It's December, which means the holidays are nigh! Today, we're celebrating with stollen — a traditional German Christmas bread, also known as Christstollen and Weihnachtsstollen (fun fact: Weihnachten means "Christmas" in German). Studded with nuts and dried fruits then dusted with a generous coating of icing sugar, German stollen is a delicious way to celebrate these cold-weather months, especially when guests are coming in and out of your home. Here's how to make it.
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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 (no offense to the baby Jesus) 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.
What's in stollen?
Our recipe for stollen calls for a bevy of dried and candied fruits: flame raisins (the red kind), golden raisins, currants, dried cherries, candied orange peel, lemon zest, lemon juice, orange zest, and orange juice.
And then there's the booze, which any good Christmas dessert, especially a German one, should have. You don't need much (just three tablespoons in our stollen recipe) but it's the effective combination of white rum and brandy that you'll want to imbibe in.
There's a quartet of dried warming spices: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg, as well as vanilla extract, almond paste, and slivered almonds.
Not to scare you, but that's just for the filling. We never said making stollen would be easy (if this is the first time you're learning this, news flash: Stollen is not easy nor cheap to make).
The bread is a yeasted sponge dough made with the usual suspects of instant yeast, sugar, whole milk, all-purpose flour, an egg, a little more vanilla extract, butter, and a little more alcohol.
Arguably the most important part of stollen is what distinguishes it from other Christmas breads and cakes that linger during the holiday season: confectioners' sugar. It is applied during the very end of the baking process, just before serving. Once the stollen comes out of the oven, it is brushed with more brandy and white rum, which absorbs into the cake like a boozy simple syrup. And then you dust, dust, dust confectioners sugar generously over the stollen and let it sit, allowing the sugar to form a thick white coating that looks like an avalanche of freshly fallen snow.
How to make stollen
I'm not going to sugar-coat 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 mixture 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! (OK, 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 one 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.)
Makes: 2 loaves
- 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 and 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
- Mix the Filling: Combine the flame raisins, golden raisins, currants, cherries, orange peel, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, vanilla, rum and brandy in a medium bowl or tupperware. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Make the Sponge: In a medium bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and milk. Mix to combine. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is well combined. Cover and ferment for 1 hour at room temperature.
- Mix the Filling: Combine almond paste, sugar, butter, and breadcrumbs in a small bowl with a fork or whisk. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until needed.
- Make the Spice Mix: Combine cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Make the Dough: Heat milk in a saucepan or microwave until just warm to the touch. In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, mix the milk, egg, and vanilla. Add the sugar and stir well. (You could also do this in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.)
- Tear the sponge into 2-in [5-cm] pieces and combine with the egg mixture. It will not be homogeneous at this point. Add half of the flour and the spice mixture and stir with the spoon until a thick batter forms. Add the remaining flour and the salt. Mix until the dough is a shaggy mass.
- Turn the dough out onto a clean, unfloured surface and knead for 3 minutes. It may be sticky at first, and you may be tempted to add flour, but don't!
- 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.) This will take several minutes of kneading. The dough will be sticky, use 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 5 minutes. Pat the dough into a flat disk. Add the fruit filling and toasted almonds and enclose 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 for 1 hour.
- Shape and Bake the Stollen: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a cylinder about 9 inches long, 3 inches wide, then press down on it until the dough is one-inch thick. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, create a trough down the middle of the dough about 2 inches wide (it will cause the dough to spread out a bit, but that's fine). Place the chilled almond filling into the divot. You can either roll the almond filling for a neater presentation, or just add in with your fingers. Fold the dough over the filling, pinch the sides to seal, and let rest for 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough.
- Roll each loaf into a football shape about 9 inches long. Make this shape as tight as you can roll it, ensuring 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 o 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. This shape is supposed to be reminiscent of baby Jesus wrapped in a blanket.
- Place stollen on a parchment-lined baking pan. Combine the butter, rum, and brandy and brush stollen with some of it. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and proof for 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
- Brush stollen with more of the rum butter once again before baking. 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 with the alcohol butter once again. Dust heavily with powdered sugar to create a thick white coating.
- Let loaves cool fully then wrap in plastic. Let them sit for at least one day before eating, but they'll only improve for the next two to three weeks.