Freshly made Stollen - iced and ready to eat Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

Highlights

  • Ancient Christmas tradition from Saxony
  • Stollen recipe for home bakers
  • History of Stollen in Germany

Is it cake or is it bread? Well, either way it is absolutely delicious and can be enjoyed for way longer than December.

Steeped in butter, dusted in sugar, folded in with candied fruit peel, raisins and nuts, Stollen (pronounced sh-tole-en) – a traditional German Christmas cake is a wonderful recipe to celebrate the Yuletide season in the UAE.

Over the Ages

It’s known by several names including Dresden Stollen, Strutzel, Striezel, Stutenbrot, or Christstollen. Legend has it that the loaf resembles the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes.

There are several tales of its origin and almost all of them lead to the city of Dresden in the valley of the river Elbe, in Germany.

This was around 600 years ago. The Catholic Church forbade the use of butter or milk in cooking during the period of Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas. And pastry without either was quite a drab affair. Stollen that is supposed to have originated around this time was nothing to write home about.

Finally, besieged by the entreaties of bakers from Dresden, in 1650, Prince Ernst von Sachsen petitioned Pope Urban VIII to lift the restrictions on the use of butter during Advent. And the result was the “Butter brief” by the Pope. Bakers could use butter and milk with a “clear conscience” after “appropriate penance”. But, this was only applicable in Dresden and thus was born the Stollen we consume today.

Chef Louis Gerard Thomas prepares the Stollen batter to create the loaves for the cake sale Image Credit: Rabab Khan

A culinary gift for home bakers

Over the centuries, fewer and fewer people bake Stollen at home. But, we thought it would be an absolute shame for you not to be able to enjoy this baked delight long after and perhaps even create your own Christmas tradition. The more a recipe is shared, greater are its chances of longevity.

Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates obliged our desire to uphold culinary legacies and created a scaled down recipe for home bakers. It is adapted to work with locally available products and for absolute novices. And how do I know this? Well, I tested the recipe in the hotel’s kitchen (we have a video of it) under the hawk-eyed guidance of chief baker Louis Gerard Thomas.

My personal struggle included the battle between to knead or not to knead. I, usually, only bake pastry, which means lightness of hand and low temperatures. Stollen is the opposite. It needs a good bit of muscle power and a slightly warmer ambient setting.

How to make stollen at home Video by Gulf News Social Media Team

At one point my gingery kneading almost pushed the master baker to breaking point, wherein he politely took over and gave the dough a good mixing. Otherwise the gluten will not form, giving Stollen its characteristic bread-like texture and appearance. Well, lesson learnt!

Chief baker Louis Gerard Thomas advises people to look for visual cues from the dough when baking Stollen. Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

A few yeasty points

And some of the other important pointers, never add yeast and salt together – there is no faster way to murder the bacteria. It needs sugar and warmth to work.

So, if using salt, always add towards the end.

If you are using dry yeast, as opposed to fresh yeast, halve the quantities.

A lot of recipes ask you to check the yeast fermentation with lukewarm water and sugar mixture. This is a good idea, especially if you are a new baker. Helps prevent heartbreak later on.

The recipe - for two loaves of Stollen

Ingredients:

290gms - Refined, all-purpose flour (preferably sifted)

145gms – Milk powder (any brand)

2gm – salt

25gms – sugar

2gms – bread improver (this helps the gluten walls to hold but is not available for the home baker, so can be done without)

130gms – softened butter

130gms – clarified butter (this is butter melted and separated from milk solids to ensure the preservation of the cake loaves)

2gm – Stollen spice (you could create a combination using cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, star anise, mace and cloves, but easier and better to buy it from local supermarkets, explain the chefs)

11ml – Almond essence

17ml Vanilla essence

58ml – milk

4 eggs – weighing about 50gms each, beaten

15gms – orange zest

15gms – lemon zest

7.5gm – dry yeast

200gms – marzipan (too tedious to make at home, just pick it up from the store)

440gms – fruit mix

(Fruit mix: 170gms black raisin, 70gms candied lemon peel, 80gms candied orange peel, 60ml orange juice and 60gms of almond nibs – mix it about two to three days in advance and keep)

500gms – icing sugar (estimate)

It is always good to keep all the ingredients measured and ready prior to starting a recipe. Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

Method:

Roll the marzipan out into two 60-centimetre logs and keep aside. The addition of marzipan helps keep the Stollen moist from within, along with giving you a hint of nutty sweetness in each bite.

Before you start, please make sure that all ingredients are at room temperature.

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature Image Credit: Rabab Khan

Take a large metal or glass mixing bowl, as it is far more hygienic. Add the flour, milk powder, sugar, bread improver (if available), the spice mix and dry yeast. Basically, nearly all the dry ingredients on the table. Mix well. Then add the butter, milk, almond and vanilla essence, and the zest, followed by the eggs one by one. Check the texture of the dough and the moisture level as you work it.

All the dry ingredients are first mixed together Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

You might end up needing just three eggs. The dough is mixed using a circular motion that follows the shape of the figure eight. A bit tricky but practice makes perfect. Sorry, had to use a cliché!

Once all the flour has been gathered and the dough leaves the sides of the bowl, add the salt. It can no longer impact the yeast because it is now shielded by all that buttery goodness.

Salt in pastry is an essential, as far as I am concerned, helps bring out the sweetness better while making it mellow.

Dry fruits are added in the final kneading of the dough Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

Now fold in the rested fruit, this ensures that they stay full and are not crushed in the kneading. Give it a good go. Then cover it and leave aside to rest for about 45 to 60 minutes. Depends on your room temperature. The dough has to double in size.

It is now ready to be worked upon. Place it on a clean, flat work space.

Stollen dough allowed to rest doubles in size with the yeast Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

Divide the dough in half. The next part requires a bit of deftness, otherwise you might get a shape that is more baguette and less Stollen. Well, this is from personal experience.

You need to roll, pat into a rotund sausage shape. Then place one hand over the other and press it down, to create even pressure. You do this for the length of the dough, till it is about half inch in thickness. Then fold the ends over. Pat down, again.

Place the marzipan lengthwise to roll the dough over it Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

Gently place the marzipan log closer towards the edge away from you, fold the dough over it and press it, so that it gets sealed in.

Then roll it towards you. Pinch the open length of the log to seal it, to avoid any accidents in the oven.

Don’t forget the ends, too. Otherwise the marzipan will leak out.

Now, it is time to rest, again. About 45 to 60 minutes, till the loaf is double in size.

Stollen rising after being rolled with marzipan Image Credit: Rabab Khan

Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 150C. Place the loaf in and bake from 35 to 45 minutes – depends on your oven and how evenly it distributes heat. The cake loaf has to acquire a golden, almond hue.

The German cake is preserved by steeping in clarified butter Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

Take it out, place on a cooling rack with a tray beneath. Generously brush the clarified butter on it, several layers go on, as the loaf is warm, which helps it better absorb the butter. This ensures the cake stays without spoiling for longer.

In Germany, the whole loaf is apparently soaked in clarified butter, overnight, as per executive chef Sudqi Naddaf. So, be generous with the butter.

Butter-soaked Stollen is covered generously in icing sugar Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

Once done. Spread the icing sugar on a clean tray. Gently place your buttered loaf on it. Be careful as the loaf can break at this point. Patience is key. Now cover it in icing sugar, completely. Pat into place. After a few minutes, lift the loaf out, the excess sugar will fall off.

A 600-year-old German Christmas cake recipe Image Credit: Huda Tabrez

Slice in two-inch thickness and serve or place into a loaf tin and keep for later.