Mmmm, there’s nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the oven, particularly when it’s filled with spices. The smell permeates the house and makes you feel good about life. And so it was today when I made Christmas Stollen for the first time ever.
Stollen has long been one of my favourite breads. Enriched brioche style bread, studded with dried fruit and filled with almond paste – it’s truly a joy to eat. I’ve had it on my hit-list for some time and finally I got time to make it. I searched high and low for a recipe and found this one from Cassie Best at BBC Good Food.com. What I loved about it was the fact that it was braided, rather than the traditional folded version. That means you end up with three individual threads of almond paste rather than the usual one. It was a little fussier to make, but the result was spectacular – it looked amazing and tasted even better – so good, my Dutch dad couldn’t believe I’d made it!
Of course, it does require a bit of know-how when it comes to bread-making – knowing how long to knead the dough for, how long to prove it (first and second time) and how long to bake it. I’m not suggesting it’s a doddle, but with a bit of practice it’s definitely doable. I’ve gone to some length to clarify the original recipe’s scant instructions and added in some tips I picked up along the way.
And, speaking of tips, can I just say… make sure you’re using the correct yeast type. I say this because I used the wrong one – duh. The recipe calls for ‘fast-action dried yeast’ – I read that as ‘active dried yeast’ which is what I had in the cupboard. But nope… two different beasts entirely, as I discovered afterwards. The ‘fast-action dried yeast’ can be added directly to dry ingredients; the ‘active dried yeast’, on the other hand, needs activating first in warm liquid (in the case of this recipe, the milk). Luckily for me, my stollen still came out great, though who knows what lofty heights it might have otherwise attained! Anyway, lesson learned; lesson shared.
In the meantime, I hope you give this wonderful festive bread a go – I know I’ll be making it again next year, this time with the correct yeast!
Serves about 15 slices
Ingredients: (Click here for Unit Converter)
- 140g (5 oz) mixed dried fruits (I used raisins, sultanas and dried cherries)
- 4 tbsp brandy, dark rum or orange juice
- 225ml (7.6 oz) full-fat milk
- 3 tbsp clear honey
- 85g (3 oz) butter, cut into cubes
- 450g (15.8 oz) strong plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 7g (2 tsp) sachet fast-action dried yeast
- ½ nutmeg, finely grated (or ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1 large egg, beaten, plus 1 to glaze
- Zest 1 lemon and 1 orange
- 300g (10.5 oz) marzipan or firm almond paste (you can make your own – if you use my recipe, halve it)
- Handful flaked almonds
- 2 Tbsp melted butter, for brushing (optional)
- Icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar), for dusting
- Put the dried fruit in a bowl with the brandy, rum or orange juice, cover with cling film and microwave on High for 1 min. Set aside to cool while you make the dough. Alternatively, soak the fruit ahead of time, drain and keep in the fridge until ready to use, as I did.
- Pour the milk and honey into a pan and heat until they just come to the boil, then remove from the heat, add the butter and set aside to cool a little, swirling now and then to melt the butter.
- Meanwhile, mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Then add the yeast and spices (you need to separate the salt from the yeast in this way, as salt ‘kills’ yeast when it comes into direct contact).
- When the milk has cooled to luke-warm, pour into the flour bowl. Add the egg and zests, and mix together with a spoon, then with your hands, until the mixture comes together as a dough. As it’s an enriched dough, it’s meant to be quite sticky, so don’t be tempted to add more flour unless absolutely necessary.
- Tip dough out onto your lightly floured work surface and knead (press down on the dough with the heel of your palms, pushing it away from you. Fold the dough back toward yourself, give it a quarter-turn, and repeat) for 10-15 mins (enriched dough generally takes longer to knead) or until smooth and elastic – you’ll find the dough very sticky to start with; just keep kneading it and gathering it up from the work surface and in a few minutes it will miraculously sart coming together, eventually becoming smooth and elastic, even though it will remain tacky. For tips on knowing how long to knead your dough for, see my notes below*.
- Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly greased bowl and turn it over so the top of the dough is lightly coated with oil (this helps keep it moist). Cover the bowl lightly with greased cling film and leave to rise at room temperature, but out of any drafts, for 2 hrs or until roughly doubled in size. For tips on knowing when your dough has risen properly, see my notes below**. You can put the dough in the fridge for up to 2 days at this point; just bring back to room temperature before continuing.
- When the dough has proved, gently press your fingers into the dough, knocking out the air bubbles. Tip out onto the work surface and flatten it out with your hands. Add the fruit over the dough evenly, then knead it gently just until the fruit is incorporated.
- Roll the dough into a square, roughly 40 x 40cm, then cut into 3 long strips. Break the marzipan into 3 balls, then roll each to the same length as the strips of dough. Put 1 marzipan sausage on top of each strip of dough, then pinch the sides of the dough together to encase the marzipan – so you have 3 long sausages of marzipan-filled dough. Place them, side by side, seam side down, on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Pinch the 3 ends together at one end and then tightly plait the dough, pinching together to seal when you finish. Tuck each end under for a neat finish. Cover loosely with a sheet of oiled cling film, leave to rise again for 30 mins-1 hr, or until roughly doubled in size.
- Heat oven to 190C (374F). Uncover the plait, brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle over the almonds. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-35 mins until deep golden brown (you will likely need to lay some foil over top about 10-15 minutes in, as it browns quite quickly). For tips on knowing when the bread is baked, see my notes below***.
- Transfer to a wire rack (I used a large cake spatula to lift it). You can now either leave it and dust it with icing sugar when it’s cool, or you can immediately brush the hot bread with some melted butter and dust with icing sugar – this will adhere the icing sugar to the surface and let it soak in. Then, let it cool completely and when ready to serve, dust liberally with more icing sugar as the original dusting will have disappeared. The stollen will keep for up to 5 days and, in fact, improves in flavour – just wrap it in wax paper or cling film and store it in a cool place. You may need to dust more icing sugar on it over time to keep it looking as though fresh snow has fallen on it. Serve it with lashings of fresh butter.
*When have you kneaded enough: Firstly, it should no longer look shaggy but smooth and elastic and if you hold the dough up in your hands, the shape should hold; it shouldn’t be falling between your fingers. If you stick your finger into the dough, it should pretty much spring back. Perhaps the best indicator is to take a bit of dough and gently stretch it out (it’s called the window pane test). If it stretches without tearing and, when holding it up to a window, you can see the light through it, it’s ready to go. And, PS: don’t worry about over-kneading – it’s virtually impossible if you’re kneading by hand.
**When has the dough risen enough: The dough should have risen to roughly double the size and look smooth and elastic. Stick a finger into the proved dough, it should spring back just a fraction; if it springs all the way back it’s under-proved, and if it remains fully indented, it may be over-proved.
***When has it baked long enough: Check for doneness from 25 minutes onwards – gently lift up one end – the underside should be brown and, when knocked gently, it should sound hollow. You can also insert a thermometer deep into the bread and it should read between 190-200 degrees Fahrenheit (87-93 degrees Celsius).
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Canon 50mm 1.8 lens / Natural lighting