By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Two friends take time during the busy holiday season to bond over butter, powdered sugar and a special bread
If you’ve never watched a loaf of German sweet bread take a butter bath, you’ve missed out on some serious baking action.
We’re mesmerized by the gentle, methodical dunking of the oval-shaped loaf — cooled after its stint in the oven — in melted butter. Now we know the secret to why it’s so moist.
It’s stollen baking day at The Bakeshop in Boyd, a specialty pop-up open only on Saturdays. As we enter, we hear laughter coming from the back kitchen. That’s where we find Letty Thome, co-owner, and Marche Ann Mann, catering manager at Fort Worth Central Market. Both have full-time jobs and very full schedules, but for five years the friends have carved out time each fall to make stollen, the slightly dense but moist holiday bread studded with rum-soaked fruit and dusted in powdered sugar. (Letty’s husband, business partner and chef Kraig Thome, is also on hand, but he’s tending to pans and more pans of a chicken casserole being prepped for the weekend pickup.)
The women met when Letty took classes years ago from Marche Ann at her Black Rooster Bakery she opened in Fort Worth in 2010. The experience prompted Letty to attend baking school to refine her skills. Marche Ann learned to make stollen when she was a student at The French Culinary Institute in New York City, and offered the traditional German bread seasonally until she sold Black Rooster in 2014. “It’s not inexpensive to make. Plus, stollen takes a lot of time, so I had to raise the price after the first year I made it. But even then, customers bought every loaf.”
She prefers the Dresden style, which dates to the 1300s. The shape represents baby Jesus in swaddling clothes; the generous dusting of powdered sugar is meant to represent snow. “You begin with a ‘sponge’ starter, and the dough is easy to work with.”
After she sold the bakery, Marche Ann would join Letty to make a few loaves to give as holiday gifts. In 2017, they decided to have a one-day sale of baked goods (pre-Bakeshop). “We made breads, tea cakes and stollen; Kraig made pies and cookies,” says Letty. They sold out in record time.
To continue their holiday tradition, Marche Ann makes the drive from Fort Worth and spends the day in Boyd. As they pull out rolling pins, oversize stainless mixing bowls and large baking sheets, they talk about everything from cookbooks and Kraig’s newfound expertise in gluten-free baking to new restaurants. There is much laughter and the occasional coffee break.
Letty used to share the commercial kitchen with her husband, but she now has her own workspace in a separate room; when they upgraded The Bakeshop’s equipment, she got the older ovens.
She has been prepping for a couple of days prior to Marche Ann’s arrival: “It’s a two-day process, and there are no shortcuts.” The raisins also enjoy a special bath, an overnight soak in dark rum to plump them up, before they are added to the dough along with nuts and heady spices such as cardamom and black pepper.
“I don’t really like candied fruit, but this stuff is different,” says Marche Ann, who is wrist-deep — she’s wearing gloves — in melted butter. Letty brings out more trays of baked dough and then melts more butter. Marche Ann moves on to the next step, making it snow in the kitchen as she gently taps a powdered sugar-filled mesh strainer over the damp bread. Then the loaves are wrapped in festive cellophane bags. They’ll be sold at Saturday pop-ups through November and, yes, they freeze well.
Marche Ann prepares for her drive home, taking a couple of loaves. She’s under strict orders by her Central Market staff to bring samples, as they love the stollen, too. “This is such fun, and Letty keeps me young,” says Marche Ann. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”