Baking stollen is one of the very few Christmas traditions that I have and I make it in some form or another every year. I don’t think I have ever baked the exact same recipe twice, I like to play around with it and try new recipes, I have tried many variations ranging from a very traditional German recipe to cinnamon roll style stollen buns. The one constant is that it must contain marzipan; I LOVE marzipan and will happily eat chunks of it out of the packet as I bake, although I try to control myself so that I have enough left for whatever it is that I am baking…
This year I decided to go for a fairly traditional stollen recipe, but shaped into a three strand braid rather than the traditional folded stollen with a log of marzipan down the centre. The dough is rolled out into a square and sliced into three strips, you then roll out the marzipan into three sausages and place one on each strip, roll the marzipan up in the dough so you have three sausages of dough with a strip of marzipan in the centre of each, then braid them together tightly. Shaping the bread like this results in the marzipan being more evenly spread throughout the loaf, rather than just having a lump of it in the middle.
The dough is enriched with milk, butter and egg, sweetened with honey and flavoured with a heady mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, vanilla and orange and lemon zest, truly Christmassy. After the dough has had it’s first rise, you knead in dried fruit that has been soaked in rum or orange juice so that it becomes plump and flavourful. I just used the packets of pre-mixed dried fruit – raisins, sultanas, currants and mixed peel with some dried cranberries thrown in but you can use whatever dried fruit you like; dried cherries are delicious (especially a mix of cherries and cranberries), and chopped dried apricot works really well with the almond in the marzipan.
The dough can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for up to two days if you want to split up the workload a little, and the baked stollen will keep for a week if it is well buttered and smothered in icing sugar and is kept tightly wrapped so it is airtight. It is best to leave the stollen for a day or two before slicing to allow the crumb to become a little firmer though it is still utterly delicious if sliced as soon as it is cold. This stollen to me epitomises the taste of Christmas and I can’t help myself from slicing a slither off to nibble on every time I go into the kitchen…For a proper Christmas experience I accompany it with a cheeky glass of mulled wine whilst curled up on the sofa next to the Christmas tree (unfortunately I don’t have a fireplace…if I did then curled up in front of a roaring fire would definitely be the best place to eat it…).