About 10 years ago I started making stollen, the German holiday bread, every December. After coming across a decent looking recipe mostly by chance, I started making it as a nod to my husband's German heritage - and in spite of the stollen I remembered in my own childhood. My stollen-making efforts were a prime example of the importance of quality ingredients.
Making the best Christmas stollen
The stollen I remember from my childhood was perfectly fine, I'm sure. Perfectly fine. But my memory of it is of candied fruits in colors not found in nature with an odd after-taste due to the
artificial flavoring, topped with a thick icing. It was just too much for me; there was no subtlety or complexity to the flavors.
When I started making stollen, I really had no idea what I was doing, but as luck would have it, I happened into a pretty decent gourmet shop to ask for help. There a kind employee directed me to
their stock of dried and candied fruits, none of which was articifically colored or flavored. I made the stollen, sans heavy icing - and my husband gave me rave reviews. I, however, would not touch
it. Strong are the associations of youth.
The next year, I made the stollen again, and this time, shared the extra loaf. Again, to rave reviews. Again, I would not touch it. As much as it looked good in the making, I wasn't ready to take
that next step.
Quality ingredients are essential
It was only in the third year of making the stollen that I tried it. It was decent, I have to say. And it was so different from what I remembered. It had to be the ingredients, I correctly deduced.
It was all about the ingredients. Good butter, flour, eggs and - most importantly - good dried and candied fruits. The bread tasted real.
Sometimes, finding the right, quality ingredients can be daunting. For some recipes, it can take serious research. And when you find the source for the right ingredients, there's loyalty. Upon moving
to a different region of the country, my own quest for the right ingredients for this bread took me to the Italian neightborhood in the city every December, ritually. I found a fabulous source: a
tiny little shop with the best candied citron ever. Beginning each October, I looked forward to my annual visit.
And this last year, my beloved little shop went out of business. I was crushed! Truly! If I could not find the right ingredients, I would not make the bread. It would just not be worth it!
With efforts by more than a couple of people, I was able to find a suitable replacement source in the nick of time. The bread lives on.
My Christmas Stollen recipe
This recipe makes two very large loaves, three large loaves, four medium loaves or six small loaves.
11 cups flour, plus extra for kneading
3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups milk
1-1/4 cups unsalted butter
3 packages active dry yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water
6 eggs, lightly beaten
10 ounces currants, soaked overnight in 1/2 cup brandy
15 ounces golden raisins, soaked overnight in 1/2 cup orange juice
8 ounces candied citron, diced
4 ounces candied orange peel, diced
4 ounces dried apricots, diced
10 ounces blanced, slivered almonds
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup melted butter
1. In saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat until the butter melts. Be careful, however, not to let the milk scald or boil. Let cool.
2. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, mace and nutmeg. Stir in the milk and melted butter. Add the yeast and eggs, stirring, then kneading, until fairly smooth, about 10 minutes. Add in the
dried fruits (including any liquid from the soaking), and knead until the fruits are incorporated and the dough is smooth, about 10 minutes, adding more flour if the dough is sticky (it will
be quite moist, however). Don't skimp on the kneading time! The more you work at developing the bread during kneading, the less additional flour you will need.
3. Butter a large bowl, and place the dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch down.
4. Cut the dough evenly into the number of loaves you plan to make. Roll each piece into a rectangle. Brush the surface of this rectangle with a generous amount of butter. Fold one edge of the
rectangle to just past the center, then fold the other edge, overlapping the first by about an inch. Taper the ends. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and let rise
again until doubled, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake stollen 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. After the stollen has cooled for about an hour, dust with powdered sugar - but not too much. Dust on
a little more before serving.
Excellent toasted with a little butter. It freezes fairly well, and even my kids love it.