The first time I ever tried Stollen was in my brother’s flat in Paris, in 2003, where he served me a slice with a spoonful of creme fraiche, and it was love at first bite: a heavy, bread-like loaf, it’s the only fruitcake I’ve ever liked – and I don’t even mind the marzipan in the middle. Now, each Christmas I get to watch everyone else eat mountains of it (my mother-in-law made me a gluten-free one last year but it fell apart before the knife even touched it), as at the start of every December my mother-in-law bakes two: one to be eaten with my husband’s in front of the fire on Christmas eve; and another for me to put in my suitcase to take to my family for Christmas Day in London. I can’t say packing a weighty Stollen does much to help me stay within my luggage allowance, but it does wonders for German-British inter-familial relations.
My friend Ginger, prolific food writer and German baker extraordinaire, has very kindly offered to share here the trusted Stollen recipe that her family have been making and enjoying for many years. If you’d like to give it a go, you should get started pronto as it needs a while to mature and develop its wonderful flavour. Many thanks to Ginger for sharing the recipe; please go and visit her blog, Ginger & Bread, for much, much more of this sort of thing – you won’t be disappointed. Over to you, Ginger. And happy baking!
One of the most famous German cakes is most certainly the Stollen, a rather heavy sweet yeast bread that is often associated with Christmas. The first documented Stollen dates back to the 13th Century and to Saxonia-Anhalt in the east of Germany, and although we would probably not recognize that particular recipe, the shape and the basic ingredients haven’t really changed too much over the centuries. Filled with raisins, candied peel and almonds, the way the Stollen is traditionally folded and covered in a thick layer of icing sugar is vaguely reminiscent of a swaddled baby – the Baby Jesus, to be precise. No wonder it has become one of the most widely recognized Christmas cakes around the world.
The following recipe is based on a recipe from one of my favourite books of German bakery, Backvergnügen wie noch nie, a title that loosely translates as, “Enjoy baking like never before”. This book was published in the 1984 and was a huge success: it offered such a vast range of recipes, both traditional and new, that it quickly became a classic. I remember using it for a variety of cakes and biscuits as a teenager, and when I left home, I naturally nicked my mum’s copy.
Unfortunately I subsequently lost it, much to everybody’s dismay, as with it we had lost many of our very favourite cake recipes. You can therefore imagine my excitement when, in 2003, the publishers brought out a reprint of the original – and thus enabled me to present you with this failsafe recipe for a classic Christmas Stollen!
Christstollen (makes 2 large loaves)
For the dough:
1.2 kg plain flour
18g dry active yeast
400ml lukewarm milk
100g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
the zest of one unwaxed lemon
½ tsp salt
400g unsalted butter
100g blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
150g mixed peel, finely chopped
1 shot glass of dark rum
For the glaze:
200g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
First, mix the raisins and the mixed peel, add the rum and leave to soak.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, then form a well in the middle of the flour into which you pour the milk; stir in the yeast and a pinch of the sugar, then cover it with a tea towel and leave to rest for around 10 minutes. Once the milk starts bubbling away, the yeast has been activated and you’re ready to go.
Add the remaining sugar, the vanilla extract, salt, lemon zest and eggs and knead until the dough begins to form a ball. You might not be able to incorporate all the flour. Cover the dough and leave it to rest for around 40 minutes.
Melt the butter over a low heat, then mix it into the dough. Keep kneading until it has been fully incorporated, then cover and rest it for a further 30 minutes.
Add the chopped almonds and the raisins and peel, mix well, then cover and rest for a further 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each out into a long strand, flatten it out and fold one side over the middle to give it the traditional Stollen shape.
Pack the two Stollen side-by-side onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment (if possible). You might need to fold up the parchment in the middle to prevent the two Stollen from merging.
Cover the Stollen with a tea towel and leave them to rest for a further 20 minutes or until they have risen considerably.
Preheat the oven to 200-210˚c and bake the Stollen for 60-80 minutes on the lowest shelf.
Melt the remaining butter and use approximately 1/3 of it to glaze the hot Stollen, then sprinkle with a generous layer of icing sugar.
Repeat with more butter, then icing sugar, until you have achieved a solid white coat. This prevents the Stollen from drying out.
Wrap the Stollen in cling film and store in an airtight container or a tin in a cool place; they will take a week to develop their unique taste. Once opened, they’ll keep for a week or two if you keep wrapping them back up and storing them in a tin.
All images by Ginger & Bread unless credited otherwise.