More and more, you can find Stollen (also called Dresdner Christstollen or Weihnachtsstollen) in the United States. It’s a traditional German Christmas fruitcake, although it’s more like a lightly sweetened bread. Usually it contains rum-soaked raisins, chopped almonds and citrus peel. Believe it or not, the Aldi’s grocery store chain has excellent Stollen, imported from Germany. I think I have seen it at Trader Joe’s in the US as well. You may have also seen Italian Panettone in stores, which is similar to Stollen.
Originally called Strietzel, Stollen comes from the city of Dresden. The story goes that during Advent, Catholics fasted and were not permitted to consume any butter or milk. They attempted to make a cake using only oil, but it was tasteless. Prince Elector Ernst von Sachsen and his brother Albrecht wrote to the pope to ask if it would be permitted to use butter and milk for the special Strietzel cake. The pope allowed this, in a letter that has gone down in history as the “Butterbrief”, or Butter letter. A more detailed explanation in German is available at this Backland Bakery website. There is a lovely picture of the Stollen on this page, showing what it traditionally looks like, and they even say that you can order Stollen for delivery. Do you suppose they would ship Stollen to North America? It does keep extremely well…
When I was an exchange student in Köln, I discovered Stollen for the first time. It was a store-bought variety, and although very tasty, I was interested in finding a recipe so I could make it myself. At the end of my exchange year, I purchased a German cookbook for my mother which happened to have an authentic Dresdner Stollen recipe. I’ve made it a few times before, and although it takes a lot of work and time to make a Stollen, it is so worth it. Homemade Stollen is far better than the store-bought kind.
Dresdner Stollen – German Christmas Fruitcake
1 kg flour
100 g fresh yeast, in cubes [or 2 teaspoons active, dried yeast]
400 ml whole milk, lukewarm (around 80 degrees F)
75-100 g sugar (to taste)
one vanilla bean
grated peel of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
400 g butter
200 g flour
350 g raisins (or mix of raisins and dried black currants)
100 g blanched, chopped almonds
50 g candied diced citron
100 g candied, diced orange peel
4 to 5 cl rum (that’s about two shots worth)
150 g butter
150 g powdered sugar
Soak the raisins, black currants, almonds, candied citron and orange peel in the rum. Set aside.
Get the largest mixing bowl you have.
That bowl you have there? It’s too small. Get a bigger one.
Then measure and sift the 1 kg of flour. Yes, you read that correctly, it’s a whole kilogram of flour, plus 200 more grams of flour are added later. Did I mention that my recipe makes enough to feed a small army?
Make a well in the center of the flour. In the meantime, dissolve the fresh yeast cubes in 400 ml of warm milk (best at around 80 degrees F/26.5 degrees C). Add a pinch of salt, stir, then pour the milk-yeast mixture into the well. Form into a very dry dough and let rise for about ten or 15 minutes.
Carefully cut the vanilla bean down the center with a sharp knife and then scrape the vanilla bean pulp into a small bowl. Add the sugar to the vanilla bean pulp. Then add the zested lemon peel, salt and the eggs. Beat together, then knead into the dough after it has finished its first 15 minute rise. Let rise for another 15 minutes. Then take the remaining 200 grams of flour and knead the butter into it. Then work it in to the yeast dough. Let rise for another 15 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (about 390 degrees F). Quickly work in the rum-soaked fruit and nuts into the Stollen so that they are evenly distributed. Be careful you don’t get too tipsy from the rummy fumes as you are kneading the fruit into the yeast dough. Why yes, this did in fact happen to me, why do you ask?
Form two rolls out of the dough, about 30 cm long. Then shape the rolls into Stollen loaves. Traditionally, the loaf is thicker in the center than on the sides. Place the loaves on a greased baking sheet (or on baking parchment paper) and let rise until the dough has doubled in size, about twenty minutes although it might be longer. Bake at 200° C for about an hour. Watch carefully, because your Stollen may need more or less time to bake. You may also need to rotate the baking sheet so that it browns evenly, depending on your oven. Test for doneness using a toothpick.
Coat with melted butter, and then using a sieve, shake the powdered sugar onto the loaves.
Let cool, slice and enjoy. I personally enjoy my Stollen for breakfast with a cup of strong German coffee.
*notes – although it’s not traditional, sometimes you can buy Stollen with marzipan in the middle. If you wanted to add marzipan, you could do so when you form the loaves.
Also, feel free to vary the dried fruits to your taste. Chopped, dried apricots and cherries, though not what was traditionally used, would be quite tasty.
You can take the scraped vanilla bean and add it to a jar with sugar to make vanilla sugar. Vanilla sugar is useful for baking, for your coffee or whenever you want to add a little extra flavor when you’re using regular sugar.