Kiwi bakers are getting the chance to share the flavours and memories of their family kitchens with the nation, and for Russell woman Rita Baker, that's the taste of Christmas.
Baker is one of five winners of Anchor's Taste of Home series, a competition which allows entrants to share the recipes and dishes that most connect them to a feeling of home.
Mike Boness, Fonterra Marketing Director, said the competition is about championing the connection of food and family for Kiwis.
"Home is more than a physical place, it's a feeling, and it connects us to what is most important," he told Newshub.
"We wanted to champion that feeling of home and celebrate these moments, big or small,"
Recipes passed down through generations and family connection were a major element in many of the Anchor Feeling of Home entrants.
"So many Kiwis said the feeling of home came from recipes that have memories connected to their whanau. It was really heartwarming to hear these stories," he told Newshub.
"We also saw a range of diverse cultural recipes from Kiwis including those who have migrated to New Zealand and shared with us the recipes that remind them of that home."
That includes Rita Baker, originally from East Germany, who is known by her friends and family for her cakes.
"Baker by name, baker by nature!" she said .
But it's her Christmas Stollen that reminds Baker of cold winter evenings spent baking with her mother back in Dresden, after spending all year tracking down the luxurious, often expensive, ingredients. She moved to New Zealand during the early 2000s.
She entered with her Dresden stollen - also known as Striezel - a flatbread which originally dates back to the 14th century where it was made with water, oil and flour.
In the 15th century, Baker explained, Saxon bakers appealed to be able to use butter in their stollen, which was eventually granted by the Pope in 1490, in what's now known as "the butter letter".
She uses her grandmother's recipe, penned in the 1920s and "all written in Old German". Now instead of churning her own butter, Baker can use fresh Anchor Butter from the supermarket. But the connection to family and Christmas remains the same.
"For me Stollen means Christmas... simple," she said.
"Over the intervening centuries people added more luxury things to it - rum, orange peel, bitter almonds," Baker told Newshub.
For Baker, growing up in communist East Germany meant treats were scarce, and a year's preparation went into making the dense, buttery Christmas cake.
"Being a communist country, you couldn't get everything at the time you wanted it," she exclaimed. "Especially raisins, currents, and rum for baking, and especially the butter - real butter." Baker says her family would collect ingredients all year, churning their own butter in preparation.
"Come September we would book a time at the local bakery - a lot of the families would do that," she explained. "When they finished for the day you'd take your ingredients to the bakery, and they would give you the room and ovens."
Each family would shape a series of the flat oval loaves, "usually around 12 to 14 at a time".
"You knew yours because they had little metal tags, little wedges with your family's name on them," she explained.
"Those name tags are still in my grandmother's drawer at home [in Germany]."
The cakes were made in September and dusted with icing sugar, and kept in the cool cellars under the house.
"We had a big wooden washing tub where the stolelens would sit wrapped in baking paper for months," says Baker. "Those flavours - the butter, almonds, rum, orange peel - would all infuse."
"Then the first cake was cut on the first Advent Sunday."
Baker said it was eaten in the afternoon with coffee. "I don't think in my family we ever ate anything else on one of those Sunday afternoons other than that," she said.
Making the Stollen connects Baker to home, even with Christmas taking place in a different season, and different country.
"New Zealand houses don't have cellars but the place we're in now has a nice, cold garage which will have to suffice," she said.
"Before COVID I would bring other ingredients back from my holidays home to Germany - orange peel, lemon peel...things like that."
Rita's family recipe handed down from her Grandmother Oma Irmgard: Dresdner Stollen
This is a scaled down version for just one small cake. Our normal recipe calls for 4kg of flour and would make two 2kg cakes instead.
- 500g Anchor Butter
- 1 kg flour
- 100 g fresh yeast or 2 packages active dry yeast
- 500mls Anchor Milk
- 200g sugar
- Zest of 1 Lemon (spray free)
- 125 ground sweet almonds
- If available, 50g of ground bitter almonds or bitter almond flavouring
- 10g of Salt
- 30g Vanilla Sugar or some Vanilla Essence
- 375g Raisins (if desired soaked in Rum overnight)
- 100g Currants
- 150g chopped candied orange peel (orangeat) and candied lemon peel (zitronat)
For the Dusting of the top after baking:
- 200g of Anchor Butter
- 100-200g of Icing Sugar
- This is a yeast-based cake and thus has more than one step in its preparation.
Before you start make sure:
- All ingredients have the same temperature.
- Salt and fat do not come into direct contact with the yeast.
- Do not expose the dough to a draft while it is rising.
- Prepare a preliminary dough to test the yeast.
Please Note: You can make this by hand (the way I learnt) or use a stand mixer with the dough attachment. Also, while regular instant yeast works in this recipe, fresh baker' yeast that's formulated for high-sugar doughs, makes a huge (and positive) difference both in rising time and the texture of the finished product (I buy mine if I can, from a Mediterranean Food Supply place in the South Island).
If using dry yeast, dissolve it in some of the warm milk with 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Allow to rise "proof" in a warm place until bubbly.
- Sift the flour into a large (!) mixing bowl; Make a well in the center of the flour.
- Crumble the fresh yeast in a small bowl and mash together with a couple of tablespoons of the sugar until the yeast is liquid.
- Heat the milk until just warm to the touch.
- Pour into the well in the flour, along with the yeast/sugar mixture.
- Draw in some (but not all) of the flour with a wooden spoon or with your fingers, mixing well, to make a thick batter in the centre of your bowl.
- Dust some of the "outside" flour over the top, cover the bowl with a damp towel, and allow this "sponge" to rise in a warm place until bubbling and doubled in bulk -- about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter (do not brown!) and zest your lemon.
- When the "sponge" in the middle has risen sufficiently, beat the batter briefly (by hand or with a wooden spoon) to deflate the mixture then add all other ingredients and gently knead the dough until it comes clean off your hands (or tools) and the side of the bowl (some elbow grease is needed here if you do this by hand). If needed you may add some extra flour to help with this process.
- When sufficiently kneaded, place the dough in a well-buttered bowl, lightly buttering the surface of the dough, and cover with a damp towel. Allow to rise in a warm/draft-free place until double in bulk - approximately 1 1/2 hours.
- Punch the dough down with your fist and knead very thoroughly again by hand on a surface that has been dusted with flour. Shape into an Oval Loaf and slightly cut the top lengthwise (not too deep!). Place on a Flat Oven Tray lined with baking paper or greased with butter.
- Preheat your Oven to 175 - 200 °C. Bake for about one hour on the middle rack (fan-forced) or slightly longer if a conventional oven is used. Check if your Stollen is done by inserting a wooden skewer into the middle, if it comes out clean your cake is done – it should look light brown all around.
- Let it cool down a little after baking.
- Now heat the butter until liquid and brush your Stollen (use a pastry brush) all around with it, sift over the icing sugar whilst the butter is still wet and liquid, if desired, repeat this process.
Your Stollen should rest at least one week in a cool, dark place before cutting so the flavours can work their way through the cake.
Traditionally it rested for about two months or more before the first cut was made on the First Advent (usually the first Sunday of December or Last Sunday of November depending on which day Christmas falls that year).
This article was created for Anchor.