Gardner Heist 25th: Isabella’s Stollen Pieces

Posted on 15 March 2015

On March 18, 1990, two guys dressed as Boston’s Finest pulled off the biggest art heist in US history. Holes in Gardner Museum’s so-called security led to holes in frames.

I commiserate with those who may never tick that Vermeer off their bucket lists. But mostly I feel mostly for Isabella. I’ve had a close, imaginary relationship with this woman since the day I arrived at college literally next door. Museum admission was free back then, so I frequently strolled through like an invited guest, taking in Sunday concerts that seemed arranged just for me. In my yearbook picture, I’m seated on a bench abutting the Venetian courtyard, my hair ironed and my glasses off, seeking approval from Isabella’s palpable spirit nearby.

I envision her spirit wandering the museum, pissed off that after 25 years the FBI is still without a solid lead.

Stollen Pieces
Clearly, Isabella’s Stollen Pieces aren’t real stollen, the fragrant yeast bread filled with almonds and brandy-soaked fruit. But the cookie bars do have a lot in common with it: cinnamon, two types of raisins, orange zest, and toasted slivered almonds. With a nod to Isabella, the batter is also full of spirits. Instead of milk, I used Triple Sec liqueur to reconstitute nonfat milk powder. Why hadn’t I ever thought of that before?

Like real stollen, the pieces tend to dry out, but they stay delicious and are good dunkers in tea or coffee—or even some spirits.

Isabella’s Stollen Pieces

Have you seen this painting?

  • ¼ cup dark raisins, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped
  • Warm water to cover raisins
  • About 3/8 cup Triple Sec orange liqueur
  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 1½ tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
  • ¼ cup dry roasted slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup dry roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • Powdered sugar and water to glaze
  1. Grease a 15 1/2” x 10 1/2” x 1” jelly roll pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine dark and golden raisins. Pour enough warm water over raisins just to cover.
  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, oil, eggs, salt, soda, vanilla, orange zest and milk powder.
  4. Drain the raisins and reserve the liquid. Add enough Triple Sec orange liqueur to the reserved liquid to make ½ cup. Add to the other ingredients and stir. Mix in raisins and nuts. Spread into pan and bake at 375 degrees for 18 minutes, or until done. Cool 10 minutes.
  5. Glaze with 1 cup powdered sugar mixed with hot water to desired consistency, a tablespoon at a time.
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2 responses to Gardner Heist 25th: Isabella’s Stollen Pieces

  • Laurie says:

    You are brilliant! And so entertaining

  • Leave a Response


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