A German fellow I have been working with was thrilled when I brought in my latest loaf—stollen, er, “sch-tollen.” He regaled me with the history of the bread, how in Dresden, large stollen loaves would be prepared sometimes weeks in advance of the Advent season and then stored outside under shelters where the elements kept them refrigerated. He told me the name of the bread actually came from these shelters, “stollen” meaning something like a post or a support.
Reading further, the story of stollen gets even more rich. In fifteenth century Saxony (central Germany), Advent was a time of fasting, and butter in particular was outlawed by the Catholic church. Saxon bakers tried oil, but it was expensive and turnip-tasting. Imagining myself in this era, I hope I would have been one of the intrepid Butter-Letter writers who petitioned the Pope to allow butter to be used in the stollen Christmas pastries. Of course, in reality, the writers were Saxon princes, but perhaps I could have been a ghost-writer. The first Pope rejected the letters, and then there were five more Pope vetoes before Pope Innocent VIII allowed (only the Prince) the use of butter. Everyone else still had to pay a fine if they were caught, but thankfully the Protestant reformation brought the butter ban crumbling down (pun intended). Happy to be on the side of history that supports Jesus having butter on his birthday. After all, the cattle were lowing.
Adapted from The Bread Bakers Apprentice
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup golden raisins, plus additional for sprinkling on final dough
1 cup candied fruit mix, plus additional for sprinkling on final dough
1/2 cup brandy, rum, or schnapps
1 tablespoon orange or lemon extract
*I substituted regular dried fruit, cranberries, for the candied fruit.
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange zest (optional)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg
5 tablespoons olive oil
About 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds (or marzipan)
melted butter for topping
Powdered sugar for topping (I also skipped this, as I wanted to have a more “everyday stollen.”
Two days before making this bread, soak the raisins and candied fruit in the brandy, rum, or schnapps and the orange or lemon extract, tossing the fruit a few times a day until the liquid is absorbed. If you’d prefer not to use alcohol, you can double the amount of extract and add 1/2 cup of water. You can also simply add the fruit, without the alcohol, into the final dough and add the extract directly to the dough.
I used dried cranberries for this recipe because that is all I had on hand.
Make the sponge by warming the milk to about 100°F. Whisk in the flour and sourdough starter. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment for 1 hour, or until the sponge is very foamy and ready to collapse when tapped.
To make the dough, in a mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, orange and lemon zests, and cinnamon. Then stir in (or mix in on low speed with the paddle attachment) the sponge, egg, butter, and enough water to form a soft, but not sticky, ball.
This should take about 2 minutes. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
Add in the fruit and mix it with your hands (or on low speed) to incorporate.
Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should feel soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 6 minutes (4 minutes by machine). Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Ferment at room temperature for 45 minutes. The dough will rise somewhat but will not double in size.
Shaping the Stollen:
Sprinkle flour lightly on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.
With your hands, form the dough into a thick rectangle, 8 by 4 inches (5 by 3 inches for 2 smaller loaves), and dust it with flour.
Sprinkle the top with slivered almonds and extra fruit.
Take a small rolling pin and press down on the center of the rectangle,
Roll the dough in the center only, leaving 1 inch at both the top and the bottom edges as thick as the original rectangle.
The new rectangle, with its thick top and bottom edges, should be 12 inches wide by 6 inches long (8 by 5 inches for 2 loaves). The interior of the rectangle should be about 1/2 inch thick.
Using a pastry scraper to loosen the dough from the counter, lift the top edge and bring it down and over the bottom edge, going just past the bottom edge. The thin inside part of the rectangle should remain behind the bottom edge.
Turn the dough seam side up and tuck additional slivered almonds and fruit under the dough flap.
Fold the top edge back over the bottom edge and rest it on the thin center section. Tuck more almonds and fruit under the new fold. The dough should have a folded, layered look, with fruit and almonds peaking out both sides. Gently squeeze the loaf to press it together.
Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Transfer the stollen to the pan and, as you set the dough down, curl it into a slight crescent. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Proof for approximately 1 hour at room temperature, or until the dough is 1 1/2 times its original size. Preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Bake the stollen for 20 minutes.
Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 50 minutes, depending on the size of the loaves. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and brush the top with vegetable oil while still hot. Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter.
Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first. The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar. (again, I skipped this part because I wanted to bring the stollen for lunch at work, and didn’t want to cover my black suit pants with white powder –in essence, the lessons I learned from beignets while wearing black in New Orleans)
Let cool for at least 1 hour before serving. I brought mine to a Christmas party and forgot to take a picture until after it had been sliced up.
I’ve been thinking about what I would have written to the Pope to convince him to let us use butter for Christmas baking. Perhaps, a haiku:
Dear Pope, butter is
to Christmas what Jesus is
to our hearts: filling.
This post is featured on Sourdough Surprises: www.sourdoughsurprises.blogspot.com