Whilst we do love a bit of tradition at Christmastime here in Britain, I mean Christmas dinner really hasn’t changed that much since the 18th century, over recent years we’ve been very open to newer, European imports at this time of year. Alongside our sprouts, Baileys & mince pies, we find ourselves adding treats such as panettone, speculaas & stollen to our baskets.
As our own traditional Christmas cake becomes less popular year on year, our European sweet offerings are become more & more a part of our festivities. Most supermarkets now produce their own versions of these bakes, with stollen, or stollen bites being one of the more popular choices, but these commercially produced options aren’t a scratch on the real thing that can quite easily be created in your kitchen.
No matter where in Europe you travel or find yourself, most of our beloved Christmas bakes are a celebration of all things heavy, fruit laden & packed with sugar (everything that I cherish about the season), well, stollen is no different. Originating in Dresden, early stollen was very different to the one we know today. It was made using flour, yeast, oil & water making it rather tasteless & hard.
This was all down to the Catholic church who had forbidden the use of butter & milk during the time of Advent (a time of fasting). That was the case until the bakers of Dresden requested that Prince Ernst von Sachsen petitioned the pope to reconsider & lift the butter ban. The request was denied & continued to be denied through the duration of five popes until , finally, in 1490 Pope Innocent VIII sent what is now known as the Butterbrief (butter letter) to the Prince, lifting the ban & granting the use of butter once more. Gradually, stollen developed from that point into a sweeter bread with richer ingredients such as fruits & marzipan.
It even became an important symbol for the city of Dresden who, every year, hold a Stollenfest. It began in 1730 when the King commissioned the bakers of Dresden to bake a gian stollen to impress his subjects, one that would be big enough for all 24,000 of the to have a portion to eat. Both an oversized oven & knife had to be designed & built solely for its creation. Today, on the Saturday prior to the 2nd Advent, a stollen usually weighing in at around 3 to 4 tonnes is paraded though the city streets via horse & carriage to the Christmas market, where it is ceremoniously cut into pieces & sold to the crowd for charity (now this is the kind of tradition we should be adopting here!).
This much-loved, long, sugar drenched bread is like a hybrid the fruitiness & subtle spice of a hot cross bun & the slight denseness & marzipan of a Christmas cake. It is undoubtedly a Christmas treat worth having on the table, particularly good for a Christmas morning breakfast or a post Boxing day walk pick-me-up with a strong cup of tea (it’s gorgeous very lightly toasted & with even MORE butter spread on top). It’s a lot simpler to make than it looks, most of your time will be spent waiting for the dough to do its thing, then you can either make one large stollen from my recipe or you can divide it up to make two smaller loaves & gift one.
(makes one large or two small loaves)
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 100g caster sugar
- 10g fast action yeast
- 7g salt
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- A pinch of clove
- 150g butter
- 250ml milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 400g mixed dried fruit
- 50g flaked almonds
- 225g marzipan
For the topping:
- 35g salted butter
- Icing sugar
- In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, yeast, salt & spices
- Gently warm the milk & butter together in a small saucepan or in microwave & leave to cool slightly until just lukewarm
- Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture & pour in the milk mixture
- Stir until the mixture no flour remains & a soft dough is formed (you many not need all of the milk mixture, alternatively use a little water if your dough feels a bit dry)
- Empty the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface & knead for 10 minutes (or 5 minutes if using a dough hook in a stand mixer) until it is smooth, elastic & it has a slight shine
- Use your hands to shape the dough into a ball shape & place back into the bowl, cover with some clingfilm or a tea towel & leave to rise for one & a half to two hours, until it has doubled in size
- Once your dough has risen, tip it out onto a floured work surface & knock back the dough (knead out the air pockets)
- Use your hands to stretch out the dough slightly & add all of the dried fruits & almonds onto the dough
- Knead everything into the dough until it is evenly distributed throughout
- Take your dough & roll it or stretch it out into a rectangular shape
- Next, take your marzipan & knead it a little until it becomes softer & more pliable
- Then, roll your marzipan out into a log slightly shorter than the longest side of your dough rectangle
- Place the marzipan log in the centre of your dough lengthways, then tuck the shortest ends over the marzipan before carefully rolling it up to encase the marzipan log inside the middle of the dough
- Cover with cling film, or a tea towel, or (my preference) place inside a bag for life & leave to prove for another one & a half hours, or until the loaf has doubled in size
- Bake the stollen at 180C for 40 minutes, then cover the top of the loaf loosely with some foil & return to the oven for a further 20 minutes
- Whilst the loaf is baking, gently melt the butter glaze in a small saucepan set over a low heat
- Once the stollen is baked, remove from the oven & brush all over with the butter before generously dusting it all over with plenty of icing sugar
- Leave the loaf to cool on a cooling rack until cold