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...).
- 225ml (scant cup) full fat milk
- 3 tbsp runny honey
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 85g (⅓ cup) butter, cubed
- 500g (4 ¼ cups) strong white bread flour
- 10g (3tsp) fast action yeast
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- finely grated zest of 1 orange
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 egg
- 150g (5 + ⅓ oz) mixed dried fruits
- 50g (2 oz) dried cranberries
- 3tbsp rum or orange juice
- 300g (10 ½ oz) marzipan
- melted butter and icing sugar to glaze
Pour the milk and honey into a pan and heat until it just starts to come up to the boil, remove from the heat, add the vanilla extract and butter and set aside to cool, swirling now and then until the butter has melted. Meanwhile, mix the flour, yeast, salt and spices together in a large bowl. When the milk has cooled to body temperature, pour it into the bowl of dry ingredients. Add the egg and orange and lemon zest, and mix together with a spoon, then with your hands, until the mixture comes together as a dough.
Tip out onto an un-floured work surface (or use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook) and knead for 10 mins or until smooth and elastic; the dough will be sticky at first but after a little kneading it should become smooth (you may need to use a dough scraper to prise it off the work surface), try to avoid adding any extra flour unless the dough is really wet. Transfer to a clean, lightly greased bowl, cover with greased cling film and leave to prove in a warm place until doubled in size, about one hour. You can put the dough in the fridge for up to 2 days at this point; just bring back to room temperature for half an hour or so before continuing.
Whilst the dough is rising, place the mixed dried fruit, cranberries and rum or orange juice in a bowl, cover with clingfilm and microwave on high for one minute then set aside until cool.
When the dough has doubled in size, tip it out onto the work surface and punch it down. Drain the soaked fruit and knead it into the dough. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper or a silicone liner. Roll the dough out into a square, roughly 40 x 40cm, then slice it into 3 long strips.
Break the marzipan into 3 balls, then roll each out into a sausage the same length as the strips of dough. Place one marzipan sausage on top of each strip of dough, then roll the dough up around the marzipan – so you have 3 long sausages of marzipan-filled dough.
Flip the dough over so the seams are underneath, then pinch the 3 ends together. Tightly plait the dough, keeping the seams underneath, pinch the ends together to seal and tuck them under slightly when you finish, it is best to do this directly on the baking sheet so you don't have to transfer it.
Place the plait on the prepared baking tray if you didn't plait directly on it. Cover loosely with a sheet of oiled cling film or place inside a large, clean plastic bag and leave to prove for 30 minutes to an hour or until doubled in size. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Bake the stollen on the middle shelf of the oven for 40 minutes until golden brown and cooked through, cover with tinfoil after 15 minutes or so if it starts to get too dark brown.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool, brush liberally all over with melted butter whilst the braid is still warm then dust generously with a thick layer of icing sugar, don't skimp on the butter and sugar as it helps to keep the stollen moist. Leave until completely cold before slicing, will keep for a week if tightly wrapped.
(recipe adapted from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/spiced-stollen-plait)