Italy vs. Germany – no, it’s not the World Cup final. It’s my Christmas breads league.
I’ve not really tasted Stollen until only a few weeks ago, when they started turning up in cafes for the festive season. The reason being marzipan which I hated, and which I thought was the key player in the German team. But there – a revelation, it’s a gorgeous sweet festive bread, spiced and fruited, with only bits of marzipan playing on the wing.
So from now on: watch out, panettone, you have some serious competition.
Marzipan also turns out to be not that nasty, over flavoured with artificial almond essence, sickly stuff, when you make it at home. And my word, is it easy to make.
Stollen tastes absolutely divine when still warm from the oven but it keeps surprisingly well, better than panettone (Germany: 1, Italy: nil). Admittedly not as light and fluffy (one all). And it is as much a slog and a palaver to make, takes most of a day with the fruit soaking, proving, shaping and proving again (still one all). But the marzipan is a nice addition and the vanilla sugar coating makes you sigh in bliss (Germany’s fast-paced attack towards the Italian goal), and it will never, ever collapse or sink when out of the oven (2-1 to Germany!!! oh, no, disallowed for offside…)
So – even if World Cup final can’t end in a draw, my Christmas league can…
- For the fruit mix:
- 100g raisins
- 100g sultanas
- 50g dried cranberries
- 50g mixed peel
- 4 tbsp dark rum
- 50g almonds, roughly chopped
- zest of ½ lemon
- For the starter dough:
- 175g strong white flour
- 7g fast-action or 30g fresh yeast
- 150ml whole milk, at room temperature
- For the spice mix:
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1½ tbsp caster sugar
- For the main dough:
- 175g strong white flour
- 50g caster sugar
- 1 free-range egg yolk
- 40ml milk
- 150g unsalted butter, softened
- For the marzipan:
- 100g ground almonds
- 100g icing sugar, plus extra to dust
- 2 free-range egg yolks
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- For the sugar coating:
- 150g caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
- 100g butter, melted
- icing sugar to dust
Put the raisins, sultanas, cranberries and mixed peel in a mixing bowl or a small zip lock bag. Heat up the rum to almost boiling, pour it into the fruit and mix well. Seal the bag or cover the bowl and leave for a few hours, best overnight, to soak.
Mix all the ingredients for the starter dough in a large bowl. Cover with cling film and leave for an hour in a warm place. In the meantime grind the cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar and mix with the other spices and the sugar.
Add all the spice mix save for 1 tsp to the starter dough together with the ingredients for the main dough apart from the butter. Add a pinch of salt, then mix with your hands or in a standing mixer with the dough hook attachment for about 2 minutes. Add half the butter, then knead in the bowl for a couple of minutes before adding the rest of the butter. Knead until all the butter is mixed in and the dough is beginning to look silky smooth, stops sticking to your hands or bounces off the sides of the standing mixer bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean sheet of cling film and set aside to rise for 30 minutes.
When the dough has risen, mix in the almonds and the lemon zest. Add the soaked fruit and mix in very gently, preferably with your hands, in order to avoid crushing the fruit. Return the dough to the cleaned bowl, cover loosely with cling film and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Now make the marzipan. Put the ground almonds, icing sugar and egg yolks in a bowl. Mix with a spatula, gradually adding the lemon juice, until the marzipan is smooth with a doughy consistency. Divide the marzipan in half, then roll on a work surface dusted lightly with icing sugar into 2 x 20cm lengths. Wrap each in cling film and refrigerate.
Divide the rested dough in half. Form both pieces into oval shapes, about 30 x 20 cm, then flatten with a rolling pin to about 2 cm thick. Press gently down the middle to form a trench for the marzipan. Unwrap the marzipan, then place one piece, lengthways, down the middle of each piece of dough. Fold one half of the dough over the other, like a pasty, then press the edges together to seal.
Line 2 large baking sheets with baking paper and put a Stollen on each, tucking the seam underneath a little. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave for 20 - 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
Remove the tea towel and put the baking sheets in the oven (you can bake them one after the other if your oven doesn’t heat evenly on two layers, which is what I did – in that case place the longer waiting stolen in a cooler place. Bake the Stollen for 15 minutes or until they start to brown, then reduce the heat to 150°C/ 130°C fan/gas 2 and bake for a further 35-40 minutes. If the Stollen turn dark quickly, cover with foil.
When the Stollen are almost ready, make the coating. Mix the caster sugar with the vanilla seeds in a bowl, then sprinkle over a large sheet of baking paper. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat.
Remove the Stollen from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, then remove any fruit that has popped out and burnt (it will taste bitter). Using a pastry brush, coat the Stollen all over with butter, then roll in the vanilla sugar. Eat while still warm – the best. Dust with a little icing sugar to serve.