Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Stollen

Yesterday I mentioned the stollen. My friend Claudia asked for the recipe so I thought I would put that up here.  Stollen isn't one of our family traditions, although we do have some German ancestry.  I baked it for the first time a few years ago and it was so yummy I thought I would try again this year. It is expensive to make, loaded with dried fruits, nuts, eggs and butter, but it's even more expensive to buy, so worth the effort. 

I did a little research, looking at some other recipes, and learned all sorts of interesting facts about Stollen along the way.  Stollen is a traditional bread from Dresden, Germany.  Stories vary on when it was first baked, 1300's or 1400's, but most accounts agree that the original stollen was a bland affair made of flour, oats and water because of the ban by the Catholic Church on the use of butter during advent.  At some point-again records vary- some say 1400's others 1700's- a plea was sent to the Pope asking for butter to be used to bake the traditional Christmas bread. At some point, one of the Popes finally agreed and sent what is now known as "the butter letter" allowing the use of butter, but only by the family that made the request.  All others were required to pay a tribute to the church if they would use butter during advent, oh those wily Catholics.

Over the years the stollens were made larger and larger and special giant stollens were baked for the church and political dignitaries, some weighing over a ton.  Since 1994 Dresden has held a Stollen Festival that features a giant stollen baked by multiple bakers in many pieces and patched together to create a stollen weighing several tons.  The largest on record was baked for the 2000 stollen festival and weighed 4,200 kilos!  That's one big loaf of bread.  They construct it on a special cart, bring it to the town square and cut it with a special stollen knife, then sell the pieces to the crowd. They also have a stollen maiden.  It's a big tourism and publicity affair for Dresden.  You can read all about it here.

I wondered why the loaves were supposed to be so big and now I understand.  The recipe I use says to  make 3 or 4 loaves, I made 6 and even then I had trouble fitting them all into my oven at once.  I had to split the dough into 2 parts at kneading just to manage it all and then let it rise in two separate bowls, so if you're going to try making it, you might want to split the recipe in half unless you are having a party or want to give loaves to friends.  They do make a very pretty gift.  So with out further ado- here's the recipe from A World of Breads by Dolores Casella.  This is an excellent book that I use often, it has many variations and recipes for every kind of bread including biscuits, scones, quick breads, pancakes, yeast breads and more.

2 cups milk, scalded and cooled
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 teaspoons of salt
11 cups of flour or more
2 cakes or packages of yeast (2 T active dried) dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
1 pound butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
6 large eggs
1/4 cup rum or brandy
grated rind of 1 lemon
1 pound slivered, blanched almonds
1 pound assorted candied fruits (I candied my own orange peel- I don't like the commercial candied fruit)
1 pound golden raisins or currants (I combined the candied orange with dried cherries, cranberries, golden and dark raisins and currants to total 2 pounds)
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t mace

Combine the scalded and cooled milk, 1 t of sugar, 2 t of salt, 1 cup of flour and the dissolved yeast.  Blend, cover and let stand until the sponge is bubbly.  Cream the butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs and the rum or brandy and beat thoroughly.  Stir in 5 cups of the flour and the yeast mixture. Blend 1 cup of the flour into the nuts and fruits. (This was about all my kitchen aid mixer could hold, so from here I transferred to a very large bowl and mixed by hand). Add the rest of the flour and the other ingredients to the dough, using enough flour to make a firm dough.  Turn out onto a floured breadboard and knead quite thoroughly.  ( I split the dough in half here to work it - need until its silky and the dried fruits begin to pop out as you turn it, roughly 5-10 minutes). Place in two large bowls, brush with butter, cover and let rise until doubled (this took almost 2 hours of rising time).  Then punch the dough down and turn out onto a floured board again.  Divide the dough into 3 or 4 parts and shape each part into a thick oval shape (I made 6 oval loaves).  Some recipes have you fold the dough here, or put a layer of marzipan or other things in the center. Place on buttered cookie sheets and let the loaves rise until doubled. Brush with melted butter or cream.  Bake at 350  for about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes, depending on the size of the loaves (mine were done in under an hour because they were smaller and got a little too dark on the bottom because the oven was so crowded.).  If the tops brown too fast, lay a piece of foil over them.  While the loaves are still hot, brush them liberally with melted butter, allow to soak in, then if you like, spoon rum or brandy over the tops of the loaves and let that soak in and then sprinkle thickly with powdered sugar.

Total time was about 5 hours- mostly rising and baking- work time was about an hour I guess- not including the candied orange peel which was another couple of hours.   This isn't a quick or easy bread, but its well worth it.  It keeps well, Casella recommends storing it a couple of days to mellow before cutting it.  I have quartered 2 of the loaves and wrapped them tightly for the freezer, a perfect size for us for breakfast.  It's also very good toasted with more butter- swoon.
Five out of six loaves, they look like they've been snowed on.  The tradition of powdered sugar is supposed to represent Christ in diapers!

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