ClassicVacationRental loves this recipe – a lovely German tradition that translates into any palate, no matter your nationality or location.
German Christmas bread known as stollen, a spirited, spiced, sugar-topped ‘cake’ packed with nuts (almonds, predominantly), dried fruit (raisins are a given), and candied citrus peel. Some are laden with almond paste or marzipan, which results in a softer crumb, while others keep it dry and scone-y. Hershberger, who is German himself, has, for years, been baking stollen for pals and neighbors. This year, for HBK, he’s made a few adjustments to that recipe, and the resulting confection is moister, with even more fruit and nuts than before.
1. Check your schedule. Your fruit needs to soak in its bath of rum, brandy, and hot water for a full three days before you bake the bread. After that, it should take about three hours from the time you start the dough to the moment your loaf is fully cooked. Here’s how that breaks down, according to Hershberger: Preparing and mixing ingredients: 35 minutes. Dough fermentation: 1 hour, minimum. Shaping and resting the dough: 15 minutes. Shaping (again) the dough and letting it rise: 1 hour. Baking: about 25 minutes.
Once it’s out of the oven, the bread is topped with butter and sugar. Then, you should wait at least one day to let the stollen set before you dig in.
2. Hershberger’s King Arthur flour of choice, the Sir Galahad, is a commercial product, but the company’s all-purpose offering is a fine alternative. Otherwise, when making stollen at home, look for a European type 80 flour with a high ash content. If you cannot find this, you can also use regular bread flour, but, he advises, you’ll have to adjust the moisture of your dough accordingly; bread flour doesn’t absorb as much water.
3. What’s most important, he says, is “not to get caught up in the recipe.” Stollen may be a complicated bread, but it allows for lots of creativity and improvisation. You can choose whichever kinds of dried fruit you prefer, and as much or as little as you like.
4. When you’re shaping the stollen, put a bit of flour beneath the lump of dough. That should prevent it from splitting when, using a dowel, you form the canal for the almond paste.
5. Don’t undermix your dough. It’s the stollen crime most often committed. If your base isn’t properly mixed and developed before you add the nuts and fruit, you’ll be left with mush.
Hot Bread Kitchen Head Baker Ben Hershberger’s Stollen
Makes 2 loaves
FRUIT MIX (Make three days ahead of time)
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup candied lemon peel
1/4 cup candied orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup Meyers Rum
1/2 cup brandy
Enough hot water to cover mixture
5 tablespoons almond paste
1 generous tablespoon butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoon bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/16 teaspoon cloves
1/16 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup blanched, unsalted almonds
About a packet of instant yeast
1 1/3 cups King Arthur All-Purpose flour
Scant teaspoon salt
About 1 tablespoon milk powder
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon spice mix (see above)
1/2 cup filling
Melted butter, as needed
Powdered sugar, as needed
Combine all ingredients and let soak at room temperature for at least three days.
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. While mixer is running on low, add 2 1/2 teaspoons water and mix until smooth. Divide mixture into two portions and refrigerate.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. more below
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread almonds in an even layer on a sheet pan and roast for 12 minutes. Turn oven up to 350 degrees and preheat.
Heat 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons water in a small saucepan to about 98 degrees. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer, then sprinkle yeast over the top. Let set until all the yeast is dissolved and the water cools to about 80 degrees.
Add flour, salt, milk powder, soft butter, sugar, and spice mixture to the bowl and mix on medium speed until the dough is well developed (about 15 minutes). Gently fold in toasted almonds and drained fruit mix until evenly incorporated into the dough. Cover dough and let rest in a warm, draft-free area for one hour.
Divide dough into two even pieces, and roll each into 6-by-3-inch cylinders, then let rest for 20 minutes. Gently press both cylinders down with your hand until each is an even 1-inch thickness throughout. Holding a dowel the long way, neatly create a trough or canal down the center of each, about 3 1/2 inches wide. Place the chilled filling into one side of each the two troughs, covering the full length of the canals with the mixture. Fold the dough over the filling, cover, and let rest for 30 minutes.
Bake both loaves for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush liberally with melted butter, dust heavily with powdered sugar, and repeat to create a generous white coating. Let cool.
Wrap loaves separately in plastic. Stollen should set for at least one day before serving and can be eaten for up to three weeks.
Note: This recipe has not been tested by the BA Test Kitchen.
New Yorkers who care about quality of life (i.e., of baked goods) seek out the Hot Bread Kitchen’s products at the GreenMarket and at gourmet grocery shops around the city. Founded in 2008 by Jessamyn W. Rodriguez, the nonprofit enterprise (in her words) “seeks to change the food industry by helping immigrant women and minority entrepreneurs with passion and talent in the culinary arts to capitalize on their skill and gain access to professional opportunities.” That’s a tall order, but, loaf by loaf, Rodriguez and her team are filling it. So far, the organization has trained 41 bakers and helped develop 60 food businesses. It’s funded, appropriately, by flour, water, and yeast. HBK produces its own line of multi-ethnic breads: tortillas, challah, multi-grain bundles, sourdough, lavash, focaccia, and more. Often inspired by the women whose educations and futures they support, these handmade products fall under head baker Ben Hershberger’s care. Making these items is a way to preserve and share a global range of culinary traditions.
Charlotte Druckman (@cettedrucks) is a journalist based in New York City. Her book, Skirt Steak: Women Chefs On Standing the Heat & Staying in the Kitchen, was published in November.