Stollen, the German sweet yeast bread loaded with candied fruits and nuts, was a holiday staple in my house when I was growing up, and my 89-year-old mother still makes it every year. Even when I finished college and moved far away from home, she would send me a loaf in the mail.
She would bake dark, moist gingerbread when the weather got very cold, its scent of ginger, cinnamon and cloves a harbinger of the Christmas cookies to follow.
Gingerbread, unlike stollen, is easy to make. There’s no collecting nuts and currants and dried fruit, no kneading and rising, and if you have molasses then you probably have everything you need in your pantry to make gingerbread. It’s an easy recipe, just cream the sugar and shortening, add egg and molasses, mix in the sifted dry ingredients and water mixture and bake.
But if there’s no time to bake, fear not. You can find your favorite holiday breads at local bakeries, like Perreca’s, on North Jay Street in Schenectady.
“Holidays are all about food,” said Maria Perreca Papa. “Schenectady has great food, and Perecca’s is a staple of Schenectady.” Starting December 7 and right up to Christmas Eve, they make a lot of Pannetone, the sweet Italian bread. A whole lot. “As far as the eye can see,” said Perreca.
Bella Napoli Bakery, with locations in Troy and Latham, makes babka for the holiday season. Their version has raisins mixed into the sweet, eggy dough.
Find babka in Amsterdam at Rosito’s Bakery, where they make it for “all holidays,” according to Diane Rosito. She makes several varieties, a plain version and ones with cheese, cherries, or raisins.
Villa Italia makes stollen for the holiday season; their version is a dense, sweet bread made with almond paste and dried fruit and raisins, brushed with melted butter and topped with sugar. You can also find Panettone, a round, cake-like bread with citron flavor, beautifully packaged for giving.
Civitello’s Italian Pastry Shop on North Jay Street in Schenectady makes struffoli, the little fried puffs coated with honey and sprinkled with non pareils. This time of year, the struffoli is shaped into a wreath.
Price Chopper/Market 32 offers specialty breads for the holidays, according to spokeswoman Mona Golub. There’s soft and moist cranberry raisin bread, which also makes great French toast, and cranberry bog raisin bread, an artisanal Vienna bread mixed with California raisins, honey and New York State apple cider.
If you do find some time to bake, here is a simple recipe for delicious homemade gingerbread. Happy holiday eating.
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup molasses
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan. In large mixing bowl, cream together shortening and sugar. Beat in molasses and egg.
In separate bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Stir seasoned flour into molasses mixture.
In a small bowl, stir together baking soda and water. Add to batter. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack. Cut into squares.
Perreca’s Bakery, 33 N. Jay Street, Schenectady, 518-372-1875, www.perrecasbakery.com
Bella Napoli Bakery, 672 New Loudon Road Latham and 72 River Street, Troy, 888-800-0103, www.bellanapolibakery.com
Rosito’s Bakery, 37 James Street, Amsterdam, 518-842-2616, www.rositosbakerydeli.com
Villa Italia, 226 Broadway, Schenectady, 518-355-1144, www.villaitaliabakery.com
Civitello’s Italian Pastry Shop, 42 North Jay Street, Schenectady, 518-381-6165, www.civitellos.com
Price Chopper/Market 32, various locations in the Capital Region