Stollen is a spicy enriched fruit bread with a rich marzipan filling, that’s especially popular at Christmas celebrations across Europe. There are many different varieties but the most famous is probably that originating in Dresden, Germany.
Stollen, in its first manifestation way back in the fourteenth century, was a bit of a let-down. A law existed that banned the use of butter in the making of bread so stollen, or striezel as it was known, was very ordinary and boring. Two gentlemen from Saxony, fed-up of the monotony, appealed to the Pope for dispensation to use butter and milk in their baking and the Pope agreed that they could as long they made the ‘appropriate penance’ – in other words, paid tax!
By the early sixteenth century, stollen was a familiar sight at Dresden’s Christmas markets, and in 1730, August the Strong, the Lord of Saxony, commanded that a massive stollen should be baked. That huge stollen, that was said to have weighed nearly 2 tons, is commemorated to this day on the Saturday before the second Sunday in Advent in the annual Dresden Stollen Festival.
Stollen as we know it today, with its heavy dusting of icing sugar and soft marzipan centre, has existed in similar forms since the beginning of the twentieth century. It should be bought or made 2 – 3 weeks before Christmas, and cut from the centre outwards. To stop the stollen drying out, push the two halves together again and store wrapped tightly in foil in a cool, dry area.
- 200g (7 oz) unsalted butter
- 50g (2 oz) fresh yeast (or if you’re using dried fast action yeast, follow the proportions on the packet.)
- 250ml (9 fl oz) of milk, warmed to blood-heat (it should feel just warm when tested with your finger)
- 85g (3½ oz) caster sugar
- 500g (1 lb 2 oz) plain flour
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- pinch of ground cloves
- vanilla essence
- almond essence
- 50g (2 oz) finely chopped almonds
- 200g (7 oz) raisins
- 110g (4 oz) currants
- 110g (4 oz) mixed peel
- 225g (8 oz) marzipan
- Extra melted butter and icing sugar to finish
Melt the butter and set aside. Break the yeast up into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and the milk, stir well and leave, covered, to go frothy.
Sieve the flour and the spices together into a large bowl. Add the remaining sugar, ½ teaspoon of vanilla essence and 2 drops of almond essence. Stir it all together then add the melted butter and yeast mixture. Mix well until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured work surface.
Knead the mixture well to make a smooth dough then add the almonds, raisins, currants and peel, and continue kneading.
When all the fruit is thoroughly incorporated, put the dough in a bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm or a t-towel and leave in a warm place for 1- 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 190°C, gas mark 5. Grease a baking tray.
When it’s well-risen, punch back the dough and knead again for a few minutes. Roll out to a rectangle and then shape the marzipan into a roll to fit on the dough. Wrap the marzipan up in the dough and press down the edges to seal.
Place the stollen on the baking tray and leave again, covered, in a warm place, to rise until doubled in size again.
Bake for about an hour until golden and firm.
When cooked, allow to cool slightly then brush with melted butter and coat in icing sugar.
Allow to cool completely before storing. Dust again with icing sugar before serving.