Stollen (German Christmas Bread)

Dsc00616 Because I am a “foodie”, one of my favorite things to do when I travel is browse the learn about the traditional foods of the country that I am visiting.  During my recent trip to Germany, I loved having the opportunity to see (and sample!) all of the wonderful European breads and pastries that the bakeries prepared freshly each morning (Why is it so hard to find here in America the same quality of these pastries that is seemingly produced effortlessly all over Europe?). While most tourists snap photos of architecture and historic landmarks, I was capturing an array of gingerbread and Kugelhopf in a bakery window.  It was so difficult to select which one I would try for my breakfast with coffee or for a mid-afternoon snack after hours of walking around the markets.  Time and time again however, I found myself going back to my favorite kind: Stollen.

Stollen is a bread-like cake traditionally made in Germany, usually eaten during the Christmas season.  It has similar characteristic to a fruitcake in that it contains dried fruits, nuts, spices, and sometimes liqueurs, but it is made with yeast and is not nearly as dense or sweet.  Whenever I tried it in Germany, it was finished with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, but I prefer it with a simple glaze.  This is a recipe that I have been making for a few years now and it never fails me.  It makes two large loaves, so it is good for a large crowd on Christmas morning or afternoon coffee, or you can keep one and give the other one away.  There are two options for shaping the loaves, which I detail below.  I prefer to use the ring shape for serving at home for the “wow” factor, but recommend the loaf shape for gifts as it is much more portable.  Here are my recipe tips:

  • The stollen are best when eaten the day they are made, but they will keep for up to 3 days, tightly covered, at room temperature.  I suggest reheating pieces in a 325F degree oven, wrapped in foil, until warmed through.
  • 3 packages of yeast is equal to 2 tablespoons plus 3/4 teaspoon yeast.
  • Feel free to mix up the types of dried fruits that you use for the recipe.  For the recipe in the picture, I substituted dried peaches for the apricots and dried blueberries for the currants.  Currants are a very small variety of a seedless grape, and can be hard to find, so you may need to substitute another fruit for these.
  • If you don’t want to soak the fruits in liqueur, then double up on the orange juice for soaking purposes.
  • This recipe produces quite a bit of the fruit and nut filling and it can be challenging to work it all into the dough.  Work as much in as you can and then discard the rest, but the dough should be fairly full of the filling, evenly distributed (see photo below).
  • As an alternative to make the ring shaped stollen, you can make the more traditional longDsc00612  oval loaf shape.  To do this, roll the halved portion of dough into an 8 by 12 inch rectangle and then brush it with melted butter.  Fold the long sides of the rectangle over the center, overlapping each other by one inch.  Turn the dough over and taper the ends, and then place it on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.  Bake at 350F degrees for 40-45 minutes.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar or drizzle with glaze when cooled.

Stollen

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients:

11 cups flour, sifted

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups whole milk, warmed

2 1/2 sticks butter, melted, plus 4 tablespoons for brushingDsc00601

3 packages active dry yeast, dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water

6 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 1/4 cups currants, soaked in 1/2 cup Brandy or Cognac

2 1/2 cups golden raisins, soaked in 1/2 cup orange juice

Zest of 4 oranges

Zest of 2 lemons

3/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 1/2 cups chopped or sliced almonds

1 cup confectioner’s sugar plus 2 tablespoons whole milk for icing

Dsc00604_2 Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Stir in the milk and butter.  Add the yeast mixture and eggs; stir until combined.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until fairly smooth.

In a medium bowl, combine the currants and raisins along with their soaking liquids.  Add the zests, cranberries, apricots, extract, and almonds and toss well.  Gradually knead this mixture into the dough, using your hands to work it in and flouring the surface as needed to prevent sticking.  Continue to knead for about 10 minutes and then place the dough into a large buttered bowl.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.

Punch the dough down and divide into 2 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a long rectangle about 16 by 24 inches and 1/4 inch thick.  Starting with a long side, roll up tightly to form a cylinder.  Carefully transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and then join the ends together, pinching together with fingers, forming a large circle.  Using sharp scissors or a knife, Dsc00607 make cuts along the outside of the circle, at 2 inch intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough.  Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape with all of the segments overlapping.  Brush each of the rings with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter.  Cover each pastry with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise for 30 minutes.  They will not rise much.

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.  Bake the rings for 45 minutes, until golden brown and crusty.  Cool on a wire rack before icing.  To ice, mix the confectioner’s sugar and 2 tablespoons of milk until well combined.  Drizzle over the cooled stollen.

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