On the trail of German stollen, the traditional Christmas yeast bread filled with dried fruit, I took a detour and ended up in my kitchen.
Stollen is among the heritage holiday recipes you can make and bake, or, if time is limited, you can buy it. Fortunately for Toledo area residents, there are at least two bakeries keeping the tradition alive.
At Wixey Bakery, 2017 Glendale Ave., German-born baker Richard Wiedmann has an Americanized version of German stollen. At Haas Eastwood Bakery, at 2306 Starr Ave., owner Dennis Haas bakes authentic Dresden stollen.
For those who want to bake their own, a Stollen Kit is available by mail from King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vt.
As for German stollen recipes, these are few and far between, especially in recent cookbooks. The lucky cooks are those who bake their annual stollen using recipes handed down through generations.
“Stollen is a real German thing,” said Dennis Haas, who used to bake the American style but has opted for Dresden in the last two years. Dresden stollen has spices such as cardamom and cinnamon. “It's heavy with fruit, nuts, and very little yeast. It's lighter than fruit cake and tastes less strong.” Andersons is also selling his Dresden fruitcakes.
“Baking stollen is an all-day process,” said Mr. Haas. He makes two versions of Dresden stollen both of which are folded over and topped with a non-melting confectioners' sugar: the almond-filled is made with butter ($4.95) and the regular stollen ($4.50) made without butter, does not have a filling and is less rich.
At Wixey bakery owned by Dennis Wixey, Richard Wiedmann, who learned the baking trade in Germany, bakes an Americanized, lighter version ($6.50). “We don't use butter for diet reasons,” said Mr. Wiedmann. “We use a margarine-butter blend. It's lighter. We used to fold it over, but it opened too much. We make it in a loaf now.”
Wixey's signature “roll icing” is used. “In Germany, they never iced stollen,” he said. “They used powdered sugar. Traditionally, after stollen gets out of the oven, melted butter is brushed on top. When the loaf is cold, it is coated with powdered sugar at least three times.”
“Germans don't put diced fruit like we do,” said Mr. Wiedmann, who thinks that the use of almond filling comes from northern Germany.
This all points to the idea that stollen is “tailoring it to what you like to eat,” said Robyn Sargent, baking instructor at King Arthur Flour in a phone interview. “Region to region in Germany, the recipes were changed and adapted.”
Not only can you select the candied fruits to put in the stollen dough, you can also avoid the strong flavor of the fruit, by not soaking the fruit in a liqueur.
King Arthur Flour's Stollen Kit is $14.95 and includes 1 bag of Stollen Mix with a envelope of Perfect Rise Yeast in the bottom; 1 container of diced candied fruit; 1 can of almond paste; and 1 package of Snow White Sugar, which is non-melting. The kit produces two stollens, but there is enough almond paste for a second stollen recipe or for a cookie recipe (which is enclosed in the kit). For information, call 800-827-6836.
The kit can be made in bread machines and by the traditional hand method, which I used. The fruit is supposed to be soaked for 12 hours in 1/3 cup rum or brandy, or 1/3 cup water with 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (my choice). If you don't have time for that, 30 minutes will do.
“Soak the fruit to swell and soften it - this imbues flavor. You can also use citrus juice,” said Ms. Sargent. The fruit must then be drained well.
As for the almond filling in the center of the stollen, ”you're supposed to find a surprise in the middle,” she said. “That's a rustic aspect.”
While stollen is often associated with people of German heritage, in some parts of America it is a tradition. “Stollen is sold in nearly every bakery in New England,” said Pamela Simmons, who does recipe development for Odense Almond Paste in Connecticut.
She and her husband make stollen every year with a recipe that makes 16 loaves. “I give stollen as presents,” said Mrs. Simmons. “It's not Christmas without stollen for breakfast. We make it in a flat oval, which is said to be shaped like a creche. Some people made three cuts in the top of the bread for the Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Other traditions are that the shape and folds of the dough are said to represent the blanket of the baby Jesus, according to The Joy of Cooking.
Mrs. Simmons' recipe is an all-day project beginning with 12 cups of flour to make the sponge first. A sponge is a light bread-dough mixture made by combining the yeast with some of the flour and liquid. It is covered and set aside until it bubbles and becomes foamy depending on the combination of ingredients. During this time the sponge develops a tangy flavor. Mrs. Simmons also marinates her fruit overnight in brandy and grated lemon zest. This year the couple have given great thought to the dried fruits they will put in their stollen: They selected dried apricots, dried sweetened cranberries, raisins, and dates.
The King Arthur Flour Stollen Kit takes approximately three hours to make. Making stollen from scratch can take as long as 17 hours using the recipe in Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glezer or as short as three hours with the recipe the Blade developed. The latter is very nearly the time needed when using a bread machine.
To shorten the process, bakers at home can make the dough one day; portion it and refrigerate; and then take it out of the refrigerator to proof, said Mr. Haas. “The `older' the dough is the better (for depth of wheat flavor). You can let it age in the refrigerator.”
One of the advantages of stollen when baked is that if wrapped tightly, it can stay fresh for two to three weeks. The fruit and nuts help keep it moist longer than other yeast breads.
Stollen is also a good item for mailing because of the density. But be assured, it is heavy.
Wherever you find yourself this holiday take time to bake or buy this Christmas tradition. In this season where every minute counts, you'll be giving yourself a stollen moment.