I don’t have a lick of German in me, as far as I know. Well, maybe I do. My heritage is European Heinz-57 through and through, so maybe there’s some German in there somwhere. I don’t know that but I do know that I love German food…and beer. I love bratwurst with loads of mustard, spätzle, potato dumplings, Bavarian pretzels, any kind of küchen, and a good cold kölsch on a hot day.
On a rather cold day (the type of cold day that tears would freeze to your face when the wind blew just a puff) when I was in college, I wandered into the little bakery a stone’s throw away from campus. It was around Christmas, right after break had started. I was heading home to the eastern part of the state and wanted to take something extra special with me. In the case sat a less-than-aesthetically-perfect loaf of bread (of some sort) covered in powdered sugar. There were craggy little protrusions on the bread, resembling tiny boulders on a doughy mountaintop. I wasn’t quite sure what those were but I was intrigued. A little tent card read “Christmas Stollen” and half a loaf cost upwards of $12. Psh. Why buy this ugly loaf for an arm-and-a-leg when I could buy a perfectly good loaf of sourdough for 1/3 the amount?
Well, the good looking bearded man, one flour dusted hand holding a bread paddle and the other propping up a basket of boulés on his hip, saw my interest was piqued. He set down the paddle and put the bread in its appropriate shelf and insisted cutting off a piece for me to try. I can’t resist bearded men or the bread (two of my weaknesses), so I took it. The sliver he passed on the edge of his knife was dense (almost cake like) with jeweled specks of fruit and nuts catching the light. I brought the bread to my mouth, the powdered sugar leaving a trail on my lower lip, and the bite was filled with the flavor of a thousand winters.
Stollen is a little sourdough-like in flavor with a dense, somewhat cakey crumb, partly because it sits for at least two weeks before serving. Booze-soaked fruit and nuts are folded into the batter, along with some additional flavorings and spices, and there you have a colorful canvas of flavors.
Going back to my granola roots, in this recipe, I used AP and whole wheat flours. Traditionally, along with the raisins, currents, and other dried fruits, you add candied lemon and orange rind. Instead, I used lemon and orange zest (to reduce sugar) and crystallized ginger. Candied fruit reminds me too much of fruit cakes that could pass for door-stops, so it was an easy omission. I think stollen can easily be classified as a canvas food–one you can add or take away as much or as little as you please. It’s safe to say, in my research prior to attempting one on my own, it seems most German families have their own recipes (some recipes passed down for hundreds of years) and anything else is scheisse.
I combined several recipes into one, but the one I drew from the most was from nothing other than a youTube video. If you’re wondering about a bread sponge (or if my directions confuse the love of cooking out of you), well, fear no more:
Do be warned (maybe I should have warned you about the music in the video above..hehe): this is a time-intensive bread recipe; there’s a lot of prepping and waiting, but I promise you it’s worth the wait!
- ½ cup golden raisins
- ½ cup dried cherries, chopped
- ½ cup apricots, chopped
- ½ cup cried cranberries
- Shot of spiced rum (or Grand Marnier if you're feeling fancy)
- 3 cups of AP flour, less 6 Tbsp.
- 6 Tbsp. cornstarch (or omit AP flour and cornstarch and use 3 cups of cake flour)
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1½ (12 grams) packs of active dry yeast
- ½ cup lukewarm milk
- 1½ stick of butter (3/4 cup), melted
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- ½ cup + 2 Tbsp. milk
- Zest of 2 lemons
- zest of 3 oranges
- ¼ cup crystallized ginger, chopped
- ¾ cup flaked almonds, slightly toasted
- ½ cup shelled unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped and slightly toasted
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. almond extract
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pinch of cardamom
- Soak raisins, cherries, apricots, and cranberries in rum or brandy overnight.
- Sift flours and cornstarch (if using) into a bowl. Create well in the center of the flour about half way through the flour. Add yeast, 1 Tbsp. sugar, and 3-4 Tbsp. of milk to well. scramble with a fork until everything well mixed. Sprinkle top of sponge with a pinch or two of flour. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, the yeast sponge should be bubbly in the center of the flour. Around the edges, add salt, remaining sugar, and citrus zest being sure not to dump it right on the sponge. Don't stir yet! Add remaining milk (nuke it a few seconds in the microwaved if it's cooled off), vanilla, almond extract and spices. Whisk or mix with the paddle attachment in your stand mixer on medium-low speed or until everything is combined. Add melted butter and mix again until everything is well combined or until dough peels away from the sides of the bowl.
- If using a mixer, switch to dough hook for kneading. Knead dough on medium speed for 10-15 minutes.
- Once kneaded, take the dough from the bowl and level it on a lightly floured surface, almost as if you're making cinnamon rolls. Add pickled fruit, roasted nuts, and crystallized ginger. Working with your hands, fold the nuts, fruit and ginger into the dough. Note: You might be able to use the mixer for this if using slivered almonds. I didn't want my flaked almonds to fall all to pieces.
- Place dough in a bowl and cover. Let rest and rise for an hour and thirty minutes or until doubled in bulk.
- Divide dough into two (or three if you'd like smaller stöllens) balls. With a rolling pin, roll dough into an oval about 1 inch thick. Using your rolling pin, make a trench in the center of the dough. The center of the dough will be quite thin (maybe ½ inch) while the rest of the dough is several inches thick on either side of the trough. Take a long handled spoon or spatula. Set the spoon length along the lower inner edge of one of the two thick sides, within the trough. Fold the thick side (the one closest to the spoon) over the spoon toward the other thick side, until the two thick sides meet.
- Remove spoon.
- Place stollen on greased baking stone or parchment lined baking sheet. Let rest for 40 minutes.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes if baking 3 small stollen, 45 minutes if baking 2 medium stollen, or 1 hour if baking 1 large stollen, checking to make sure it's not browning too quickly.
- Once finished baking, brush with melted butter immediately. Using a sifter, cover with a healthy dusting of powdered sugar. Let cool overnight.
- Once cool, cover with powdered sugar once again. Wrap stollen in foil, place inside a ziploc, and let rest in a cool, dry place for at least two weeks so all the ingredients can marry.