Dresden Christmas Stollen
This stollen is an amazing thing: rich, heavy, and fruity. The dough is different from anything else I know and a little tricky to work with. Before I give you the recipe and the technique, I will start by telling you a little about the history of Dresden Stollen. Seeing that there are very different stollen recipes around, I think you need this little introduction to understand how the Dresden stollen is different and why it is worth making, despite all the effort.
In Saxony (the region in the East of Germany, where Dresden is), stollen has been a tradition Christmas bread for centuries (the first written documents about stollen are from the 1329). At that time, however, stollen was a light, yeasted bread, containing nothing but flour, water, yeast and sometimes oil. It was sold and eaten during he pre-Christmas period of Advent fast. Saxony was then catholic, so the use of any richer ingredients such as butter or milk was strictly forbidden. The Saxon rulers, however, were apparently dissatisfied with their Advent bread, so they applied to the pope for a permission to use butter in their stollen. The pope allowed this in 1491, on the condition that they atone for their sin by donating liberally to the church. Although meant only for the rulers and gentry, the pope's permission was quickly applied with much more liberation. Maybe to compensate for centuries of butter-free fasting, the Saxons transformed the stollen into a rich, buttery bread stuffed with fruits. No longer a fast meal, the stollen became a Christmas celebration bread. After a while Saxony turned protestant, but the stollen remained. Of course, with its centuries of tradition, the title "Dresden Stollen" was soon used for trading purposes, unfortunately not always with high-quality products. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the traditional Dresden stollen bakeries fought against the on-slough of so-called Dresden stollen. Today, "Dresdner Stollen" is a registered trademark and only selected backers from Dresden area can use it, provided that their stollen meet criteria with regard to the minimum amount of butter and dried fruits.
Enough of history, let's look at the bread. A real Dresden stollen contains at least 500g Butter and 650g sultanas per 1000g flour. This makes it extremely heavy and rich. Furthermore, the stollen is traditionally heavily coated in icing sugar. The bread needs to ripe for at least 3 weeks in order to develop its flavours and texture and keeps in proper conditions easily for several months.
The recipe that I have here is based on a century old recipe for Dresden Christmas stollen, that Dresden bakeries use as a foundation. Of course, I have adapted it to suit our tastes. You are free to do the same. Just what ever you do, do not cut down the fat! Without the fat, the stollen will never keep as long and it will not develop the proper texture and taste. The same goes for the amount of fruits. You can play with the sugar though, for example leave out the sugar coat (I prefer our stollen uncoated).
Right, enough said, here is the recipe:
1000 g flour (fine, weak flour; all purpose flour should do nicely)
250 g cream
42 g fresh yeast (or 14 g dried yeast)
500 g butter (or 450g butter and 50g lard or tallow)
1 g ground mace
0,5 g ground cinnamon
0,5 g ground cardamom
zest of 1 lemon
150 g sugar (I use Muscovado whole-cane sugar)
50 g candied lemon peel (instead I make my own by soaking peel from two lemons in honey
for several days)
150 g candied orange peel (instead, I soak peel from 4-5 oranges in honey)
500 g sultanas
250 g currants
100 g rum (optional, I use Amaretto instead)
200 g ground almonds
+ extra butter (approx. 250 g)
+ extra fine castor sugar (approx. 100 g)
+ extra icing sugar (at least 250 g)
0. Save the date
It's important not to start baking stollen too late. My personal experience with this recipe is that they need at least 4 weeks, ideally 6 weeks before you cut into them. Really! We always cut our first stollen on the first Advent Sunday, so I bake my first batch 10 weeks before Christmas. I bake my second and sometimes third batch about 5-6 weeks before Christmas, partly for us and partly as presents for friends.
The stollen dough is very heavy and it will need a strong yeast activity to raise it. For this purpose, I like to preferment a portion of the flour. I take 300g of the flour, break in 21g yeast, and knead it with 250g cream. I leave it to ferment for 1 hour by room temperaure and than for 12-24 hours in the fridge. You can also use sourdough in the preferment. I have successfully baked sourdough-only stollen, you just need to let them rise longer.
Place the sultanas and currents in a large bowl. If you are using alcohol, pour it over the fruit. Add enough boiling water to cover the fruit. Leave to soak for at least 30 minutes, but best over night. It is important to soak the fruit even if you are not using alcohol, or else it will burn in the oven. Don't forget to drain the fruit well before you start making the dough to make it as dry as possible.
