Janine Gilbertson's Granite Kitchen: Cakes for Christmas

By JANINE GILBERTSON December 06. 2016 6:57PM
Stollen is a traditional German Christmas cake. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

If making fruitcake isn’t your thing, have no fear — there are many other traditional Christmas breads and cakes to make during the holiday season.

Take Stollen, for example. I came across a recipe for this traditional sweet German bread and saw that it was covered with powdered sugar, so I knew the kids would love it.

When I looked up different versions of the recipe, I learned some of Stollen’s fascinating history: Early Stollen was baked as a Christmas bread for the first time in the 15th century. It was made with flour, oil, yeast and water, resulting in a bland and hard bread.

Since it was prepared during Advent, a time of fasting, bakers at that time were not allowed to use butter. Oil for cooking was expensive and difficult to obtain, so in Saxony, a prince and his brother decided to write to the Pope and get permission to use butter. Their request was denied.

Years went by, and finally in 1490, Pope Innocent VIII sent a letter to the prince known as the “Butter Letter,” which granted the use of butter, but only for the Prince’s family and household. Others were also allowed to use butter as well, but they would have to pay a fine.

Eventually, the butter ban was lifted and Stollen evolved to a sweeter bread, typically made with raisins and sometimes marzipan.

Other parts of the world also have traditional Christmas cakes. In Italy, Christmastime means Panetonne, a tall, leavened fruitcake with origins dating back to Ancient Roman times. I prefer a similar bread called Pandoro, which is also sweet, and is excellent when used to make French toast for a decadent Christmas morning breakfast.

And let’s not forget Caribbean rum cake, another treat that appears in stores and homes during Christmastime. It’s excellent as a special dessert (for grown-ups, of course) or given as a gift.

When it was first distilled, early rum had a harsh taste, so I imagine that pouring rum over a sweet, spiced cake was a great way to enjoy it, especially during the holidays, and get one’s spirits up.


2 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

8 tbsp cold butter, divided

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup raisins

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup almonds, chopped

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1/4 tsp mace

1/2 tsp cardamon

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Cut in 7 tablespoons of the butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, raisins, lemon peel, almonds, vanilla, almond extract, egg and egg yolk. Stir into dry ingredients until moistened.

Turn dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead several times. Shape the dough into an oval (about 10 x 8 inches). Fold the dough almost in half the long way (to within about an inch of the edge, then press lightly to seal.

Place on a baking sheet lines with parchment paper. Shape the loaf gently one more time to round the ends slightly. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown.

Melt remaining butter and brush over the baked loaf. Set on a wire rack to cool. Once cooled, dust with generously with powdered sugar.

Christmas Cocoa Caribbean Rum Cake

18 oz package yellow cake mix

3.5 oz package instant chocolate pudding mix

4 eggs

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil

1/2 cup rum (dark or light)


1 1/2 sticks of butter

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup rum (light or dark)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, add cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water, oil and rum. Beat on medium until all ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth.

Grease a bundt pan with cooking spray and pour the batter into the pan. Place in an oven heated to 350 degrees and bake for about 50 to 55 minutes, until the edges are pulling away slightly from the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Just before the cake is done baking, prepare the glaze: melt the butter in saucepan, then stir in the water and sugar. Boil for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the rum. Stir to combine and reheat for 30 seconds.

When the cake comes out of the oven, prick it generously with a fork to create holes for the glaze to seep in to. Pour a third of the glaze over the cake while it is still in the pan. Allow the glaze to soak in for about five minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and onto a serving plate. Drizzle the remaining glaze over the top and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.


This recipe takes some time, thanks to three rising stages. A traditional pandoro is made in a mold shaped like an eight-pointed star. If you don’t have one, you could use a bundt pan.

For starter:

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup warm water

1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

1/2 tbsp sugar

1 egg yolk

For cake:

2 cups flour

4 egg yolks, plus 1 egg

1/2 cup sugar, divided

1/2 stick of butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp orange zest

1/2 cup powdered sugar (for dusting)

First, make the starter. In a small bowl, combine the water, yeast, sugar, 1 egg yolk, and 1/4 cup flour and combine. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Coat a large bowl with butter; set aside.

Add 1 cup of flour to the starter and, using the hook attachment on a stand mixer, mix on low until well combined, about 1 minute. Add half of the sugar and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add 2 of the egg yolks and mix well. Add half of the butter pieces, 1 or 2 at a time, waiting until each is fully incorporated before adding the next.

Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is sticky and somewhat stringy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Place dough in the prepared bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer the risen dough to the bowl of the mixer and add the remaining flour, sugar, egg yolks and egg, salt, vanilla and orange zest. Set the mixer to low and knead until incorporated using the hook attachment. Add the remaining butter pieces, 1 or 2 at a time, until each is incorporated into the dough.

Increase the speed to medium and knead dough until it’s sticky, about five minutes. Place dough in the buttered bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap; set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Prepare a pandoro mold by spraying with cooking spray and dusting with flour. Remove dough from bowl and transfer to the prepared mold; cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for about an hour, until dough is about 1/2 inch from the top of the mold. Bake in an oven heated to 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then remove to cool on a wire rack for about an hour. Dust thoroughly with powdered sugar before serving.

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