Dresdner Christstollen (Traditional German Christmas Fruit Bread)

With a mother from Saxony, it seems more or less mandatory for me to make Christstollen around Christmas time. I say „seems“ because, as matter of fact, I rarely ever do and neither does my mother. After all, it is a laborious and time-intensive process and sometimes a hair-raising one as you certainly require some experience to end up with a good result. Nevertheless, it is also a challenge. And I cannot resist a challenge, or can I? So in the end, every other year or so, I give it a go.

Much can be written about the origins and variations of Christstollen and the differences in opinion of what constitutes and how to produce a good Christstollen, let alone this epitome of all stollens – the Dresdner Christstollen. In this rather extensive blog, I will, in the end, pass on only my idea of a recipe for a well-tasting Christstollen – which happens to observe the ingredient proportions for Dresdner Christstollen – and provide some practical advice on ingredients and processing that worked out well for me.

And my first piece of advice would very clearly be: Buy a stollen mould. Trust me, I have tried to form stollen loafs freely in my life many times, I have really tried. I never succeeded. The dough always started spreading wide in the oven and I ended up with unappealing looking and over-baked flat cakes every time. Which is really disappointing after all the time and labor it takes to prepare the stollen. So yes, I know, really sad to forfeit the whole romantic wrapping-baby-Jesus-into-the-dough traditional stollen forming part, and yes, also for the authenticity bit that prohibits the use of baking moulds for „real“ Dresdner Christstollen, but I cannot help it – the outcome is bound to be a lot less disappointing if you confine your dough to a mould when you let it enter the oven.

Otherwise, making Christstollen requires a bit of planning and time management. I recommend preparing the dough on the night before baking and baking it on the next morning. You will have to start the ingredient preparation at least 24 hours before you prepare the dough in accordance with the schedule below. So for the working lot: Do not plan many more activities on the weekend that you pick for baking Christstollen 🙂

Some notes on the ingredients:

Fat: Some people use concentrated butter (Butterschmalz) or replace at least part of the butter with concentrated butter. To me, butter is the better-tasting fat and I use only butter for the dough. For the buttering of the baked stollen, I however recommend using concentrated butter as it preserves much better than butter and is thus not in danger of turning rancid during the storage time.

Filling: The typical filling for a „classic“ Christstollen comprises sultanas (typically soaked in rum), candied lemon peel (Zitronat) and candied orange peel (Orangeat). For Dresdner Christstollen, bitter almonds are not really negotiable as ingredient, either. But beware: Bitter almonds must not be consumed raw as they contain amygdalin, a chemical compound from which cyanide forms – in short words: they are highly poisonous. Small amounts of raw bitter almond may already endanger the life of a child and slightly larger amounts may kill an adult. After cooking or baking, however, bitter almonds are harmless as the cyanide gets destroyed by the heat. Nevertheless, if you should feel uncomfortable using bitter almonds in your stollen, you can use bitter almond aroma which is available in pretty much every supermarket and entirely harmfree. Bitter almonds themselves are usually available at the Reformhäuser (health food shops) in Germany; some sell them only at the counter, so inquire. Finally, currants are also a traditional filling for Dresdner/Saxonian Christstollen. Stollen as I remember it from my childhood always contained currants, but they somehow seem to have gotten dropped from the ingredients list in more recent times. I guess this is due to their rather unexciting taste – I never liked them very much, either, and thus am following the trend by using only sultanas. However, if you wish to add currants, just replace ¼ of the sultanas with currants.

Spices: Christstollen is not a spiced cake, so be on the careful side with the spices. In some regions, spices do not figure at all amongst the ingredients for stollen, whereas Dresdner Christstollen has only few spices. These may vary. Typical for Dresdner Christstollen are ginger (powder), lemon zest, cardamom, sometimes allspice, nutmeg, or (more rare) vanilla. As a rule of thumb, do not use more than 3 spices, i.e. bitter almonds plus two additional spices. And yes, I am fully aware of the incredible self-control that that requires 😉

Most important of all: Do only buy the best of ingredients! Traditionally, the stollen dough was seen as the cloth for wrapping the Christ Child, so you would not wish to go cheap on it. Even if you do not quite recognize yourself in this line of argumentation, it should be obvious that high-quality ingredients are generally better in taste and, in this particular case, Dresdner Christstollen is just not Dresdner Christstollen without a considerable degree of lavishness.

