I’ve made stollen almost every Christmas of my married life since I can remember.
Sometimes, feeling lazy, I have skipped a year, only to be greeted by whimpering, pathetic expressions of disappointment from Man of the House. Little man of the house was always too busy opening presents to notice the absence of this rich, buttery bread packed with almonds, candied orange peel, raisins, and other dried fruit.
MAKING MY OWN FAMILY TRADITION
I’d like to say I grew up with this tradition, but my mom, who hated to cook, let alone bake, was too busy managing four kids to take a stab at it. So, I have created my own tradition for our little family.
We always open one present each on Christmas Eve accompanied by a glass of champagne for the grownups, and a slice of stollen. Christmas morning presents cannot start without coffee and a plate of sliced stollen, either. At some point, I started making smaller stollen to give to special friends, too.
MAKE-AHEAD STOLLEN IS THE BEST STOLLEN
The dough for this stollen is like soft, buttery bread dough, and though you fill it with dried fruits and almonds, it is not as dense or leaden as a fruitcake.
If you plan to make stollen for Christmas, be sure to allow time for it to rest and mellow for a few days (or up to two weeks) before digging in or giving it as a gift. The fruit takes some time to infuse its flavor into the bread and adds important moisture during the mellowing period.
It’s a wonderful food gift, and a great way to get into the holiday spirit before the actual crush begins.
I hope you enjoy this recipe for four small breads. (Don’t worry—they are baked on a sheet pan, so you don’t need to have a cupboard full of loaf pans to make them.) Perhaps you will start a tradition of your own.
WHAT IS STOLLEN?
Stollen is a German Christmas bread chock full of dried fruit, candied peel, and almonds. Its tradition dates back several centuries, the most famous loaf coming from Dresden.
It is made with a sweet, buttery yeast dough and sweet spices such as nutmeg, mace, cloves, and ginger. The oval shape, formed by folding the dough so one side slightly leaves a gap on top of the loaf is, sometimes, said to signify baby Jesus in swaddling clothes.
It’s baked on a baking sheet, so you don’t need any special equipment to make stollen.
Before serving, the loaf is showered with a thick blanket of powdered sugar, making it look wonderfully festive and Christmas-y to the max.
DRIED FRUIT FOR STOLLEN
Dried fruit and candied peel are the hallmarks of stollen. Not only are they delicious, but they keep the bread from drying out as it mellows with time (usually up to two weeks).
Typical fruits include candied orange and lemon peel, currants, and dark and golden raisins. However, there are many options to choose from to personalize your stollen. For this recipe, you will need 2 1/3 cups mixed dried fruit and citrus peel. The fruits below are a good guideline, but feel free to substitute your own preferred fruits if you can’t find them.
I happen to love candied peel, but unless I make it myself (which I gave up on years ago) or can find a good quality brand, I substitute diced dried apricots, which are also tart and add color.
To ensure the fruits impart moisture to the stollen, the fruits are plumped by an overnight soak in rum (Myer’s Dark Rum is my favorite) or brandy. You can soak them overnight, or if you forget (that would me) you can take the shortcut of heating the fruit and liquid in the microwave and letting them soak while the sponge rises.
YEAST AND THE SPONGE METHOD
I am a big fan of the SAF Gold Instant Yeast because it can be mixed directly into the flour without proofing (dissolving in liquid before using).
However, if you do not bake bread often, you can use either packets of instant yeast (also known as rapid rise) or you can hydrate a packet of active dry yeast in liquid before mixing it with the dry ingredients, though many say you don’t need to hydrate active dry yeast anymore. Instant yeast and active dry yeast are interchangeable in terms of amount needed for this recipe.
If you think your yeast might be old, it would still be a good idea to proof it in warm water with a bit of sugar. For more on that, read this article on King Arthur Flour.
As a precursor to mixing the dough, this recipe calls for a sponge or ‘pre-ferment,’ which is a mixture of all the liquid, the yeast, and some of the flour to make a batter-like consistency that is left to rise before being mixed into the final dough. The purpose of the sponge is to add a more complex flavor to the finished bread and also to activate enzymes needed to help the dough rise.
DON’T KILL YOUR YEAST
When making bread, the yeast is normally blended with warm milk or water to give it a boost to activate it. The liquid should be warm (100º to 110ºF, slightly warmer than body temperature), but not hot. Yeast begins to die if liquid reaches 120ºF or higher.
HOW TO MAKE A PROOF BOX
That warm place for bread? It doesn’t exist in my kitchen! For anyone living in a cold climate, getting yeasted breads to rise in your chilly kitchen in winter can take a lonnggg time.
One solution is to place a pan of warm water (like a loaf pan) in the bottom of the oven. Heat the oven to its lowest setting and then turn it off and let it cool to about 80 degrees (it should just feel warm, not hot, when you place your hand in it). Place the dough bowl in the oven until it rises.
HOW TO GIFT WRAP STOLLEN
On the day you are giving the gift:
- Dust the stollen very generously with powdered sugar and enclose it first in plastic wrap and then in clear cellophane. Don’t do this too far ahead, since the sugar tends to melt into the butter and doesn’t look as pretty.
- Seal with clear packing tape on the bottom and tie up with wide ribbon. Or wrap in plastic and then parchment or brown paper tied with baker’s twine.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH STOLLEN?
