These rich tea breads are found all over northern Europe at Christmas time, having had ancient Christian religious connotations.
They are German in origin, and come in endless regional variety, permitting a wide range of shape and finishing touches. The rod of marzipan running down the middle is entirely optional, as is the use of spice, and the choice of liquor in which you soak the fruit.
In order to keep them fresh and attractively edible over the long Christmas season they would be repeatedly washed with melted butter. In that way the outside of the loaf would be sealed so that it would keep well between its appearances at the table. Whenever it was put away in the pantry or in a tin, it was washed with the melted butter, whenever brought out to be served, it was dusted with icing sugar.
Begin with a ferment. The ferment gives the yeast a flying start, so that it will cope better when it meets all the rich and greasy ingredients which, while making the stollens delicious, are heavy going for the yeast and separate it from easy access to its food.
Beforehand, best overnight: soak the fruit (raisins and sultanas) in half a cup of rum. Yeast is upset when alcoholic liquor is added directly to dough, hence it is best to deliver the flavour of rum in the fruit
- 350 ml. (5/8 pt.) warm milk
- 40 gm. ( 11/2 oz ) fresh yeast
- 15 gm (1/2 oz) sugar
- 110 gm ( 4 oz) strong bread flour
Whisk all these together in a deep bowl and put it aside in a place which is at room temperature. In less than an hour it will have gassed up sufficiently to be used. It is ready when gas bubbles are bursting on the surface.
Add the ferment to the rest of the ingredients, making sure that you gather the dough together BEFORE adding all the butter.
- 2 eggs
- 800 gm ( 1lb 12oz) strong flour
- 15 gm (1/2oz ) salt – less if using salted butter
- 75 gm ( 21/2oz ) brown sugar
- 175 gm ( 6 oz ) butter
The aim is to have a moist and light dough. Adjust with more flour if it seems too sloppy, but it should remain a soft and pliable dough. When you think it is silky and the gluten is sufficiently developed,
Add the following
- 350 gm ( 12oz ) sultanas/raisins/chopped cherries
- Zest of 1 or 2 lemons
Let the dough sit, well covered, for at least an hour, longer if it is cool. It will have reached full proof when it has doubled in size, and looks so puffed up that it is almost ready to collapse.
This quantity will make two large, or four small stollens. Divide the dough into the number you want. Mould them by rolling and patting until you have gently expelled all the gas and got them into a neat oval shape.
They need another short rest before you flatten them out to the width of a bread and butter plate for the small ones, or a dinner plate for the large ones. Rather than having them round, try to keep them in an oval shape. With quick and gentle movements of the rolling pin make a hollow down the length of the oval and lay the marzipan rod along the groove. With the marzipan rod as a backbone fold the back towards the front so that the spread oval is turned into a half-circle. Leave the edges puffy, not pressed hard together, so that they resemble a pair of lips.
Egg wash thoroughly , and prove them before baking in a moderate oven, which for most domestic ovens would be about 170 – 180 degrees C, or 330 – 350 F. Squeeze them gently and feel their sides spring back to know that they are done. After baking they are repeatedly washed over with melted butter. Before serving they can be dusted with icing sugar and tied in a satin ribbon.
The marzipan, or modelling paste
- 120 gm ( 4oz ) ground almonds
- 60 gm ( 2oz ) icing sugar
- 90 gm ( 3oz ) castor sugar
- 1 small egg
- Optional – the zest of an orange
Mix all together by hand or with a wooden spoon until it is properly gathered together. It should not stick to you when it is rolled into rods on the bench. Add some more almonds if it seems too wet.
Fashion the marzipan into a thick rod on the bench, then cut it into four. Now roll each segment into a slender rod about as long as your handspan, to neatly fit the width of the folded stollen.