How the Grinch Stollen Christmas

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book………and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Stollen is a German Christmas bread in the tradition of fruitcake: a dense yeasted loaf studded with nuts, candied citrus peel, and liquor-soaked or glacéed fruits. It falls into a category of foods that I am very interested in baking because of its historical and genealogical significance, but very little interested in actually eating because of the whole dried fruit thing. So I am actually grateful that this was the Daring Bakers challenge this year—an excellent excuse to give stollen a try. I chose to fill my stollen with dried cherries, pistachios and crystallized ginger, a combination that looks Christmasy and didn’t seem too scary to me.

I decided to give myself a new challenge with this recipe and try my hand at using fresh yeast. It comes in little cakes that look remarkably like rubber erasers and it is highly perishable, so I actually bought mine the day I planned to start the bread. After allowing the yeast to proof in warm water for a few minutes, I wasn’t sure it was still active, but as you can see from the next photograph, it worked out just fine.

This bread actually reminds me a little of the Russian braided bread that my family traditionally makes for Thanksgiving or Christmas, which is a very dense braid studded with walnuts or pecans and doused with icing. I haven’t made it for years, probably at least since I got a stand mixer, which is a little funny since that dough was a huge pain to make by hand. This stollen recipe is an enriched dough, meaning it contains milk, eggs and butter, so it was much more pleasant to work with, almost velvety in texture after a few minutes of kneading. I let it proof in my oven for a few hours (where it practically exploded) before tucking it into the fridge overnight.

The next morning, with the dough threatening to overflow its bowl again, I buzzed up a batch of marzipan to fill my loaves. Now, if I had really been thinking straight, I would have tried making pistachio marzipan to continue the flavor themes in the bread, but have you noticed that it is really hard not to immediately eat at least one out of every three pistachios you shell? I should have bought more. In any case, this time I stuck with the ordinary almond-based marzipan.

I’m told that the traditional shaping of a stollen loaf is meant to emulate the swaddling of the baby Jesus, but I found that out a little late in the process, so I actually decided to make two different variations of wreaths instead, both incorporating strategic scissor-work.

Into the oven for about 45 minutes, and they came out…

…golden brown and beautiful. The recipe calls for giving them several coatings of melted butter and powdered sugar, both for looks and for the preservative effect. We gave them a few hours to cool before digging in, in which time I totally forgot my plan to gift one of the loaves to some friends of ours that came for a short visit, so it is a good thing that we really liked the stollen. It baked up crisp outside and tender inside, aromatic with cinnamon, vanilla and citrus zests.

There is also an awful lot of it. This recipe makes two huge loaves, and even if stollen is intended to be eaten on the stale side, I doubt whether we will be able to eat it all before New Year’s. Fortunately, I am already having thoughts about stollen French toast and stollen bread pudding, so I am thinking we can make it work. 🙂

Thanks so much to Penny for selecting this month’s challenge! Stollen may not make it into our family Christmas traditions, but I was very glad to have made it at least once, and to be honest, it was pretty much the only Christmas baking I could muster up this year. Happy holidays to everyone, and be sure to check out all the beautiful loaves of stollen at the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Stollen Wreath

1/4 C lukewarm water (110º F)
2 packages (4 1/2 tsp or 1/2 oz) active dry yeast (if using fresh yeast, use 1 oz)
1 C milk
10 T unsalted butter
5 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon or orange extract
3/4 C mixed candied peel, optional
1 C firmly packed raisins, cranberries, cherries or other dried fruit
3 T rum, orange juice or water
12 red glacé cherries, roughly chopped, optional
1 C almonds, pistachios, or other nuts, chopped or flaked
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

In a small bowl, soak the dried fruit in the rum (or orange juice or water) and set aside. Pour 1/4 cup warm water into another small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely. In a small saucepan, combine milk and butter over medium-low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes. In yet another small bowl, lightly beat eggs and add lemon and vanilla extracts.

In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests. Then mix in the yeast/water mixture, egg mixture and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes, and be a soft but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes; this amount of time is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to give the dough a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough because some of the mix-ins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge, but it does rise slowly; the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator for several days if necessary.

Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches and 1/4″ thick. (If you want smaller loaves, just divide it in half or thirds before shaping.) Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long thin cylinder with the ends tapered. (If you want, you can roll out a snake of marzipan or almond paste the length of the dough, and roll it into the center of the bread here.) Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle.

Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough. Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.

Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F in the center of the loaf and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot. Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter. Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first. The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar. Let cool at least an hour before serving. (Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings helps keeps the stollen fresh – especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!) When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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