Stollen

I don't know what made me want to attempt this recipe for traditional Stollen from King Arthur Flour. I didn't grow up eating stollen. I think it's possible that we bought some last year and ate it while I was on the East coast with Ryan's family for the holidays.

I do know that there was one clear draw: about six months ago I cut up all the dried fruit I had lying around the house and threw it into a big jar with some (badly) candied citrus, a little sugar, and a lot of brandy. I had no real exit plan for the jarred fruit, but I knew that it might have a future in something Christmas-y. Mostly, I just wanted those expensive dried persimmons, plums, and raisins to find a better purpose. Until that point, they'd sat slumped over in their clear, plastic bags in the cupboard, waiting hopefully for Ryan and I to toss them into  a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Alas, a healthy breakfast is a rare thing in our house. Poor little fruit, every time we got close to eating oatmeal, we eventually decided that probably eggs and toast with butter and cheese would be tastier. 

The dried fruits had a long time to age before Ryan brought a copy of King Arthur's quarterly magazine, Sift, home from Costco. Yes! We go to Costco, okay! Their organic olive oil is affordable! And they have some great cheeses....Er, anyway, so Ryan brought me this magazine, and the stollen recipe happened to call for dried fruit and candied citrus in brandy and, FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE, I just happened to have those ingredients on hand. And then there was the most magical, delicious fruited bread thing I'd ever had in my life. 

But wait, it's not that simple. This stollen recipe was, for a first timer anyway, a beast of a recipe. As I kneaded the dough on the counter, I found myself singing (not intentionally) the lyrics to "I Will Survive." True story. The batch was too big for the mixer. Everything took way longer to rise that I thought it would, so long that I thought I might have killed the yeast. The dough was so sticky at the beginning that I kept adding flour and adding flour, and then wondered if I'd added too much or kneaded it so much that the gluten strands broke. When I baked it the internal temperature read 190, like it was supposed to, but the loaves felt so soft. I worried they would be raw dough on the inside...

Lucky for me, I was wrong about all of the above. Th stollen that resulted from all this kneading and fretting is AMAZING, and well worth the light film of flour that now covers most of the kitchen. I made my stollen slightly smaller than the recipe called for, which yielded seven mini sized stollen that I planned to give as gifts. Now I plan to give five of those away because I've already eaten one and a half of them...and I might become less generous as my personal supply dwindles. 

Sidebar: If you don't happen to have dried fruit that you've marinated in brandy around (what kind of a MONSTER are you?), don't worry. The recipe only asks you to marinate your fruit and candied citrus for two days. But try to be better next year, okay? I'll give you a reminder to marinate your fruit in July, when I do mine. Also, like I said, the recipe is large. If you're feeling intimidated, try cutting it in half, for less of an "I will survive" experience.

Stollen

Makes 8 small stollen, enough for you to give gifts, or freeze.

Adapted from Sift Magazine.

Ingredients:

For the fruit:

  • 3 cups (14-16 ounces) mixed dried and candied fruit, diced finely (I used candied orange, dried cherries, dried persimmons, dried figs, golden raisins, and dates.)
  • 1/2 cup good quality rum or brandy

For the sponge:

  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) whole milk
  • 1 3/4 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour (King Arthur, preferably)
  • 2 tbsp instant or active dry yeast

For the dough:

  • 1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 tsp ground mace (good mace! not that old tin that's been in the cupboard for years)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 6-7 cups unbleached all purpose flour (King Arthur, preferably)
  • 2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter cut into big pieces, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 (7 1/2 ounces) cups sliced, toasted almonds

To finish:

  • About 12 ounces marzipan, almond paste, or almond butter mixed to a stiff consistency with powdered sugar (I used sweetened almond paste).
  • 1 cup melted butter, for sealing the dough after it's baked
  • 3/4 cup apricot preserves for glazing the dough when it's cooled
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar for topping
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar for topping, preferably non-melting 

Instructions:

  1. For the fruit: At least 2 days or up to a month ahead of time, combine the fruit and liquor. Cover tightly and let sit until ready to use. (If, like me, you're doing this way ahead, you'll need to refrigerate the mixture, and make sure it's tightly packed with enough liquor to cover.)
  2. To make the sponge: Heat the milk to lukewarm (not hotter than about 110F); put it in a large mixing bowl and stir in the flour and yeast. Cover and let sit at room temperature until it begins to rise and shows a lot of bubbles- this should take 30-40 minutes. If you plan on doing the initial kneading of the dough in your stand mixer, you should make the sponge in the bowl of the mixer so that you don't need to transfer it later.
  3. For the dough: Ok, here's where it gets tough. In the stand mixer (or by hand), add the sugar, salts, extracts, lemon zest, and mace to the sponge in the bowl. Mix in the eggs one at a time, using the dough hook. Then, add 3 cups of the flour, about a cup at a time, until it's mixed in. With the mixer running at low speed, add the butter in egg sized chunks, mixing between additions until the butter disappears. Add 2 more cups of flour and mix until incorporated. Ok, so at this point, the recipe instructs us to add the almonds and the fruit, and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough that isn't overly sticky. However, if you're using a regular sized stand mixer, you won't have space in the  mixer to do that. So, roll your sleeves up, dump that hot mess of flour onto a large, well-floured cutting board, and add the fruit and almonds, as well as enough flour to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. This is messy work! One thing that helps is a bench scraper or other tool to hold in your right hand, which you can use to flip the dough over while the other hand kneads. Cover the bowl with a towel or with greased plastic wrap and let the dough rise 1 hour to 1/2 hours, until doubled in size. (Note, I let mine rise in the fridge overnight, which was great because it tastes amazing but also a pain because I had to wait forever for it to warm up the next morning. Just FYI.)
  4. For the filling, divide the almond paste or marzipan into 8 equal parts. If you're using almond butter, you'll need to mix it with confectioner's sugar or honey, depending on whether it's loose or stiff, to make the mixture about the consistency of marzipan. Roll each portion into a rope 6-7 inches long. Cover until you're ready to use.
  5. To shape the dough: Divide the dough into eight pieces weighing about 12 ounces each (or a little less). Pat each into a small rectangle, and place the almond paste rope down the center, lengthwise. Fold the dough over to enclose it, and use the heel of your hand to press the edges together. Place the stollen three to a pan on parchment lined baking sheets, leaving at least 2" of space between them. Cover with towels or greased plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes, until puffy-looking. (Not to worry, mine took much longer than 45 minutes since it's a little cool in our house. Let them rise longer if they need it!) Preheat the oven to 350F while the loaves rise. 
  6. To bake: Uncover the risen loaves and bake for 25-28 minutes, until deep golden brown. If you have an instant read thermometer, you can insert it in the center of the loaf and check that it reads 190F. This is helpful since the loaves feel quite soft, even when they're done. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a rack to cool. 
  7. To seal: Generously brush the still-warm stollen with the melted butter and cool completely before glazing. 
  8. To glaze: Heat the apricot preserves and water together. If the preserves are lumpy, push them through a fine strainer. Brush the tops of the stollen with the glaze. 
  9. To finish: Sprinkle the stollen with granulated sugar, then dust with the confectioner's sugar for a snowy top. Non-melting sugar will stay much prettier over time than regular confectioner's sugar. Wrap well and age at room temperature for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for 2-3 months.