“We also make different shapes of cutout cookies which are another popular treat,” added Vande Walle.
The strong European roots in northeast Wisconsin are evident during the Advent season, said Vande Walle. “The first ancestors that came over from Europe, certain foods reminded them of back home and these traditions were passed down from generation to generation and are carried on yet today.”
Stollen is a traditional German treat.
“Stollen is a richer dough, similar to a coffee cake except inside you’d find cherries, pineapple and usually walnuts and a very thin layer of icing on top. And then we would put some additional fruit and nut decoration on top of that,” explained Vande Walle.
Fruitcake, with origins dating back to the Roman times and the Crusades, has been popular in Great Britain for centuries. Through the years it has gotten a bad rap, sometimes deservedly so, said Vande Walle.
“Some of those fruitcakes that are sold for 99 cents a pound deserve the reputation they got as doorstops but we have a high quality fruitcake. It’s surprising how many we sell every year – hundreds and hundreds of pounds,” he said. “Our fruitcake is a very light, buttery batter. Then inside we put whole red cherries, green cherries, pineapple, pecans and walnuts. We also put a few yellow raisins in to add some flavor.”
Manderfield’s Home Bakery
speculaas spice cookie
The dessert is then baked slowly. “When it comes out of the oven we put on an apricot glaze to seal in the freshness so they don’t dry out,” noted Vande Walle. People are actually surprised at how tasty fruitcake is when they get to sample a high quality one.
As far as cutout cookies goes, Vande Walle’s offers their customers several options. “We sell the dough for people who want to have the family activity and make them at home. We sell icing or we sell them already baked but unfrosted so you can ice them and decorate them at home.”
St. Nicholas followed the European immigrants to Wisconsin as well. He makes his appearance on the evening of Dec. 5, in the middle of Advent. “St. Nick does make a special stop at our store every year and picks up treats for the kids,” said Vande Walle. “Very popular are little candy canes, little foiled wrapped Santas, little chocolate Christmas trees.
“For the older people, when St. Nick comes and puts something in their stocking, they might find a big chocolate turtle,” he said. “Then we get into other little packages of nuts and cashews and we have chocolate-covered Oreos covered with finely crushed peppermint.”
Doug Manderfield, the store manager of Manderfield’s Home Bakery in Appleton and Menasha, is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Appleton and loves being in the bakery business this time of year. “Manderfield’s, being around for 65 years or so, we’ve been baking all kinds of those holiday things that people really look forward to,” he said. “The iced, decorated cutout cookies are the most popular but the fancy butter cookies are very popular, too.”
His bakery produces two different kinds of stollen, said Manderfield. “One is a sweet dough stollen, we call it a country stollen, and one is a Danish stollen.” Other European countries are represented there during the holidays as well.
• European placek bread is Polish. “It’s a Christmas bread. It’s just sweet dough with fresh nuts and raisins and a streusel topping,” said Manderfield.
• The Yule log is French. “That’s a sponge cake rolled up with cream inside and it’s decorated like a log.”
• The Pfeffernuesse is a German biscuit. “It’s got anise and a little ginger in it. It’s rolled in powdered sugar.”
• The speculaas is from Holland. “That’s similar to Pfeffernuesse but it doesn’t have the anise in it. It’s really good with coffee.”
One of Manderfield’s favorite things to make during Advent is a special birthday cake. “A lot of people order a cake with a manager scene on it and write ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus,’ which I think is really sweet because that’s what this season is supposed to be about. As secular as some of the items are that we sell, we really do believe in family and celebrating Christmas. That’s why we’re not afraid here at the bakery to say Merry Christmas.”
Vande Walle knows the reason for the season himself. “It’s a family time and it’s not just one day, it’s a whole season of having fun and enjoying your family and friends and guests. It’s a great time of the year making all these fun products. We look forward to it every year.”