How to bake the perfect stollen | Food | The Guardian
Christmas is the only time of year when our stomachs can rest blessed free from the vagaries of fashion, even people who have spent the last 12 months dining exclusively kimchi and salted caramel crouts are happy to sit on December 25 to a menu that hasn’t changed much since the 18th century. But, while change for the sake of it must be frowned upon (and I will die before admitting that bacon has some place in a trifle), some new traditions should be welcomed with open arms.
Personally, the Italian panettone leaves me cold; more Germanic imports, heavier and richer, fit much better with the British climate. Chief among these recent additions, as far as I’m concerned, is stollen, a fruit-rich bread from Dresden, often enriched with the familiar flavor of marzipan, making it the decadent child of a hot cross bun and festive fruitcake. I can’t get enough of things, but, while it’s perfectly possible to buy very decent examples at certain discount supermarkets, it’s one of those things that gets even better done at home, and not just because it makes the whole house smell like Christmas.
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The two German recipes I try, from Luisa Weiss’s Classic German Baking and the charming blog A Sausage Has Two, call for simple flour, as does Martha Stewart, while the Serious Eats version uses strong-bread flour. Generally speaking, of course, the latter, with its higher protein content, is the best bet for bread, as the extra gluten gives the dough a stronger, more elastic structure. But stollen is no ordinary bread; In fact, it’s supposed to be quite dense and tight, which means that simple flour seems like the way to go here.
Doves Farm, producers of various organic flours, give a recipe for stollen using wheat, rye and spelt flour on their blog, which sounds pleasantly Germanic. This is a recipe where you can get away with substituting heavier flours, since the results will never be light, but while it definitely tastes interesting, it doesn’t taste like stollen to me: “A little worthy,” says a tester, looking for another piece.
I will start my stollen with a very fast preferment, in which the yeast, flour and milk are left to their own devices for 30 minutes, as in the Serious Eats recipe. I think it gives the bread a more complex flavor (although its poor increase suggests that I probably overheated the milk and managed to kill half of the yeast) – you can leave it longer if you want, but half an hour seems almost feasible at this hectic time of year.
Most modern stollen recipes sometimes use baking powder instead of traditional yeast, which makes their preparation much faster. In fact, quarkstollen, where fresh low-fat cheese is added to the dough to add “moisture and tenderness” in Weiss’s words, is almost always made this way (note: if time is of the essence and you can’t find quark, Stewart opts for the most widely available ricotta instead). This is certainly helpful if you have a yen for instant gratification, but baking powder versions lack the depth of flavor of yeast-raised ones, so it’s definitely a compromise.
eggs There’s no getting around the fact that stollen is a decadent proposition, designed to celebrate one of the biggest feasts of the ecclesiastical year, and the amount of butter that goes into it can raise some eyebrows. The two richest recipes I try come from A Sausage Has Two and Serious Eats, which use a ratio of about one part butter to three parts flour, an amount so large that, doing the former, I feel moved to double check it before pouring it (melting the butter, as suggested by A Sausage Has Two and Doves Farm, It is easier than rubbing it in the dough, as in the other recipes). It is no coincidence that these two have the softest textures and richest flavors, so I am afraid that you will have to accept the inevitable and cut it finer if this worries you. In the same spirit, Serious Eats egg yolks, rather than whole eggs, will give the dough a more tender crumb and a deeper color and flavor.
Interestingly, A Sausage Has Two asks that the dry dough sit for 40 minutes before adding the butter, although at this point it seems only half-finished and surrounded by unincorporated flour. I suspect this is because too much fat can keep the bread from going up, but since this doesn’t seem to be a problem in the Doves Farm version, and since I’m already using a pre-ferment and would like to keep the stages to a minimum, I’m not going to bother.
are a necessity in stollen, but amounts vary wildly, with Doves Farm using a sugar-to-flour ratio of 1:13 and Stewart confirming the idea that Americans have a sweet tooth by sticking more than six times that amount. Although their bread is lovely, it is very sweet compared to many of the others, and testers decide they prefer the contrast between a tastier crumb and the plump, sweet fruit inside, so my stollen will be towards the more austere end of the spectrum.
