Many of us have our family holiday traditions that center around baking sweets. I can still remember my great grandmother, who really loved her sweets, introducing me to all of the “old world” traditional goodies that appeared in her kitchen year-round, not only at Christmas. Delectable’s such as German kuchen (or coffee cake as I knew it), strudel, and one of my all time favorites, stollen, were among the bakery discovered by my siblings and I in the shiny metal “bread box” at grandma’s house. I can still feel the weight of the door as it opened up to reveal the sweet fragrance of sugar and spices, as well as I can still hear my grandma calling out, “I heard noise that – what are you kids up to?”
I’ve been working on perfecting my version of great grandma’s Christmas Stollen for the past several years, as my memory insists to me that hers was truly homemade. I’m sure in reality it was purchased from the local bakery or probably day old at the grocery store – but I’ll live with my romantic version of my great grandma toiling away in the kitchen – holiday music on the record player – and me kneeling on the kitchen chair reaching to help her knead the dough or add the sugar icing.
In today’s modern world of baking stollen, the process isn’t at all difficult, although most of the recipes I’ve found don’t include making a sponge or inebriating the fruit in advance. This one doesn’t even require kneading, and if you have a KitchenAid mixer, the mixer does the grunt work. This simply is one of the best stollen recipes I’ve found, and if I do say so, it tastes just like grandma made it.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Ever So Authentic Grandma’s German Stollen
The Fruit Mix
1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups dried fruit
(I like to use dried blueberries, cherries, cranberries and currants. To me, the smaller fruit is better and incorporates well into the bread.)
3-4 tablespoons rum
Mix the fruit and rum in a bowl or jar and cover. Stir the bowl of fruit (or shake the jar of fruit) every 30 minutes or so. I usually wait to use the fruit after it’s been soaking for 2-3 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when the dried fruit is no longer dry and the kitchen smells like you’ve been hitting the bottle all morning.
2 ½ teaspoons dry active yeast
¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
¾ cup warm milk (110-115°)
1 cup all purpose flour
Combine the yeast, sugar and milk in the bowl of your mixer and let stand for about five minutes until the mixture is foamy. If it doesn’t foam, you really need to start over. (Hint: use a kitchen thermometer to make sure your milk isn’t too hot or isn’t too cold. Kinda like Goldilocks.) Add the flour and mix until well incorporated. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit for 45 minutes. The sponge should be very bubbly when it’s ready to use.
2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted (to use later when you shape the loaves)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup finely chopped pecans
Add the four, salt, sugar, stick of melted butter, and eggs to the sponge and beat at medium speed with the paddle attachment until incorporated. Switch to the dough hook and add the dried fruit and chopped pecans. Mix at medium speed for about five minutes, until the dough begins pulling away from the sides of the bowl and all of the fruit and nuts are incorporated well. The dough is going to be a little sticky – that’s the way it should feel.
Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and turn it to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and put it in a warm, draft-free place to rise for about 90 minutes. It will double in size, so make sure you use a large enough bowl.
After 90 minutes, punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface. Knead briefly. Divide the dough into two equal balls and roll each ball into an oval, about 1 inch thick. Brush the top of the dough with the melted butter and fold the oval in half, horizontally. Pinch the two sides together, and with the pinched seam at the bottom, shape the loaf to keep the oval shape.
Arrange the two loaves on a well-buttered baking sheet (or Silpat) and cover loosly with plastic wrap and a towel for a second rising (another 90 minutes). Again, make sure you put the pan in a warm but draft-free place. The loaves will again double in size.
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Heat the oven to 350° with the rack in the middle of the oven. Brush the stolen with the butter and bake until the loaf is a deep golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 40-50 minutes. Transfer both breads to a cooling rack and when they are completely cool – dust them with the powdered sugar.
* Recipe adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl.