Christmas traditions: Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery celebrates the season with Stollen
SHEPHERDSTOWN – For over 36 years, customers have returned to the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery, to buy Stollen bread for their holiday celebrations. While the bakery’s Stollen is now known around the world for its cake-like texture and complex flavor, it took a lot of work to develop the bakery’s original recipe into a must-have dessert, according to owner Pam Berry.
“We bought the bakery in ’97, and we used the recipe the previous owners started with, and then we started tweaking it to be what the American consumer wanted,” Berry said, mentioning the bakery typically sells 3,000 Stollen loaves during the Christmas season. “Stollen tends to be dry, but our customers wanted something that was more cake-like, so we tweaked it for about 10 years, and finally settled on this recipe.
“We’ve added a lot more rum – we probably doubled it from the original recipe. And then we have a large marzipan center. Marzipan’s expensive, and people tend to be pretty chintzy about it when they bake with it. But we’re generous with ours, and for people who love marzipan, that’s a great thing,” Berry said, mentioning making Stollen is a three-day process for the bakery.
On day one, the dough is started with a certified non-GMO seasoned biscuit flour from German company Komplete. It is then mixed into a traditional Stollen bread base. The rum comes later, as the chopped dates, pecans, golden raisins and regular raisins are left to soak in it before the entire rum mixture is combined with sweet butter and the bread base. The mixture is then separated into what will be one-pound or two-pound loaves, individually wrapped around marzipan logs and baked. On day two, the loaves are washed in butter and rolled in granulated sugar. The process is finally brought to a close on day three, with the loaves being powdered with a German confectioner’s sugar called New Schnee, wrapped in plastic and boxed up for customers.
“The difficult part is, everything is done by hand – we cut out the loaves, weigh them, measure out ingredients. You also have to remember what the dough looks like when it is thoroughly baked, what it smells like when its properly baked,” Berry said, mentioning that every year, one person is assigned to monitor the loaves when they are baking. “If you bake it too much, it will be dry.”
According to Berry, although the bakery’s Stollen was created to please American customers, she has been surprised by European customers who have told her it is their favorite version of the recipe, which has hundreds of variations around the world.
“Any of the Germanic countries are familiar with Stollen – it’s a tradition that has been carried over to America,” Berry said, mentioning that although she does mail loaves of her Stollen overseas every year, the majority of customers who buy the fruitcake-like bread are from West Virginia, Virginia or Maryland. “Thankfully, it is a very durable product, so it has the ability to travel.”
The one most important thing to do when buying Stollen? Purchase it a few weeks in-advance of eating it, and store it at room temperature. Although the alcohol is baked out of the rum, the rum’s flavor and moisture gradually soaks into the bread over time, giving the bread a richer flavor than when it is fresh. In fact, Berry said customers should not be concerned about whether or not the bread is aging too much.
“You can keep it at room temperature for three months,” Berry said, with a smile.