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Memories of My Grandparents: A Swiss family tradition

By Susan M. Tiberghien

In my mother’s recipe box is a well-fingered card spattered with sugar and love. It is titled “Gaga’s Christmas Stollen.”

Gaga was my mother’s mother. At 16, she sailed alone from Switzerland to America. She married a German immigrant and had one daughter. Widowed young, she moved from Washington to Philadelphia to New York City. Gaga came to live with us when she was 56, already not well. Until her death a year later, she was, as always, the warmhearted grandmother who played cards with my sister and me and told us bedtime stories.

Every Christmas, my mother would take out the recipe card with the list of ingredients running down both sides. As the loaf rose overnight, the scent would fill the house, and I’d say, “It smells like Gaga.”

Thirty years ago, I sailed to Europe to live with my French husband. I brought parts of my childhood with me — including Gaga’s stollen recipe, copied onto a card and placed in a red-and-white box like my mom’s. Today, that recipe box is filled tight with recipes. Only Gaga’s recipe card is well-fingered and spattered.

Every year at Christmas, we have a stollen night. My children and grandchildren gather around our kitchen table, helping to stir ingredients and knead dough. We sprinkle each unbaked loaf with sugar and cinnamon, and during the night as the loaves rise, the scent of Gaga fills our home.

This essay and accompanying recipe originally appeared in A Cup of Comfort Cookbook.

Susan M. Tiberghien

Susan M. Tiberghien is an American-born writer and writing instructor living in Switzerland. She has 15 wonderful grandchildren. Her husband and six grown children are wonderful, too.


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Gaga’s Christmas stollen


2 cups milk

1 cup sugar

2 tsp. salt

1½ cups butter

2 cakes yeast, crumbled

8 cups flour, divided

4 eggs

2 cups raisins

2 cups slivered almonds

1 cup chopped candied fruit (diced lemon, orange peel)

2 tsp. almond extract

2 ounces brandy

Melted butter (to drizzle on top)

Sugar (to sprinkle on top)

Cinnamon (to sprinkle on top)

1. Scald milk. Mix together scalded milk, sugar, salt, and butter. Cool.

2. Add crumbled yeast and 2 cups of flour to wet mixture. Mix well. Let rise 2 hours.

3. Add the rest of the flour and mix well.

4. Fold in eggs, raisins, almonds, candied fruit, almond extract, and brandy.

5. Knead well. Form 1 large loaf in a 13 x 9” baking pan, or divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and place in 4 loaf pans. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Let rise 12 hours.

6. Heat oven to 350°. Bake 1 hour. Enjoy!

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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