With the Christmas Cake made and stored away in a well sealed tin awaiting the festivities, the taste of Christmas can be sampled early by way of a Stollen.
Stollen is basically, a sweetened fruit bread. But because it is drenched with melted butter and rolled in icing sugar as soon as it comes out of the oven it is a much moister and fuller flavoured loaf that keeps much better. The marzipan rope in the middle is optional and the dried fruits can be macerated in rum or brandy for a superior tasting bread. But the early Stollen was a different kind of pastry.
The basic ingredients were flour, oats and water. As a Christmas pastry, Stollen was baked for the first time at the Saxon Royal Court in 1427 and was made with flour, yeast, oil and water.
The Advent season being a time of fasting, bakers were not allowed to use butter, only oil, and the cake was tasteless and hard. Over the centuries, the cake has changed from being a simple, fairly tasteless “bread” to a sweeter cake with richer ingredients, such as marzipan, although the traditional Stollen is not as sweet, light and airy as the copies made around the world today.
The Stollen recipe given below is one that I have used many times and always produces an excellent loaf :
2 tsp dried yeast
6 fl oz warm milk
1 large egg
3 oz caster sugar
1 tsp salt
3 oz butter, softened
12 oz bread flour
2 oz currants
2 oz sultanas
2 oz glace cherries
6 oz diced mixed citrus peel
7 oz marzipan
1 tsp icing sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Toasted almonds (optional)
Dissolve yeast and let stand until creamy.
Combine the yeast mix with the egg, caster sugar, salt, butter, and ¾ of the bread flour.
Beat well, adding the remaining flour, a little at a time.
Turn the pulled dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in the currants, sultanas, dried cherries and mixed peel.
Continue to knead until smooth.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth.
Leave in a warm place until doubled in volume. (about 1 hour)
Lightly grease a baking tray.
Deflate the dough on lightly floured surface.
Roll the marzipan into a rope and place it in the centre of the dough.
Fold the dough over to cover it; pinch the seams together to seal.
Place the loaf, seam side down, on an oiled baking tray
Cover with a clean, damp tea-towel leave to doubled in size.
Bake at 180°C for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 150°C for a further 30 to 40 minutes.
Allow to cool on a wire cooling rack before dusting heavily with icing sugar.
Sprinkle with toasted flaked almonds (if being used).
It is interesting to note that the largest Stollen was baked in 2010 by the German supermarket chain Lidl and it was 70 meters long. This was duly certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.