Stollen is really an all-purpose holiday treat. You could pull it out after a meal for a festive punctuation to supper when you don’t want something too sweet. Or serve it with a glass of bubbly for a Christmas Eve toast.
It’s also good with tea or coffee just about anytime you want a snack, and of course, you can serve it like we do in our house, with coffee on Christmas morning. Butter and jam, optional!
STORING AND FREEZING STOLLEN
When the stollen comes out of the oven, brush it while warm with melted butter and a coating of spiced-infused granulated sugar.
Once it is completely cool, wrap it well in plastic wrap and then in foil and let it cure for at least two days. If you are going to store it longer (up to two weeks), place the wrapped loaf in a tin or a plastic container. As the bread sits, the moisture from the fruit permeates the bread. Before serving, dust it generously with powdered sugar and slice it.
To freeze stollen, wrap in plastic, and then in foil, and freeze for up to three months. Defrost overnight on the countertop. Dust with confectioner’s sugar just before serving.
MORE GREAT HOLIDAY TREATS
For the fruit and nuts:
- 1/3 cup dark raisins
- 1/3 golden raisins
- 1/2 cup currants
- 1/2 cup diced candied orange peel, or apricots cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2/3 cup dried cranberries, cherries or other tart dried fruit cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1 cup whole almonds, with or without skins
- 1/2 cup dark rum or brandy
- 1/4 cup orange juice
For the dough:
- 5 cups (600g) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) instant dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups warm milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons oil, to coat the bowl
For the topping:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- About 1 cup powdered sugar (for serving)
1 Soak the fruit: In a medium bowl, combine all the dried fruit, rum, and orange juice together. Let soak overnight. (The almonds don’t get soaked.) Or microwave the mixture, uncovered, for 2 minutes, or until the fruit is warm. Cover with a plate and let soak for at least 1 hour.
2 Make the sponge: To make the dough, we first start by making a sponge. To make a sponge, add 2 cups of flour and the yeast to the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Set the mixer to stir or low just until the yeast and flour are combined.
Add the warm milk and increase the speed to medium-high. Beat the mixture for one minute. This is your sponge.
Detach the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for one hour.
(If using active dry yeast, place the warm milk in the bowl first, stir in the yeast, and let it stand until bubbly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour.)
3 While the sponge rises, mix together the dry ingredients: In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 cups flour, salt, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg.
4 Finish making the dough: Once the sponge has risen, return the bowl with the sponge to the base of the stand mixer and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment.
Set the mixer to medium speed, add the lemon zest to the sponge and mix to combine. Add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until each is incorporated and the dough looks like thick batter. Add the egg yolks and beat until incorporated. Beat in the sugar.
Switch the mixer to low speed and gradually add 2 1/2 cups of the flour and spice mixture to the bowl (reserve the remaining 1/2 cup). Once the dough becomes stiff and shaggy, switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook attachment.
Knead the dough on low speed for 4 to 6 minutes, then add the remaining flour and spice mixture 2 tablespoons at a time until incorporated. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue to knead with the dough hook for an additional 4 to 6 minutes. When it’s ready, the dough should be soft and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
5 Let the dough rise: In a large bowl, add the vegetable oil. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl, turning it a few times so it is coated all over with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled. If you have a cold kitchen this might take as much as an hour longer.
6 Add the fruit and nuts: Drain the fruit. Use one hand to steady the bowl and knead in the fruit and almonds with the other. When most of the fruit has been incorporated, scrape the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for a minute or two or until all the fruit and nuts are well incorporated. Let rest for 10 minutes to relax the dough before shaping.
7 Prepare the baking sheets: Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
8 Shape the loaves: On the work surface, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.
Pat one piece of dough into an 8-inch round. Fold one-third of the dough towards the middle and fold the other flap over it, leaving a gap of about one inch between the top flap and the edge of the dough so there is a ridge. Cup your hands on the outside of the dough to taper the ends and form the dough into an oval. In the end the dough should look like an oval with a ridge on top.
The loaves may not look picture perfect at this point, but they will bake into decent shapes and all will be forgiven with the final dusting of powdered sugar.
Repeat with the remaining dough pieces and place them 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets (2 loaves per sheet).
9 Let the loaves rise: Cover the loaves loosely with plastic wrap and let them rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
10 Bake the loaves: About 20 minutes before the loaves finish their final rise, heat the oven to 350ºF.
Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, then swap the top and bottom sheets and rotate each pan 180° and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until the loaves are nicely browned. (Total baking time is 40 to 45 minutes).
If the loaves seem to be browning too quickly, cover them loosely with a piece of foil. To test for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer into the center of the loaf. It should register 190°F.
Remove the loaves from the oven and let them cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the loaves to a wire rack or racks then set the racks on top of the baking sheets or parchment.
11 Make the topping and finish the bread: In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, ginger, and nutmeg.
While still warm, brush the tops and sides of the loaves with the melted butter until all of the butter is used. Sprinkle with the spiced sugar. Let cool completely.
12 To store and serve: When thoroughly cool, wrap the loaves in plastic wrap and then in foil. Store in a cool, dry place (not refrigerator) for at least 3 days before cutting and for up to 2 weeks. (You could keep them in a bread box.)
Before serving, dust generously with powdered sugar shaken through a strainer. Serve with butter, honey, or jam, if you like.
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