Food Chat: Birthday Stollen

— by Hannah Lee

My birthday falls on December 26 on the Gregorian calendar and I choose not to celebrate with a double-layered cake with frosting. In recent years, I’ve been experimenting with ceremonial sweets of other cultures (namely, Christmas), so last year I procured the traditional spring form pan used to bake the Italian panettone.  This year, I had a hankering to try my hand at the German stollen, after my sister-in-law introduced the family to her father’s annual treat.

The full recipe after the jump.
One of my favorite food bloggers is David Lebovitz and in 2009, he wrote a post on his eponymous webpage about making stollen when the snow kept him indoors in his Paris apartment. His recipe is adapted from the New York Times from a recipe by Melissa Clark and Hans Röckenwagner. I liked it because it called for rye flour, which I had left over from a previous culinary adventure with Boston brown bread. I like fruitcake and this one is leavened by yeast. Unfortunately, I did not read the recipe closely and when I embarked on it in the morning, I realized that it called for five sessions of resting (“proofing”) the dough, resting it for an hour at a time. So, I had to time my activities, from a shiva call to Les MisĂ©rables, to tend to the dough.

The ultimate proof is in the tasting, so I took an early taste (before the two-day waiting period, another point I’d overlooked in my initial reading) and the slow rising yielded a tender bread, albeit not a lightweight one.  Caution, this is not for the butter-phobic, because it calls for a half kilo, or almost a pound of butter. In his post, Lebovitz reminisced about the time he was in the kitchen at Spago in Los Angeles, and he remembered Wolfgang Puck telling him how they used to make stollen when he was a kid and worked in a bakery in Austria: “Vee took a lot of butter, melted it in a veery veery beeg pot…” (making a big circular hoop with his arms to show us how big it was) “….and ve vood dunk zee whole loaves in it!”


Makes four individual loaves

  • 2/3 cup (110 g) dark raisins
  • 2/3 cup (110 g) golden raisins (sultanas)
  • 1/2 cup (80 g) dried cranberries or cherries
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) dark rum or orange juice
  • 1 cup (160 g) slivered or sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
  • 2 1/2 (one envelope, 20 g) teaspoons powdered yeast
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) milk (whole or low-fat), at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups (490 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (80 g) rye flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) plus 3 tablespoons (45 g) sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest, preferably unsprayed
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
  • 1 cup (225 g), plus 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) chopped candied ginger
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) diced candied citrus peel
  • 1/2 cup (70 g) powdered sugar, or more, if necessary
  1. Mix both kinds of raisins with the cranberries or cherries with the dark rum or orange juice, then cover. In another bowl, mix the almonds with the water, and cover. Let both sit at least an hour, or overnight.
  2. Pour the milk in a medium bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir briefly, then stir in 1 cup (140 g) of the flour until smooth to make a starter. Cover, and let rest one hour.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, or by hand, stir together the remaining 2 1/2 cups (350 g) flour, the rye flour, 3 tablespoons (45 g) sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of the dried ginger, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, citrus zest, and vanilla. Pour in the 1 cup (8 ounces, 225 g) of the melted butter, honey, and the egg yolk, and mix on medium speed until the mixture is moistened uniformly.
  4. While mixing, add the yeasted starter, one-third at a time, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Once added, continue to beat for about four minutes until almost smooth: it should resemble cookie dough. Add the dried fruits (and any liquid), candied ginger, citrus peel, and almonds, and beat until they’re well-distributed.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead a few times, then place back in the mixer bowl, cover, and let rest in a warm place for one hour.
  6. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead the dough again, then return it to the bowl. Let rest for another hour.
  7. Divide the dough into four pieces and shape each one into a oval, and place them evenly-spaced apart on an insulated baking sheet.
    (The original recipe says to stack two rimmed baking sheets on top of each other, so you can do that if you don’t have one.)
  8. Cover the loaves with a clean tea towel and let rest in a warm place for one hour.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Remove the tea towel and bake the loaves for 45 minutes, or until they’re deep golden brown. (Note: Recipe advises that when they’re done, the internal temperature should read 190F, 88C if using an instant-read thermometer.)
  10. While they loaves are baking, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar and 1 teaspoon dried ginger. When the breads come out of the oven, generously brush the remaining 3/4 cup (6 ounces, 170 g) melted butter over the hot loaves, letting the butter saturate the breads, repeating until all the butter is absorbed. (Lebovitz was a daredevil and lifted the loaves, to saturate the bottoms. Be careful not to break the loaves.)
  11. Rub the gingered sugar mixture over the top and side of each loaf then let rest on the baking sheet until room temperature.
  12. Sift the powdered sugar over, under, and around the breads, rubbing it in with your hands. They wrap the loaves on the baking sheet in a large plastic bag and let them sit for two days. After two days, the loaves are ready to eat, or can be wrapped as gifts. You may wish to sift additional powdered sugar over the top in case they need another dusting.

Storage: Stollen can be stored for at least a week, if well-wrapped, at room temperature. Or frozen for at least one month.