Icing sugar is falling like snow. The oven is huffing cinnamon-scented steam. At the Daily Bread bakery, Christmas is settling on every surface.
Patrick Welzenbach’s great-grandfather, Max, did this and so did his grandfather, Karl. That’s who Patrick learned from.
“My grandfather brought me up,” says the German-born baker. “My dad, he passed away when I was 5, so he was kind of my replacement dad. I did my first steps in the bakery and even when I was at school, every Saturday I was working with my granddad, shaping the buns. And so I have it in my blood and bones – the flour.”
In Germany, at Christmas, bakers make stollen. And now, Patrick has brought his 80-year-old grandfather’s rich, buttery, fruit-studded recipe from Frammersbach, Bavaria to Belmont, Auckland.
It’s the muggiest morning this December when the Weekend Herald crosses the harbour bridge to the Daily Bread’s North Shore outpost.
“It’s kind of a little bit weird to have Christmas in summer,” says Patrick. “But slowly I’m getting used to barbecues.”
In Frammersbach, it’s snowing. His grandfather has just sent him pictures from the town of 5000 people where Patrick’s family have been bakers forever.
“Some people say 600 years, some people say 400. No one knows exactly. We say that since they founded our small town, my family are the bakers, and that was in 1300-and-something. We have a family tree that dates back a couple of hundred years . . . we had a big wood-fired oven in the centre of the village, a community oven, and they looked after that as well.”
When Patrick was a small boy, his grandfather would balance him on the front of his bike and pedal for hours through the forests. He knew he would follow him into the baking business.
“I would always write down that I wanted to be a baker . . . I’m really proud to be a baker. When I go outside, I leave my apron on and my baker’s shoes. Some people, they try to hide it, but I’m really proud.”
He apprenticed in nearby Lohr a. Main, before returning to the family business where his mother and sister are still based. The hours were long and holidays were, inevitably, close to home.
“For our honeymoon, my wife wanted to go far away. And I think the most faraway place is New Zealand.”
But that flour, it’s in his bones. He couldn’t help himself. “I had my baker pants with me and my shirts in my luggage . . . “
It was 2014, and trial days with Auckland’s Bread and Butter Bakery turned into a decision to stay. In 2016, he and his wife moved permanently. Eventually, he formed Daily Bread with business partners Tom Hishon and Josh Helm. There is a freedom here, says Patrick. Less insistence on tradition.
“I don’t know how you say it in English? It’s like a bird, flying from the nest?”
But if his sourdough has got a little lighter and he’s had to add hot cross buns to his repertoire (“we don’t make them in Germany”), at Christmas, his stollen is just as his grandfather taught him. And, just like his grandfather, he is the only one who bakes the $40 loaves.
“Always the employer, he makes the stollen. Everywhere I was working, actually, because the ingredients cost so much money and if you mess up, you waste all the ingredients, and there are just so many different things – the proving time, the temperature of the dough, the shaping – even if you follow the recipe, you might have a different flour and then you have to add more, but you don’t have the experience . . . “
There is a moment, in the morning we spend with him, when he watches that dough like it’s a newborn. “Now it’s really critical. It’s maybe one minute, plus or minus 10 seconds . . .”
Patrick’s stollen started at least three months ago. Dried fruit, almonds, and spices are fermented in rum and fresh-squeezed orange juice. The marzipan filling is made by hand – almonds and sugar, no artificial flavourings. It’s not very sweet and it has a long, nutty aftertaste.
The mixer has been imported from Germany. A 40-year-old machine that, if looked after properly, will last another 100 years, according to Patrick. When he switches it on, the sound is like an agitator washing machine. Ker-thump. Ker-thump. He likes it because the low, flat dragging paddle action is more akin to a human hand than the modern spiral mixer that is currently combining eggs, vanilla, sugar, butter, salt, marzipan and seven spices.
Cinnamon? “Absolutely.” Cloves? “Yeah, yeah, right.” Ginger, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg – and one more? Patrick just smiles.
He pours in flour. How much? “Ha, ha, ha,” he says. “I can’t tell you my recipe. But yeah, quite a lot.”