I sieve the flour onto a working surface (this definitely does not work in a bowl). Break in the remaining 21g of yeast (you can leave this out, just adjust the rising time). Rub the lemon zests into the sugar and mix the sugar into the flour, together with the mace, cinnamon, and cardamom. If you are wondering about the small amounts, the stollen is not supposed to taste very spicy. However, this is your stollen, so you can add any spices you like. Cut the preferment into small pieces and distribute it on the edges of your flour mound and do the same with the butter/lard. Now comes the kneading. Be warned, that you will need about 30 minutes to knead the dough. You can try it in your mixere, but make sure your mixer can take it. Better invest the time or coax a physically strong friend or relative into helping. Start by taking a few pieces of the preferment and the butter and kneading them together. As you do this, the dough-lump in your hands will turn sticky. Place it in the middle of your flour mound and knead it there, until so much flour has been incorporated that it's dry again. Now take some more preferment and butter and knead them in your lump. This will make it sticky again, so add flour. And so on and so on. At some point, the dough-lump may become difficult to handle. Feel free to cut and put aside about two thirds of it and continue kneading with the rest. You can put the pieces together in the end. Do not be tempted into adding more flour or any liquids. Trust me, just keep kneading, it will all be well in the end. As you work, the kitchen will be slowly filled with the smell of lemon zest and the spices - Christmas is on the way!
You are tired, your fingers ache and you are a proud owner of a homogeneous dough lump that reminds you of short-bread dough. Congratulations, let's add the fruit. Take your drained sultanas and currants and mix them with the ground almonds. This will help soak up the remaining liquid. Mix them with the candied orange and lemon peel and pour the whole lot on your working surface. You might have the urge to check the recipe now, because you think you have too much fruit. But it really can be incorporated into you dough-lump. First, cut the dough-lump into 5 pieces. Start by working the first piece into the fruit. As the fruit is wet, this will make it all turn into a strange paste. Keep adding piece by piece, until the whole lot is incorporated. Don't worry if you feel more like making mudpies. Place the whole mass into a bowl and clean your working surface with a dough scraper. Now evaluate the dough. Is it like a soft short-bread or cookie dough? Than you are done with it. If it's too wet and soft (probably it will be), dust the working surface with flour, turn the dough onto it and carefully work in a little more flour. Not too much, though, the dough should be just about manageable. You won't need to make anything fancy with it, so as long as it does not stick to the work surface or your hands like crazy, it's fine.
3. Divide, form, and rise
Divide the dough into 2-5 pieces. For us, I prefer to make two large stollen. This size apparently has a positive influence on the texture of the stollen later on. But you can make several smaller stollen, too, for example as gifts. Just don't forget to adjust the baking time. Form each stollen into a rough, high log. Just pat it into shape - no rolling, no stretching. Just a note here: the traditional Dresden stollen has no almond paste inside. With all the dried fruit and its sugar coat, I also think that it does not need it. But it's your stollen, so if you like, add it now. Put the formed stollen on a baking sheet with baking paper (make sure the stollen are far enough apart) and let it rise for about 2 hours (more, if you are using only sourdough or less yeast). The stollen will become a little puffy, nothing more. It will definitely not double.
4. Score and bake
There is a traditional way of forming a Dresden stollen. I use a different, simple way used for stollen from Thuringia (another region in Germany). It's easier and the stollen are less flat, so they are also moister. Basically, you just make a log and then you score it with a single cut all the away down the stollen's back. That's it. I score the stollen directly before putting it into the oven. I don't preheat the oven, just pop it in and bake it at 180°C for approx. 1-1,5 hours. Keep a watchful eye on the stollen. Cover it with aluminium foil if it has turned brown before its time and adjust the time according to the size of the stollen.
This is an optional step. Traditional stollen is heavily coated in sugar. If you want to coat the stollen, brush it with liquid butter (as much as the stollen can soak up) immediately after taking it out of the oven. Than sprinkle it heavily with fine castor sugar. The castor sugar will soak up any access butter. Wait for the stollen to cool and sprinkle it with a very thick layer of icing sugar. As I wrote, I skip this step. Firstly, I find the coated stollen too sweet and secondly it makes a mess when storing. Alternatively, it is also possible to store uncoated stollen and brush it with butter and coat it in sugar right before cutting into it.
The stollen has to be stored for at least 4 weeks (I recommend 6) before cutting into it. If you cut it earlier, you will be disappointed. Cutting it later is even better. Stollen store best in an old fashioned cool celler, with high humidity. If you don't have such a cellar, you can store stollen outside in wooden boxes provided that your climate is cool enough (that's what I do). Otherwise store the stollen in the coolest room of your house, but not in the fridge. Some people like to freeze the stollen, I don't think its necessary and it has a negative impact on the texture. If you are storing stollen in a cellar or outside, simply wrap it in cotton cloth and put it in a wooden box, so that it can breathe. Otherwise wrap it well in a plastic or aluminium foil. The idea is that if you cannot provide an environment with high humidity, such as cellar or outside, you should prevent the stollen from drying out. That's it, now wait.
If you cut into a stollen 2-3 weeks after baking, you will be disappointed. It will taste fine, but the crumb will be far too dry. Don't give up and put the stollen away again and wait a little longer. The texture will change over time and after six weeks it will have a short-bread-like crumb and the taste will be a mixture of spices and fruits, all rolled into a buttery, sweet bliss.
So to sum up, a Dresden stollen is not hard to bake. All it takes are good quality ingredients, some muscle and a lot of patience. The reward is a truly unusual bread. Although I am not German and grew up baking other Christmas goodies, stollen has become to me a personification of Christmas. You take the best, you do your best, you wait for the occasion, and then you enjoy it in full.