Christmas Sweet Bread

Stollen

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    2

    loaves

Appears in

Stollen is the traditional Christmas bread in German-speaking countries. It gets its name from its shape, which resembles a stole, or more specifically, the Christ Child’s swaddling clothes. Some people think that stollen is best when aged for at least a day or two before serving. If it seems dry, toast slices and serve them buttered. This recipe is based on one from my friend Beth Hensperger, one of America’s great bakers, who is of Hungarian heritage. European bakers would use candied fruit peels in their stollen, but Beth’s selection of dried fruits is colorful and more tasty, and her use of the soaking liquid to add flavor to the dough is inspired. The addition of almond paste was a suggestion from the bakers at Oberlaa, one of the newest and best of Vienna’s Konditorein.

Ingredients

Soaked Fruits

  • ¾ cup dried tart cherries
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
  • ¼ cup dried currants
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 3 tablespoons golden rum
  • ½ cup hot water, as needed
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached flour

Sponge

  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 ounce (½ cube) fresh compressed yeast or teaspoons (about envelopes) active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup unbleached flour

Dough

  • cups unbleached flour, divided
  • 1 cup sliced natural almonds
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar mixed with ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg, for sprinkling
  • 2 ounces almond paste, cut into ½-inch cubes (about cup)
  • ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, for dredging

Method

  1. To prepare the soaked fruits: Combine the cherries, apricots, currants, and raisins in a small bowl. Add the rum and enough hot water to barely cover the fruits. Stir well and cover. Let stand until the fruits are plumped, at least 1 hour or overnight. Drain the fruits well, reserving ¼ cup of the soaking liquid. Pat the fruits dry with paper towels.
  2. To make the sponge: Add the milk to the ¼ cup of the fruit soaking liquid in a medium bowl.(If using dry yeast, heat the liquids to 105° to 115°F.) Crumble the yeast into the mixture. Let stand for 3 minutes. Add the ¾ cup of flour and whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until bubbly and doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  3. To make the dough: Process 1 cup of the flour and the almonds in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until the almonds are very finely ground. Add the remaining flour and pulse until combined.
  4. In the bowl of a heavy-duty standing mixer fitted with the paddle blade, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the stand and add the sponge, egg, yolk, almond extract, lemon zest, and salt. On low speed, add enough of the almond-flour to make a soft, sticky dough that cleans the side of the bowl. Gather up the dough into a ball. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough on medium speed until the dough is soft and supple, but still quite sticky, about 7 minutes.
  5. Toss the soaked fruits with the 2 tablespoons of flour to coat. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, press the dough into a thick disk, sprinkle with some of the fruit, fold, and knead briefly. Repeatuntilall of the fruit has been added. If necessary, work in a bit more flour during kneading, but do not add too much —the dough should be soft and sticky, but not so moist that it sticks to the work surface. Gather the dough into a ball and place in a large buttered bowl. Turn to coat the ball with butter. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand until doubled in volume, about 1½ hours.
  6. Without kneading the dough, cut it in half. On a lightly floured surface, pat and stretch one half of the dough into a 12 X 7-inch oval with rounded points. Brush the oval with some of the butter and sprinkle with half of the nutmeg-sugar. Sprinkle half of the almond paste cubes down the center of the oval. Without stretching the dough, fold the stollen in half lengthwise to ¾ inch from the opposite side (it will be slightly off center), enclosing the almond paste. Lightly press the top edge to seal. Repeat with the other half of dough.
  7. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the stollen 4 inches apart on the sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until puffy but not doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  8. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350°F. Brush the tops of the stollen with the remaining melted butter. Bake until lightly browned, about 40 minutes. During the last 15 minutes, tent the loaves with aluminum foil. Do not overbake. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes.
  9. Sift about half of the confectioners’ sugar onto a work surface. Place the warm stollen in the pan, and sift with a heavy coating of more sugar. Let cool in the sugar. Wrap in aluminum foil to store. Coat again in confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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