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Borough Belles: Alexandra Lo

Categories: Reflections and opinions

The Borough Belles, Borough Market’s neighbourhood branch of the Women’s Institute, is packed with keen cooks, happy to share their ideas and insights. This month: Alexandra Lo

Alexandra LoI joined the Borough Belles not that long ago, only this September. I had my eye on them for ages, but they always meet on a Wednesday and until recently I was singing in a choir on Wednesday nights. I always thought Borough Belles looked really good fun and it’s local to me, as I’m in Bermondsey which is not too far. While it’s been going for a long time, there seems to be lots of new people and they’re a young bunch, which is great.

WI has a real community thing going, which impacts on lots of things that I’m interested in. That’s one of the reasons I joined, and the other is meeting new people. The Borough Belles have a lot of initiative and get-up-and-go, which is a good thing. It’s not as old-fashioned as it perhaps once was, but it has still got that edge—we like making cakes etc, but it’s more about looking at different things, talking about different things and just having fun.

I work in textiles, which is another reason I am interested in the WI, because there are people within it who are sympathetic to the ideas that I work with, such as sustainability within fashion, mending your clothes, so I am hoping to bring something to my group with that.

And of course, I also bake! Hence the stollen cake recipe. I grew up in Germany where it’s a big deal, certainly within our family. My mum makes loads of them and my grandma used to, too. They’re a bit like British Christmas cakes in that you have to bake them in advance then they have to sit for a time, and they have a symbolic significance, but it’s very different in taste and texture—it’s like a very dense, heavy panettone, with a real vanilla taste.

It is a typical Christmas cake in Germany from a region near Dresden—elsewhere you get them with marzipan or poppy seeds and all sorts of things, but the real Christmas stollen comes from Dresden! My grandad is from that area so he brought it to the family.

This recipe has evolved over the years. My mum tells me my grandma would use suet and animal fat, which we don’t use any more, but it is still very similar. It’s a bit of a faff to make, but you have a really nice time eating it!

Stollen

Alexandra’s ‘Christstollen’
Take mixed fruit and nuts—300g raisins, 75g currants, 50g peeled and chopped almonds—and 50g candied lemon peel, 75g candied orange peel, 1 vanilla pod with seeds scraped out, 1 grated tonka bean and flavour it all up with rum, cover with foil and keep in a warm place overnight.

Then make a really rich yeast dough. Dissolve 50g honey in 100ml milk, then add 50g fresh yeast and mix until smooth. Add 200g of plain flour, knead until it is a smooth dough sprinkle with flour, cover the bowl with foil and leave in the fridge until the surface cracks to show the dough has risen. It generally takes an hour depending on the fridge temperature and the yeast.

Take the dough and add another 150g plain flour, 100g fine sponge flour, 50g raw marzipan (grated?) and 2 eggs to make a smooth dough. Mix a further 50g fine flour with 250g butter at room temperature, 10g salt, and 5g stollen spice (mix of cinnamon, aniseed, clove, cardamon, all spice all ground up), slowly adding it to the dough.

Once all the butter is absorbed in the dough, let the food processor do the kneading, about 10-15 mins, until you see bubbles. Then quickly knead in the soaked fruits. Sprinkle the dough with flour, cover with foil and leave in the fridge for about 2 hours to rise.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C and thinly brush a baking sheet with melted butter. Once the dough has risen far enough, decide if you want to make two smaller stollen or one large one. Shape the dough into a ball and roll out it thickly so you have an oval shape that is as long as you want the stollen to be at its widest edge. Make an indentation with your rolling pin lengthways into the dough about 1/3 in from the edge. Then roll the 2/3 wider edge towards the indentation to make the stollen form. It is supposed to look roughly like a swaddled baby shape symbolising the Christ child in the crib.

Slightly squeeze the contours of the stollen into shape and let it rest for 10 mins. Once placed on the sheet, put it in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 175C. The baking time depends on the weight of the stollen; a 1kg stollen bakes for 40-45 mins.

After baking for 10 mins, brush the stollen with plenty of melted  butter and sprinkle with a bit of sugar. Put it back in the oven and finish baking. Once the stollen has finished baking, brush liberally with melted butter agina, mix some icing and vanilla sugar together and sprinkle half of it over the stollen. Wrap in tin foil and let it rest overnight.

The next day, brush away the excess sugar and brush again with butter, but very thinly. Sprinkle with the remaining icing sugar mixture and wrap in tin foil. Let it mature for about 2 weeks before eating. The stolen will last up to 3 months if kept in a cool place.