Christmas is coming! It is my favorite holiday. Christmas embodies a spirit of excitement and glee and love. Cheerful melodies, luminous decor, wood burning fires and the joy of gift-giving are the elements that I cherish most. It is a time to celebrate the fellowship of loved ones over decadent meals and hot cider and tasty treats. And, of course, it is a time to listen to Mariah Carey belt O Holy Night on repeat. Always. I love it.
My family’s Christmas traditions have a prominent Old World, German flair. My father spent his last year of college (1972-1973) at the Conservatoire de Musique in Strasbourg, a beautiful city in France’s Alsace region, just across the border from Germany. The ancient university town of Heidelberg was an easy train ride away. On the main street was a shop filled with intricate, hand-carved and colorfully-painted wooden Christmas ornaments, many of which formed the basis of a collection that my family continues to add to yearly. In medical school, my father’s favorite professor was a German sociologist who introduced him to Linzer Torte, a variety of classic German Christmas cookies, liqueur-filled chocolates and Dresdner Stollen, all of which have joined the precious wooden ornaments as part of our annual celebration.
Dresdner Stollen is a German Christmas bread. It is pure magic, and that's an understatement! Stollen contains candied fruit and citrus peel and nuts. The dough is buttery and delicate, and every bite bursts with flavor. Highly-addictive stuff. I devoured two loaves last weekend.
My dad has been baking Stollen for as long as I can remember. He initially adapted this recipe from Paula Peck's The Art of Fine Baking. Over the years, my father has fine-tuned the recipe to perfection, and he prepares far ahead of Christmas-- like, six months ahead (see note about cherries below!)-- to ensure maximum quality in the ingredients. Every holiday season, he practically turns the kitchen into a mini Stollen factory by churning out 50+ loaves which he gift wraps with great pride and ships off to some lucky family members and friends.
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!
for the dough:
- 3 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 5-6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups butter, softened to room temperature
- Put the yeast, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. In a separate bowl, mix the sour cream, milk, egg yolks, lemon juice and vanilla.
- Turn on the mixer and add the wet ingredients to the dry until thoroughly blended. Turn off the mixer and add 4 cups of the flour and blend thoroughly. Add the butter, cut into chunks, until thoroughly mixed, then add a 5th cup of flour and continue mixing.
- Remove the paddle and attach the dough hook to the mixer. Add at least 1/2 cup of the remaining cup of flour and turn the mixer back on. The dough will probably need about 5 3/4 cups total flour. It should feel soft and silky when pressed. Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover tightly and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, but up to 3 days.
for the completed stollen:
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 3/4 cup currants
- 1 1/2 cups mixed, diced, candied fruit*
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup Cognac
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- vanilla sugar**
- Place the raisins, currants and candied fruit in a bowl. Add the Cognac, mix thoroughly and cover tightly, allowing the mixture to sit for at least 3 hours or a few days.
- Roll the chilled stollen into a rectangle, 1/4 thick and roughly 12” by 20” inches. (The dough will be quite stiff and hard to roll initially, because of the chilled butter. It will relax as you work with it.)
- Spread the candied fruit evenly over the dough and sprinkle with the almonds. Roll the dough into a fat log, then flatten evenly and roll it into a thick rectangle about 8 inches by 16 inches. Cut the dough in half lengthwise and crosswise into four pieces of equal size. Roll out each quarter into a rough rectangle, approximately 5” by 12”. Fold the rectangles over on themselves along the long axis and pat them down a bit, evening-up the ends with the cups of your hand to make a long slender loaf.
- Line two wide cookie sheets with parchment paper and place two loaves on each sheet. Cover with wax paper and allow to rise until puffy.
- Meanwhile, place two racks in the middle and upper thirds of an oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the loaves have risen sufficiently, brush thoroughly with melted butter and place in the oven for about 45 minutes. Rotate front-to-back and top-to-bottom midway through baking. When done, place on a wire rack and brush immediately with melted butter. When cool, brush again with butter, then sprinkle with vanilla sugar. Wrap tightly to store.
*Commercial peel tends to be bland. For an extraordinary stollen, make your own citrus peel. Boil grapefruit, orange, lemon, tangerine or lime peel in three changes of water. (Do each type separately.) Make a 2:1 sugar syrup, that is, 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water and simmer the peel slowly until it is tender and translucent. When it is done, drain the peel, let it cool, and roll it in powdered sugar. Store in glass jars until needed. (Grapefruits, oranges and lemons have thicker peels, and tend to make a soft, easily diced candied peel when done. Tangerine peel tends to be soft, but not as thick. Lime peel can be somewhat leathery, because it is so thin, but it is delicious.)
For a special addition, buy sour cherries when they are fresh in the markets in the summer, pit them and mix a pound of them with 1 cup of sugar. Crush 1/4 - 1/2 cup of the pits, tie them in cheesecloth and add to the cherries. Let them sit tightly covered at room temperature for 3-4 days, stirring them daily. Add a fifth of high proof vodka and set aside for 2 months. Drain the liquid (keep it as an aperitif!), and add 2 additional cups of sugar. The liquored cherries will be ready to use in another 2 months. They keep indefinitely. Add 1/2 cup to the candied fruit with each batch of stollen. It is possible to use dried sour cherries instead, but the results are not nearly as good.
**Vanilla sugar is available commercially, but, to make your own, bury two vanilla beans in a quart jar filled with powdered sugar and let it sit for at least a month.
If you make this recipe, hashtag a pic to #spiceandhutch and post to Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter. I'd love to see your culinary creations!