The spices you
choose to include are largely up to you (one of the joys of doing this at home) but, to give you an idea of the options available, A Sausage Has Two and Doves Farm use vanilla, Stewart cardamom and mace and Doves Farm mixed spices. (Interestingly, Weiss avoids any spices: clearly, this is a simpler matter than the average British holiday baking.) Unsurprisingly, I like nutmeg and cardamom, but feel free to choose your own favorite poison.
Although fruit isn’t a must-have either, Weiss opts only for walnuts and lemon zest, I love the pops of juicy sweetness it offers, especially when soaked in alcohol or clementine juice (as in the Doves Farm recipe) beforehand. Dark rum seems to be the most popular choice, suggesting Germans have a taste for tropical, but bourbon from Serious Eats and brandy from Doves Farm work perfectly fine if you don’t have anything else playing. Again, the fruit mix is largely up to you, though I like a variety of colors and textures in mine and a good handful of candied peel (if you’re reluctant to the latter, feel free to substitute some freshly grated lemon or orange zest or avoid citrus altogether).
Almonds, although not mandatory, add a pleasant crunch. Weiss also uses them ground, which tastes great, but, in the heavier, butterier dough I’m planning, I’d probably sink any chance of it going up even slightly. If you want even more almond flavor, Stewart’s almond essence is a smart addition, though I’d rather get mine through the addition of a marzipan snake. This is definitely optional, older recipes don’t include it, but, really, why wouldn’t you?
cook and glaze
As the images demonstrate, explaining how shaping a stollen is harder than actually doing it; in fact, I suspect a line of Weiss’s recipe must have been lost, because I do nothing but spread it out and put it in the oven, from where it emerges an hour later, A solid, yet tasty brick. It’s easier, I think, to see how it’s done.
Don’t be tempted to bake it too much: stollen is better a little squid than dry and crunchy. Traditionally, it is glazed with several layers of melted butter and icing sugar to keep it fresh, because this is definitely what you need right now, and then ripened for at least a week before consumption. I challenge you to try to keep it that long.
Makes 1 estollen100g dried fruit of your choice (I like sultanas, currants and morello cherries)2 tablespoons dark rum or other liqueur160 ml whole milk3 teaspoons dried active yeast425 g plain flour, plus 1 tablespoon150 g butter, plus 2 tablespoons for glazing50 g melted sugar1 teaspoon fine salt1/2 teaspoon nutmeg ground or other spice of your choice2 egg yolks25g mixed shell150 g marzipan25 g almonds flakes4 tablespoon icing sugar
Put the fruit in a bowl with the rum, cover and let it soak. Meanwhile, heat the milk until hot. Whisk the yeast and 1 extra tablespoon of flour, then add the milk and let stand for 30 minutes to an hour until the top is covered with a dough of small bubbles. While fermenting, melt the butter (except for the extra 2 tablespoons) and let cool a little.
Mix the remaining flour, sugar, salt and spices in a large bowl and then pour the milk mixture along with the yolks. Mix well, then add the melted butter until you have a coherent dough. Place on a clean surface and knead for about 8-10 minutes until soft and slightly elastic. Cover and reserve a warm spot for about an hour until slightly up.
Place on a lightly floured surface and knead on the soaked fruit, discarding (or consuming) any liquid that has not been absorbed, plus the mixed peel and nuts until well dispersed. Put back in the bowl, cover and leave on for another 30 minutes.
Get out on the same surface and flatten into a rough oval shape, then use a roller to make a trench along the oval, about a third of the way. Slightly bend the two ends of the trench to make a lip at each end, then roll the marzipan into a sausage of the same length as the dough and place it in the trench. Fold the larger side over the top of the marzipan and press down to seal on the other side; It’s easier to see this done online. Put on a lined baking sheet and let stand for another 40 minutes. Heat oven to 200C.
Bake the stollen for about 30 minutes until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Meanwhile, melt the extra butter, then brush over the bread, sprinkle with icing sugar and repeat this several times until the stollen has a white frosting. Let cool, wrap well and store for at least two days, and up to a week, before putting in.
Stollen: better than Christmas cake or a poor cousin of panettone? What do you like yours and what imported holiday traditions have become part of your annual celebrations?