The cold, crisp mornings remind us the holidays are right around the corner. And 2020 is almost over. That is definitely something to celebrate! Closing out this year may look a little different than in years past. Thus, we find ourselves, yet again, adapting and making new traditions.
In years past, here at The Butter Book, we celebrated the holidays, you guessed it, with pastry. Lots and lots of pastry. Our chefs, visiting chefs, and colleagues gave the gift of their favorite family recipe and shared their traditions with our team. Our large, informal gatherings around the table were once filled with many stories and laughter, but mostly we ate pastries passed from generation to generation. Although our gift-giving and gatherings will likely be smaller or virtual this year, it does not mean we have to miss out on our favorite past-times, like Stollen bread.
Stollen bread is a German version of a fruitcake. But, unlike any fruitcake you've ever had! Stollen or Christollen is a rich, sweet bread filled with rum-soaked, plump, golden raisins, candied citrus fruits, and almonds. The bread is generously brushed with warm, melted butter and sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar right out of the oven! If you've never had it, it is purely a delicious treat and one I look forward to each year. This year is no exception.
Stollen is an enriched dough, which means that the dough is hydrated with whole eggs and milk. Whole milk and eggs added to a yeasted dough results in a more tender and richer crumb. It also adds color. Eggs and flour build structure and give stollen the ability to retain air or gasses as they bake, providing it with the strength it needs.
When selecting ingredients to make stollen consider organic flour and milk. Dry instant yeast is recommended for this recipe. It is easy to use and has a long shelf life. Unlike dry active yeast, dry instant yeast does not need to be re-hydrated before use. Using dry instant yeast is the easiest and safest way to work with an enriched dough.
We only use butter to make stollen and one with a minimum of 82% fat. Anything lower than 82% fat has more water and changes the dough's plasticity, taste, and texture of the end product. A small difference in the percentage of fat content may not seem like much, but it greatly affects the baking results.
Once you've gathered the necessary ingredients, you are now ready to begin the poolish starter. A poolish starter has a sweet, nutty flavor and lends well for stollen bread with little acidity. The poolish takes about 45 minutes, but the added flavor is worth the extra time. You'll know the poolish is ready when cracks appear on the surface.
The mixing process is next and a key step. Mixing is divided into three stages that serve important purposes. The first stage uses a low speed to incorporate the ingredients for a short amount of time, producing a dough with little or no gluten development or structure. If any adjustments are needed, this is the time to do it. The butter is kept aside and added during the third stage of the mixing process. Otherwise, it would prevent the proper development of the gluten structure by forming a layer of fat around the protein, preventing them from binding together. The second stage mixes the dough at a faster speed to develop the gluten structure of the dough. Once the gluten is properly developed, it is during the third stage that the butter is added in increments and mixed again on a low speed until fully incorporated. The final temperature of the dough should be 70-73˚F (21-23˚C).
After mixing, ferment the dough. During the first fermentation, the yeast converts sugars into carbon dioxide, alcohol, and organic acids. During the first fermentation, the dough will double in volume at room temperature. We use this time to clean up and get our counter ready for the next step, the shaping process.
Stollen is shaped, unlike any other bread. First, the dough is shaped into an oblong, and a trough is created in the dough's center. The trough secures the almond paste as the dough is folded over it. Shaping the dough this way gives it a classic appearance symbolic of the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes, hence the alternate name Christstollen.
Stollen requires moisture while proofing so, a proof box is recommended. Most home kitchens don't have a professional proofer. Don't fret. Your oven will do! Bring water to a simmer in a saucepan and place it on the bottom of the oven. The sealed space creates a controlled environment for both humidity and temperature. It allows the stollen dough to rise more effectively and keeps the dough away from drafts and from drying out. The final proofing and rise enable the dough to ferment, gain volume and deepen the flavor. The ideal proofing temperature for stollen dough is 77-80˚F (25-26˚C) or until it doubles in volume.
Finally, bake the stollen for about 20 minutes. As the stollen bread bakes, the water in the dough escapes and forms steam. The cloud of steam around the stollen shields it from the oven heat and prevents it from its final rise in the oven. Here’s a tip to prevent that. Towards the end of baking, open the oven door for two full seconds to let the steam out. The stollen will have a nice crust and a beautiful color. While still warm, brush with melted butter. Coat with cinnamon sugar and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.
For this holiday season, if you can't be there, give the gift of Stollen Bread. It's the only dessert that has stollen our hearts.
For some more gift-giving inspiration, check out these other recipes found at The Butter Book: