only brought in Western currency but it eventually ensured the survival of that unique tradition.
Other than being much sought-after Christmas specialties, Salzwedeler Baumkuchen, Dresdner Stollen, Aachener Printen, Lübecker Marzipan, Nürnberger Lebkuchen, and Bremer Klaben have something else in common: their names fall under the European Union schemes of protected designations of origin (PDOs) and protected geographical indications (PGIs).
PDOs and PGIs protect the product names from misuse and imitation. The red-and-yellow PDO and the blue-and-yellow PGI label signal to consumers that they are buying the real thing. PDO is for agricultural products and foodstuffs, for example mineral waters, meat, cheese and produce that are produced, processed and prepared in a certain area. PGI is for agricultural products and signature foods that are closely linked to a geographical area, and where at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation must take place in that area.
The protection of the name, I was told upon my inquiry by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, only applies to commercial production. In other words, you can bake Dresdner Stollen at home to your heart’s content as long as you don’t commercialize it in any way under the protected name.
Almost every holiday season I bake Stollen yet I had never tried Bremer Klaben before, a sweet rich bread from the northern city of Bremen. It is similar to Stollen but not the same. Dresdner Stollen must not be baked in baking tins or molds, whereas Bremer Klaben is baked in a mold, which gives it is typical flat rectangular shape. Also, after baking, Dresdner Stollen is evenly buttered and thickly powdered with confectioners’ sugar.
As for all protected names, the Official Journal of the EU provides very specific requirements for Bremer Klaben: a dough-to-fruit ratio of about 1:1 containing flour, butter or margarine, yeast, sugar, sultanas, candied lemon peel, candied orange peel, almonds, vanilla, lemon zest and cardamom. These ingredients must make 95% of the total weight. Rum is permitted but may not exceed 5% of the total weight. The document is also very specific about the baking process and temperature.
When none of the recipes I found for Bremer Klaben fully met all those specs, I took out the calculator and finagled my own recipe. The only ingredient where I deviated was candied lemon peel, as I was eager to try out my own homemade candied citron melon from citron melons I grew in my garden this year. Because I do not own a special Bremer Klaben mold, I used a loaf pan and covered it with aluminum foil.
I only baked one test loaf to see how my recipe formula would turn out. Now I need to make more, and quickly. Because just like Stollen, Bremer Klaben should sit for a couple of weeks before cutting to develop its full flavor.
Christmas Bread with Dried Fruit and Almonds (Bremer Klaben)
3½ cups golden raisins
1/3 cup golden rum
½ cup lukewarm milk
1 (¼-ounce) package active dry yeast
2/3 cup sugar
3½ cups (17½ ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (4½ ounces) candied orange peel, finely chopped
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (4½ ounces) candied lemon peel, finely chopped
Finely grated zest of one organic lemon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 scant cup (3 ½ ounces) finely chopped blanched almonds
1. Place the raisins in a colander and rinse under hot water. Drain well. Place them in a bowl and mix with the rum. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, mix the milk with the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes until it starts to foam.
3. Mix the flour with the salt and the remaining sugar in a large bowl. Add the yeast mix and butter and knead into soft elastic dough that detaches from the bowl by hand or, preferably, with the kneading attachment of an electric mixer. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.
4. Add the orange and lemon peel, lemon zest, cardamom and almonds to the raisins and mix well.
5. Place the dough on a clean work surface. With your hands, gradually work in the dried fruit mix, including all of the liquid. It takes a while for the dough to absorb all the fruit, and the dough will be very sticky. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan (a meatloaf pan is ideal) as well as the shiny side of a large piece of aluminum foil. Place the dough in the loaf pan and push it down gently so it fills the entire pan.
7. Tightly cover the loaf with the foil, greased side down. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. Uncover, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. If the raisins turn too dark and the loaf is not done yet, cover it loosely with aluminum foil.
8. Unmold the loaf immediately onto a wire rack, then gently turn it over so the bottom rests on the wire. Let cool completely and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Store in a cool place.
Makes 1 loaf