Sanni

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Ingredients (for 2 large stollen loafs):

  • 500 to 600 grams of sultanas
  • 300 ml of dark rum
  • 300 ml of water
  • 50 grams of bitter almonds (blanched), alternatively bitter almond aroma
  • 200 grams of almonds (blanched)
  • 150 grams of candied lemon peel (Zitronat)
  • 100 grams of candied orange peel (Orangeat)
  • 1 kg of strong flour (German type 550)
  • 80 grams of fresh yeast (room temperature)
  • 350 to 450 ml of full fat milk (room temperature)
  • 5 to 8 grams of salt
  • 180 grams of sugar
  • 3 to 4 pieces of mace (ground in a mortar – approx. 1 to 1 ½ teaspoon of ground mace)
  • 4 to 5 capsules of cardamom (skin removed and ground in a mortar – approx. 1 teaspoon of ground cardamon)
  • 500 to 600 grams of butter (soft, room temperature)
  • some butter and flour for preparing the bowls used for resting the dough
  • For buttering and decoration: 250 grams of concentrated butter (Butterschmalz), 250 to 400 grams of icing sugar (Puderzucker)

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Preparing the ingredients:

1 to 2 days before dough preparation / 2 to 3 days before baking:

  1. Soak your raisins (approx. 500-600 grams) in approximately 300 ml of rum and 300 ml of water (the liquids should not cover the raisins completely). Fill into an airtight container or cover with plastic wrap. Turn every now and then, so the raisins on the top will also get soaked.
  2. If you cannot get blanched almonds (particularly bitter almonds are usually sold whole and unpeeled only), blanch the almonds as follows: Bring 500ml to 1 l of water to the boil. Take off the heat and put the almonds into the hot water. Leave in the hot water for exactly 1 minute (if you leave them for longer, they will lose their bite). Strain and then gently rub off the skin of the almond between your thumb and index finger – it will come off very easily. Spread over a tray and let the blanched almonds dry on the kitchen counter. (If you roast your almonds before processing, it is not so important to dry them as the job will be done by the oven heat. So only if you do not like your almonds roasted, you should blanch them on the day before and allow them to dry on the kitchen counter, otherwise you may postpone the blanching to the next day and make it the first step of preparing the dough.)
  3. If you wish to prepare your own candied citrus peel, follow the recipe for candied orange peel: Candied Orange Peel. It is fine, however, to buy the candied fruit in a specialty shop (note: I recommend making the trip to a specialty shop; the much better taste as compared to the stuff from the supermarket shelf – which is also often made from replacement ingredients – will be the reward). Especially Zitronat will usually be difficult to prepare yourself as it made of a special variety of citron, „Zedratzitronen“ („cedri“ in Italian), that is rarely available outside of the Mediterranean regions, and candied peel made from lemon is not a good replacement.

(Maximum) 8 to (minimum) 2 hours before dough preparation:

  1. Take your ingredients (butter, milk, yeast) out of the fridge and let them adopt room temperature.
  2. Some people make an infusion from the milk and spices. This is not necessary, the dough has a long resting time and the spices will properly infuse. I would only recommend it if you plan to use a lemon zest-vanilla flavouring. Lemon zest in particular should not be added directly to the dough. In this case, warm up the milk, add the lemon zest (and vanilla seeds and pod, if part of your spice mix) and let infuse for 2 hours, then pass through a sieve.

Right before you start preparing the dough:

  1. Strain the raisins. Let drip off well.
  2. Roast the almonds and the bitter almonds as follows: Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (fan oven). Spread the almonds on an oven tray (separate trays for almonds and bitter almonds – you would wish to know which ones are the bitter almonds throughout the entire process until mixing them into the dough, see the above warnings about the poisonous effects of raw bitter almonds). Roast for 5 minutes, then take out of the oven and let cool off. (If you are using pre-ground almonds, you can toast the almond powder in accordance with these instructions.)
  3. Grind the almonds and (separately) bitter almonds into a fine powder.
  4. Finely chop the candied orange and lemon peel.
  5. Grind the spices.

