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Christmas is a time of elaborate fruit-and-booze-laden breads, puddings, and cakes. It is the time of airy panettone and fruitcake and brandy-soaked puddings lit on fire. It is also the time of stollen, a traditional German Christmas treat of yeasted bread stuffed to the gills with brandy-soaked fruit and marzipan, then coated with a shell of powdered sugar.
Stollen is supposed to resemble the baby Jesus asleep in the manger, but looks more like an oblong white puck. But don't let appearances deceive you—beneath the slightly lackluster exterior is a booze-soaked jumble of dried fruit and citrus zests held together with moist, yeasted dough. And the best part: a central vein of marzipan runs down the middle, keeping the loaf moist and imbuing each bite with a nutty almond flavor. Basically, stollen is all the cozy holiday feelings you've ever had (sitting in front of a fire, opening gifts, listening to carols, watching Elf, etc.) combined in one very festive bread.
I'm not going to sugar-coat (ha!) it for you—stollen is a slightly complicated bread to make, requiring a hefty ingredient list and several steps. However, if you read the recipe thoroughly beforehand, stick to the instructions, and allow yourself plenty of time, you'll be golden. The bread takes roughly 48 hours to make, though most of the time is hands-off: The dried fruit medley needs to soak in a bath of brandy and rum, the dough requires several rounds of rising, and the marzipan filling has to chill. Plus, the finished product requires a 24-hour rest before eating so that the bread has ample time to absorb the moisture from its fillings and allow the flavors to meld. However, once this rest is over, the stollen will keep for up to three weeks, thanks to the shell of powdered sugar keeping it moist—just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it at room temperature. Bonus: this quirk makes stollen the ideal make-ahead treat for all your holiday gifting, breakfasting, and last-minute company needs. Here's how to make the ultimate Christmas bread at home (ready your rum and brandy):
The day before you want to make your bread, mix up the filling. Combine dried fruit, toasted almonds, citrus zest and juice, and booze (typically rum or brandy, or both!) in a medium bowl and refrigerate overnight. Feel free to sub in different dried fruits to suit your preference, or switch up the soaking liquor. If you want to go alcohol-free, replace the booze with hot water. You can also whip up the almond filling and spice mix a day in advance.
An hour or so before making your bread, combine yeast, sugar, warm milk, and flour to make a sponge. Cover and let it ferment for around one hour at room temperature.
Now it's time to start the bread! In a large bowl (or stand mixer), using a wooden spoon, mix milk, egg, vanilla, and sugar. Tear the fermented sponge into pieces and stir them into the egg mixture. The dough will not be homogeneous at all at this point—don't fret. Add the flour and spice mix and mix until the dough is a shaggy mass.
Turn the dough out onto a clean, unfloured surface and knead for a few minutes until it comes together. It may be sticky at first, and you may be tempted to add flour, but resist the urge! (Okay, a little dusting is fine.) Add the soft butter bit by bit while kneading until all the butter is incorporated. (I found this hard to do by hand, so I used a dough hook in a stand mixer to add the butter.) The dough will be sticky, so feel free to tame it with a scraper if needed. At the end of the kneading, the dough will feel buttery and will have developed some integrity.
Let the dough rest on the work surface for a few minutes, then pat it into a flat disk. Add the fruit-and-nut filling and enclose both of them in the dough. Knead the dough until the fruit mixture is evenly distributed throughout the dough. Be patient: if some fruit or nuts fall out, add them back in and keep kneading. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let ferment.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a cylinder, press down to flatten, and then create a trough down the middle. Pat the chilled almond filling evenly down the divot. You can either roll the almond filling into a cylinder for a neater presentation or just add in with your fingers like I did. Fold the dough over the marzipan filling, pinch the sides to seal, and let it rest for 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough.
Form each loaf into a football shape, ensuring the filling is neatly encased in the middle. Make the shape as tight as you can, and make sure any pinched seals are tucked under the loaf.
Now it's time to make the traditional stollen shape. Using a lightly floured dowel rod or wooden spoon handle, press down on each loaf 2 inches from the edge, from one end to the other, and repeat on the other side. This creates a clean indentation on both sides of the football shape and a concentration of dough in the center. Make the indentations pretty deep, as they will fill in during baking. Repeat on the second loaf.
Place stollen on a parchment-lined baking pan. Combine the melted butter, rum, and brandy and brush the dough with it. Cover the loaves lightly with plastic wrap and proof for 1 hour, while preheating the oven to 350°F. Uncover the loaves, brush them once more with the butter mixture, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until nicely browned and cooked through.
Remove the stollen from the oven and poke all over with a fork or skewer. While still warm, brush the loaves with the rum butter once again. Finally, dust heavily with powdered sugar until you have a thick, white coating.
Let loaves cool fully then wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. It will be hard, but be sure to let them sit for at least 24 hours before eating so the flavors can develop. Good news: they'll only improve for the next two to three weeks, so make them now for Christmas breakfasts, holiday gift exchanges, and late-night snacks. (That is, if you can manage to keep them around for that long.)
- 1/3 cup flame raisins (40g)
- 2/3 cup golden raisins (80g)
- 2/3 cup currants (80g)
- 1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped (80g)
- 2 tablespoons candied orange peel (30g)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons orange zest
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- 2 tablespoons white rum
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
- 5 tablespoons almond paste
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons bread crumbs (I used panko)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Sponge & Dough
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast (8g)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (20g)
- 1/4 cup 1 tablespoon whole milk (80g)
- 3/4 cup 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I like King Arthur) (125g)
- 3 tablespoons whole milk (45g)
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (20g)
- 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (240g)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup 3 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature (150g)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (60g)
- 2 tablespoons white rum
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- Powdered sugar
Do you have a festive baked good that screams "It's the holidays!"? Share in the comments so we can add it to our holiday baking roster!