German Stollen is a rich, buttery bread packed with almonds, citrus peel, and rum-soaked raisins and dried fruit and typically enjoyed around Christmas time. The bread can be made weeks ahead of time and just gets better with each passing day. This makes it perfect to give as gifts or to bring as hostess gifts for parties.
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.