The fresh yeast cakes break apart like tofu and, for the record, that’s two bottles of fresh Jersey Girl milk. Earlier, into that spiral mixer, around five kilograms of butter.
“So my grandfather, he always heats up the milk a little bit, so it gets to about 30 degrees. Here in New Zealand, we don’t have to. In Germany, it’s always wintertime when we make the stollen dough and the bakery is quite cold.”
Other differences: “I think the dough is richer because there’s more fat in the milk. It feels fuller, more creamy . . . I had to adjust the recipe just a little bit because the flour doesn’t absorb so much water here, and the spices are different. I would say you get better spices. They are more intense.”
The first stage of the dough is resting and Patrick sips a coffee. This bit is the same.
“With my grandfather, we made the starter dough in the morning, because he’s living over the bakery, and then we had a coffee and then we mixed the other dough. This reminds me quite a lot of him.”
He has heard, very recently, that his grandfather is no longer making stollen. Patrick sent photographs of his first New Zealand batch, just to check. “I was always his apprentice . . . I think he is really proud.”
It was great-grandfather Max who brought the stollen recipe back from his big-city apprenticeship in Frankfurt. Karl worked to make it even better – more fruit, more butter.
“And then my grandmother, she’s checking the fruit and she says always, ‘oh Karl, there’s too less rum inside” and she takes the rum bottle and adds at least half a bottle more to the fruit mix.”
Patrick says people would travel a long way for his grandfather’s stollen, famous for its extra fruit and juiciness, and best eaten with family when the candles are lit and the Christmas music is playing.
“Stollen, for us, means family time . . . it’s like a Christmas cake, but I would say a good stollen lasts until Easter. Maybe three months, if you keep it nice and cold and not in direct sun. But most of the time, it’s eaten in one week!”
Everything – including the two enormous trays of rum-fermented fruit – is in the big paddle mixer now. He grabs a wad of dough and uses it like a dishcloth, wringing every last particle of rum into the dough. Then he watches, very carefully, as everything comes together. It is crucial, he says, not to squish the fruit.
“When the dough is too hard and stiff, it’s scratching the fruit and if it’s too soft, you can’t shape it.”
He bakes by touch, sight – and sound. When the dough comes together as a satiny pillow, the ker-thump in the mixer gets deeper and more pronounced. Rhythmic and mesmerising. He adds more water and it squelches for a second before that bass note returns. He is satisfied. In Germany, it was always his grandfather who made the final call. Now, 53.5kg of stollen dough rests on Patrick’s shoulders.
“Now,” he says. “It looks really good.”
Dump the raw dough on the oak bench from Germany. A mountain of family and memory, butter and flour. The double-handed kneading that allows him to shape two loaves simultaneously, took him three years to master. But it was his feet that hurt most, he says. Ten hours a day, back in his apprenticeship.
Fat logs of marzipan are placed on the dough just so. Wrap the ends like a burrito, roll and slap it, seam-side up, into the tin. Push it down with your knuckles and repeat. Work fast and hard, because so is that yeast.
Patrick makes stollen three or four times a week – 60 to 64 loaves at a time. It’s a two-day process because the bread is too fragile to handle when it is first baked. It cools slowly, overnight. And then, more butter. Much more butter.
“Okay, so now we dip the stollen,” says Patrick. The trough beside him sloshes with molten sunshine. Every loaf is submerged and then dredged with icing sugar.
“For cheap stollen, they use palm oil. But we don’t want to make the cheap stuff. Normally, you dip it in sugar and then put icing sugar on top . . . when it dries, it gets a sugar crust that makes sure the stollen lasts for a long time . . . but my grandfather, he changed it a little bit, because he was quite unhappy that the icing sugar melted straight away. So he’s coating it two times.”
More butter. The second layer is brushed on, before a quick bath in caster sugar and a final, snowy-thick layer of icing sugar.
It was sad, says Patrick, when he heard that this year, his grandfather would not be so hands-on with the stollen.
“Maybe he is overseeing the process. But his tradition lives here in New Zealand, with me. So it still keeps it alive, you know? Maybe on the other side of the world, but . . . okay.”
The secret to stollen is time, love and, perhaps, cassia? Coriander? Caraway? Star Anise? Butter? Definitely butter.
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