I love tradition. Especially around holidays.
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Yes, one such tradition I love at Christmas is waking to fresh-baked stollen on Christmas morning.
Granted, the rest of my family are the ones doing the waking up to fresh-baked bread, as I am inevitably the one who has risen early to pop the loaf in the oven before tucking back in under the warm blankets to eek out a few more moments of sleep.
(Word to the wise, however, set a VERY LOUD alarm – I've burned my sourdough stollen and sourdough hot cross buns more than once by such indulgence.)
Sleep-deprived capers asides, stollen is a decadent celebration of the smells and tastes of the season. Studded with fruit and almond paste, it's a sweet yeast bread that just sings of all things merry.
Now, I should mention that while my family tradition is to eat fresh stollen straight out of the oven on Christmas morning, the more proper German tradition is to make this 4-6 weeks ahead of Christmas and let it age to perfection, then dust it with powdered sugar just before serving. Plus, then you don't have to make this on Christmas Eve so it's fresh on Christmas morning. Brilliant.
Want to know how to age stollen? Wrap your cool loaves in rum-soaked cheesecloth, surround with foil or cling wrap (like this homemade DIY cling wrap), then place in plastic bags and set aside in a cool, dark closet until Christmas morning. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and slather with apricot jam, if desired.
- 300 g (~1 1/4 cup) sourdough starter, domed
- 600 g (~4 cups) all-purpose flour, unbleached and unbromated (plus more as necessary to acheive a shaggy-but-not-sticky dough)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 egg
- 2 1/2 cups dried fruit (raisins, currants, chopped apricots, dried cherries, dried figs, candied citrus peel, etc) – this doesn't have to be exact, so measuring by volume is fine!
- 1/4 cup orange liqueur, rum, or orange juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- zest of 2 large oranges
- zest of 1 large lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 120 g (1/2 cup / 1 stick) butter, slightly softened, cut into 8-10 pieces
- 1 cup almond paste (see how to make almond paste)
- Powdered sugar (see how to make powdered sugar)
- Place the sourdough starter and flour in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the milk and honey and stir to mix until the dough is shaggy. If the mixture is still very wet, add more flour until the mixture is loose and just begins to break apart in pieces in the bowl.
- Then, one at a time, add the egg, dried fruit, orange liqueur, vanilla, salt, zests, and spices. Knead until the dough comes together in a coherent ball, then cover and let rest for about 10 minutes.
- Working on low speed or kneading by hand, add the butter one piece at a time, working the dough after each addition until the piece is nearly fully incorporated. Once all the butter is added, continue kneading until the dough is soft, smooth, and very stretchy, 10-15 minutes. The final dough should be very soft, but not at all sticky.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let it sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- After 1 hour, roll the dough out into a vertical rectangle about 18 x 12 inches. Take the almond paste and form it into a 3-inch wide strip that's almost as long as your rectangle, then lay it lengthwise down the middle of the dough. Fold the two long sides of the rectangle over the almond paste, then make the top and bottom ends tidy by pulling the ends up and over the ends of the almond paste and tucking them under the side flaps. (See the picture below for help if you need it.)
- Transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray, cover, and let sit for 1 hour or place in the refrigerator overnight.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375F and prepare a steam bath by placing an empty baking pan in the oven during the preheat. When the oven is fully heated, place the stollen in the oven and pour 1 cup of water into the preheated pan and close the door as quickly as possible. (Be careful not to get a steam burn in the process.) Bake for 25-40 minutes, depending on the thickness of the bread. Internal temperature should read 190-200F when it's finished.
- Let the stollen cool, then either wrap for storage or serve immediately.
- When ready to serve, sprinkle very liberally with powdered sugar, slice, and eat. We love to slather ours with butter and occasionally apricot jam.
How to Fold Your Sourdough Stollen
Here you can see the two sides folded up over the almond paste in the center. (The almond paste is about the same color as the dough, but you can see it sticking out at both the bottom and the top…. see?)
After you fold the sides over the almond paste, just pull up the dough at the top and bottom and tuck them under the folded-in sides. It doesn't look like there will be enough dough, but this dough is very elastic, so just pull gently and it will wrap and tuck beautifully.
I should mention, however, that even though this folding method is the way *I* was taught to make it “traditional,” there are others who cling just as steadfastly to either braiding their stollen or folding it into a crescent.
Each method has its madness: the folding as I've described above evokes the image of the Baby Jesus being swaddled, while the crescent fold certainly has the image of the Baby being cradled, and the braid calls to mind the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Any and all of them are exactly what we want on our minds on Christmas morning…. 😉
Here's a holiday hug from me to each of you! No matter whether this year has been filled with great joy for you or whether it has been one of deep sorrows, I pray this season is a blessed one for you. Merry Christmas!