At Nabolom Bakery, Crow Bolt has been soaking nuts and fruits in vats of rum and schnapps for weeks to make fruitcake. Paul Masse has purchased his weihnachtsgewurze—a special German spice blend—to make Masse’s stollen bread and at Crixa Cakes owner Eliz abeth Kloian has pulled out her set of intricately carved molds for honey cake.
“We really do up the holidays,” said Paul Masse, who, with his wife Marcia, runs Masse’s Pastries at Shattuck and Vine. “I used to work in Switzerland and I lean towards the more Germanic and French traditions.”
Masse’s holiday offerings include stollen ($16), a fruited, spiced egg bread, bishop’s bread ($16), a Viennese-style sponge batter made with ground nuts and egg whites and studded with chopped chocolate, pine nuts, and rum raisins, and three types of buche de noel ($30-35), the French Christmas sponge cake filled with cream and topped with icing to look like a tree truck, complete with meringue “mushrooms.”
The holiday season is upon us and Berkeley bakers are cast ing traditional European recipes anew. The results of some local baker’s top quality ingredients and careful technique are wonderful—old world favorites might have lighter textures and clearer flavors than they would in their countries of origin.
“Our st ollen is not the really dense kind they sell a lot of in boxes at Cost Plus,” said Betsy Reihle, the baker at Fat Apple’s. “Those are really strongly flavored and could be a year-and-a-half old. Ours are lighter, they are really more of a fruited bread and we put in dark and gold raisins, almonds, and citron (candied peel of the citron fruit).”
panettone, an Italian holiday bread similar to the lighter versions of stollen. “Panettone is the main holiday bread we make,” said Acme owner Steve Sullivan. “It is naturally leavened (using a bread starter) as opposed to a yeast bread or quick bread (made with baking soda or powder).” The result is rich, flavorful bread with a nice smattering of nuts and fruit. It makes a wonderful snack when sliced, toasted, but tered and served with hot tea. The bread is also delicious by itself, particularly when it is perfectly fresh.
If you enjoy traditional Italian Christmas foods, baker Kloian at Crixa Cakes makes two versions of panforte, a highly spiced dense dessert bread, which should be thinly sliced and enjoyed with a glass of dessert wine. “We make it the old way, with honey,” said Kloian. “The classic Sienna has candied orange peel and toasted almonds.” She also makes a fig and walnut panforte, which she said, “is more softly spiced and has a hauntingly autumnal flavor.”
Other spiced breads to try are Fat Apple’s pumpkin ginger bread and Acme’s pumpkin bread, which like their panettone is baked in paper molds, but has the flavor of pumpkin pulp and pie spices, raisins and cranberries.
Crixa also makes old-fashioned honey cakes with spices. “We make them according to a traditional recipe in the old way using intricately carved molds,” said Kloian. “Each hand stamped cake is ready to eat, but like all spice cakes, will mellow with age.” The molds have designs with names such as: Barley Maid, Thistle Lad and The Tree of Life Heart.
Masse’s makes an elegant cake that boasts the season’s spicy flavors: poached quince and ginger bread cake. The cake has a layer of lig ht Bavarian cream made with calvados (apple liqueur), which Masse said “mellows” the spice of the gingerbread cake.
Christmas breads make wonderful gifts and are nice to keep stocked in your own home through the holiday season, particularly if you’ll hav e houseguests rooting around your kitchen for food. Cookies are another holiday staple that double as a gift.
Fat Apple’s owner Hildegard Marshall, who is from Germany, sells enormous gingerbread cookies called Big Boys ($1.50) and also makes gingerbread houses ($34) decorated with icing and chocolate candies likely to capture the attention of children. Fat Apple’s also makes a variety of small holiday cookies, which they sell in tins ($12). “I’m from the Midwest,” said baker Reihle. “Cookies are really big there. You go to everybody’s house to visit and bring a tin of cookies.” Masse’s makes a wide range of holiday cookies and sells them in tins small ($12) and large ($24).
Nabolom’s Danish butternut cookies ($1.50) are loaded with nuts and butter and rolled in powdered sugar. The bakery makes them year-round but the cookies make a handsome holiday platter when grouped together because they look like snowballs.
Crixa Cakes offers chestnut kifli, which are Hungarian pastry crescents filled with chestnu t paste and Saint Nicholas gingerbread cookies.
Even in the dead of winter, you can enjoy the flavor of raspberries. A number of Germanic Christmas recipes call for the berry in jam form. Fat Apple’s lattice topped Linzer tart is made with ground hazelnut pastry and raspberry marmalade. Nabolom makes raspberry spitzruben ($2.00) at Christmastime. The spitzruben has flavors similar to the Linzer tart, but it comes in bar cookie form. According to baker Bolt: “Half of the raspberry spitzrubens we sell get eaten right in the store.”
Just as busy Berkeley residents depend on local bakeries for quality holiday treats, the bakeries depend on the season’s shoppers. Speaking of the recent financial woes of the 28-year-old collective bakery Nabolom, Bolt said, “We’re not totally out of the difficulty but we’re over halfway there. The holidays are really our peak season and a good one may get us out of our difficulty entirely.” Nabolom, which sells a rich, dense fruitcake ($10), traditional holiday pies ($20-$30), and two types of vegan pie, will stay open late on Christmas Eve.?