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Almond Stollen

This German bread blanketed in confectioners' sugar is designed to look like a baby wrapped in white shawls.

1 cup golden raisins
1 cup candied lemon peel or mixed peel
1/3 cup rum or Marsala
2 packages (2 tablespoons) active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg plus 1 extra yolk, lightly beaten

About 5 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup chopped or slivered almonds
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup ground almonds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for topping
1/4 cup sugar, for topping
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar, for topping

In a small bowl, combine the raisins, candied peel, and the rum. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl (preferably the bowl of an electric mixer), stir the yeast into 1/3 cup of lukewarm water. Leave it for about 10 minutes, until it has softened and looks a little frothy at the edges. Now add the milk, sugar, egg and yolk, 2 cups of the flour, almond and vanilla extracts, and mace. Mix to combine. Cut 1 stick of the butter into 3 or 4 pieces and blend them into the mixture one at a time. When the mixture is smooth, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and leave in a draft-free spot for about 30 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly.

When ready, stir the mixture, then mix in the raisins and peel and any unabsorbed liquid, chopped almonds, salt, and about 1/2 cup of flour. Stir in the ground almonds. Gradually mix in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Knead on a work surface (or using the dough hook of an electric mixer) until the dough is smooth. Use 1 tablespoon of butter to grease a large bowl. Use another tablespoon of butter to grease your hands. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the buttered bowl. Turn it with your hands until the surface of the dough is well buttered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and set it in a draft-free spot until it has doubled in bulk, which will take about 1 1/2 hours.

Grease a cookie sheet and cover it with parchment or sift a dusting of flour on it. On a floured board, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Knead each piece of dough for 3 or 4 minutes until it is elastic and smooth. Roll out each piece into an oval measuring about 12 inches by 8 inches. Press the rolling pin down firmly in the center of the dough to make a crease. Melt the remaining butter and brush it over the surface of the dough. Fold the dough over. (Traditionally, the top should not quite cover the bottom.) If the top surface of the dough has raisins or nuts sticking out, remove them and tuck them inside. Press the edges together to seal and shape the ends so they are round, not pointy. Place both loaves on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a cloth. Let rise again for 1 hour.

Set the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the stollens for 25 to 30 minutes or until they sound hollow when rapped. They should be golden brown. Transfer them to a rack, then brush immediately with the melted butter. Sprinkle them with the sugar. When the stollens are completely cool, wrap in foil, seal tightly, and store for a week in an airtight container. For serving, sift the confectioners' sugar on top, using enough to thickly cover the stollens.

Makes 2 loaves.

By Claire Hopley, Boston Globe Correspondent

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