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Preparing the dough:

  1. Pass some of the flour through a fine mesh into a medium-sized mixing bowl.
  2. Warm up 50 ml of the milk to lukewarm (not more! Hot milk will destroy the yeast.).
  3. Make a depression in the middle of the flour, break the yeast into smaller bits and place inside.
  4. Add the milk to the yeast and mix the yeast, the milk and some of the flour until dissolved.
  5. Cover with a cloth and let rest in a warm and dark place (e.g. inside the oven – but heat turned off) for approximately 30 minutes.
  6. In the meantime, pass the remaining flour through a fine mesh into a large mixing bowl.
  7. At the end of the resting time, add the yeast and contents of the bowl containing the yeast to the flour. Add the spices, the salt and the sugar, but ensure that the salt and sugar are not added directly onto the yeast (put the two ingredients and the yeast on opposite sides of the mixing bowl).
  8. Add 300 ml of the milk. With an electric mixer with kneading hooks, start mixing the ingredients, when the kneading hooks start struggling, transfer the entire content of the bowl onto a baking mat or clean surface. Knead until the ingredients form a basic dough which does not have to be entirely smooth yet, but they should form a rough dough loaf. Add more milk if necessary (but do not exceed 450 ml).
  9. Start kneading in the butter in batches of roughly 50 grams. Note that the dough needs to be worked well to allow it to absorb the fat completely. Add the next batch of butter only when the previous batch is fully incorporated. Stollen requires a fat-rich dough, so work in at least 500 grams of the butter. The dough should not spread out flat, but you should still be able to form a loaf, albeit a „wobbly“ one. Incorporte more of the butter for as long as the dough can absorb it.
  10. Following this, work in the ground almonds and ground bitter almonds in batches.
  11. Then carefully incorporate the candied orange peel, candied lemon peel and, last, the sultanas. Work is the sultanas in smaller batches and knead carefully, you would not want to squish them. Use as many sultanas as can be incorporated and, of course, according to taste. As a general rule, Dresdner Christstollen should be quite rich with sultanas (650 grams of (soaked) sultanas per kg of flour are considered the minimum)), but the proportion should be such that there is enough room for the taste of the dough to develop as well.
  12. When all of the ingredients are well incorporated, butter and flour two large bowls, divide the dough into two equal halves and form a loaf from each half. Place in the bowls, cover with a slightly wet and floured kitchen towel and set aside in a dark and warm place. Allow to rise, ideally overnight.

Baking:

  1. Then next morning, grease a stollen mould with butter.
  2. Form a roll approximately as long as your mould from one of the loafs of dough. Do not work the dough much anymore.
  3. Place in the mould and spread evenly. Approximately ¼ of the mould should be left empty as the dough will rise in the oven. If necessary, remove some of the dough (you may make stollen confectionary from any leftovers: form roughly square shaped (approx. 2cm x 2 cm x 1.5 cm) bits of the dough and bake at 160 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes – you can bake it together with the stollen during the second stage of baking with reduced heat).
  4. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 30 to 60 minutes on the kitchen counter again.
  5. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. (Most recipes will suggest a much higher temperature of up to 210 degrees Celsius for the first stage of baking, but, in my opinion, it turns the crust too dark).
  6. At the end of the resting time, turn the stollen mould with the open side facing down onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius, then reduce the heat to 160 degrees Celsius. Bake for another 65 to 75 minutes (a large mould will require the long baking time. Unfortunately, there is no good way of checking if the stollen is properly done.)
  7. Remove the stollen from the oven and immediately proceed with the buttering as outlined below.

Buttering and decoration:

  1. At the end of its baking time while the stollen is still in the oven, melt the concentrated butter (125 grams for each large stollen) on medium heat, then take off the heat.
  2. Once the hot stollen comes out of the oven, remove the mould and immediately start buttering by evenly spreading the liquid concentrated butter over it with a baking brush. Then coat with a thick layer of icing sugar that is passed through a fine-mesh sieve.
  3. Let cool down for approximately 10 minutes, then add a second layer of icing sugar.
  4. Let cool down completely.

Repeat the steps „Baking“ and „Buttering and decoration“ for the second stollen.

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Storage time and preservation:

  1. Traditionally, stollen is not eaten before an approximately four-week long storage time has passed, and it also keeps much longer than this. However, a storage time of at least several weeks is seen as „mandatory“ to allow the taste to settle properly. In fact, some people claim that the Christmas bake is actually best at Easter! If you are daring or just cannot wait any longer, you will not listen and try (some of) your stollen fresh. It is delicious as well although I tend to agree that it is best after a storage time of around three to four weeks. In the end, it is a question of personal taste so try it out for yourself!
  2. For storage, wrap the completely cooled down stollen first into one layer of sandwich paper and then into one layer of aluminum foil. Store in a cool and dry place.
  3. Stollen can keep for months if stored properly. Given the rather hefty of amounts of not entirely lean ingredients, this is probably a good thing – at least there is no immediate necessity to eat it all very fast. Whether one can muster up the discipline is a different matter entirely… 😀

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