Do you Atkins? If you're even vaguely trendy, you've probably been counting carbs at every meal lately, and eating bowls of plain whipped cream for dessert. New York restaurants now offer those bowls without blinking.
But because God provided me with double the skeptic gene, I was naturally disbelieving when I first learned the details of the Atkins diet. The way I heard it, the idea for the first two weeks was to eat no fruit, only salad for veggies, Wendy's bacon cheeseburgers without the buns, bacon and eggs, and yes, lots of whipped cream.
This didn't sound altogether awful to me. I love bacon and eggs, think everything is better with cream, crave salads, and, except for berries, can often take or leave fruit. (I have, though, sworn off of burgers that don't come from my own kitchen.)
But two weeks of this? That sounded gut-wrenching, and foolish. After all, isn't the idea when you want to lose weight to change your whole attitude about food, and not do some goofy fad diet?
Now, though, I'm starting to come around. Mention Atkins, and I'm bound to hear three testimonials in five minutes, many of which come from people I respect, and who have indeed changed their attitude about food. Then there's been all the media coverage of the trend, including some in-depth stories with statistics that are hard to ignore.
The theory behind the diet isn't as easy to explain as its counterpart (eat fat, get fat), which most of us have been trying to heed for years. In the simplest terms, it goes like this: The body will use carbs first for energy. Deprive it of carbohydrates, and you'll burn fat instead.
That means cutting out many of the foods we've been told to focus on in the past 20 years, including pasta, bread, and rice.
This is where I get stuck. The principles of a low-carb diet may make sense, but do they really make for a fun life? In part, the answer is yes. Because you can be on Atkins and not feel hungry, many people prefer it to other diets--what fun to eat and still lose weight. And they claim less fatigue once they've made the switch.
But, especially as a baker, I can't quite imagine a life without bread, and without some sweets. And no wine? After pregnancy and nursing, I've now gone through long stretches without wine, and it's not the way I'd like to live the rest of my life.
So I start to feel ornery when I hear too much about this diet. It makes me want to run into the kitchen and start kneading. And I keep returning to Julia Child's prescription for a long life: moderation in all things, and gin every day. Now there's the diet for me.
If, in this short, iced-over holiday season, you can take a break from carb-watching, these recipes will be a grand place to start. Moderation means that in my family, stollen gets made once, maybe twice a year. And then, bring on the butter. Based on a recipe from my Grandma Kebschull, this German bread takes center stage on Christmas morning, butter-slathered and accompanied by steaming coffee. I can't imagine that Dr. Atkins would have anything good to say about them (oh, the horrors of the candied fruit alone)--but your family certainly will.
Cook's notes: This makes a versatile, rich dough that you can use for rolls, pecan rolls and cinnamon buns, as well as stollen. Don't let the length of the recipe scare you; it's very detailed for new bakers. I like instant yeast best; you can buy it in bulk at warehouse stores (usually Fleischmann's), or look for SAF instant or perfect-rise yeast at groceries. A rising dough has doubled when you can press it lightly with a finger and the indentation doesn't bounce back. For candied fruit, our tradition calls for the dreaded, red and green "fruitcake mix" you see only around the holidays; you could certainly use more sophisticated fruits than this. I'm vague on the amount you need because it's flexible; my father thinks we never put enough in, though if you use too much, the dough gets so weighed down it can't rise well. But even a flat stollen is a tasty one.
Makes 4 stollen, or 2 stollen and 16 to 32 butterhorn rolls
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups milk (any fat content)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse (kosher) salt
3 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
7 to 8 cups all-purpose flour, divided
5 large eggs, at room temperature
Candied fruit and nuts to taste (see recipe)
Melt butter in milk over medium heat; cool to 120 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl (preferably in a stand mixer), mix sugar, salt, yeast, and 2 cups flour. Add milk mixture and beat until combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add remaining flour 1 cup at a time, beating well. (If using a hand mixer, you may have to add the final cups of flour by hand.) Don't let mixture get too stiff--you should end with a soft dough (usually about 7 1/2 cups flour total).
Put dough in a large, clean bowl, covered directly with greased plastic wrap, and place in a turned-off oven with a pan of boiling water. Let rise until doubled. Punch down and let rise again to double (for stollen, add fruit before second rise). Form as desired, rise again until doubled, and bake at 350 degrees for 16 to 20 minutes for stollen, until golden, on oven's middle shelf; bake about 15 to 20 minutes for rolls.
For stollen: After the first rise, gently knead in a mixture of 2 cups or more nuts and candied fruit per stollen (divide the dough into quarters to make 4 stollen, or use two quarters for stollen and the rest for other rolls). I prefer a mix of toasted hazelnuts or almonds, candied fruit, and currants, all tossed in about 2 tablespoons flour (if my currants are hard, I soak them first in a little warmed cognac, then drain them). You want to knead in as much fruit as the dough can hold easily. Cover and let rise until doubled. After the second rise, punch down and roll or pat out dough on a lightly floured surface into four long ovals (if you're using all the dough for stollen). Brush lightly with softened butter, fold in half lengthwise, open-side facing you, and gently bend into a crescent shape. Press down on the folded edge with the side of your hand to seal it. Place on parchment paper-lined or greased sheets, brush tops with softened butter, cover, and let rise until doubled and bake as above. Frost while warm (not hot) with glaze: heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon milk to melt the butter. Add 2 tablespoons cognac or rum and whisk in 1 cup confectioner's sugar. Glaze loaf; sprinkle if desired with toasted nuts, or make traditional designs of flowers using candied fruit and nuts (sliced almonds make the flower petals, and a piece of candied fruit goes in the center of the flower).
For butterhorn rolls: Use 1/4 of the dough at a time and roll on a lightly floured surface into a thin circle. Cut into 8 to 16 wedges; roll up each wedge from the wide to narrow end, tucking point under. Place on parchment paper-lined or greased baking sheets; let rise, covered, until doubled. Bake as above.