If you're in Germany during the holidays, there's no escaping stollen—and that's a good thing. It not only lines the shelves at bakeries and food markets, but there must be at least six different brands of it sold at each local grocery store. Germans love stollen. I love it too, for its dense texture, chewy candied citrus zest, and snowy powdered sugar top. It's even better if there's a layer of soft almond marzipan tucked into the middle.
Stollen, or Christollen, dates back to the Middle Ages and originates from Dresden, Germany. It has an oval shape that's meant to represent the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Come to think of it, stollens weigh almost as much as a baby too. No joke. You get your money's worth here.
My family has always purchased stollen, claiming that this was one bread that's way too complicated to make at home. I'm not sure why, but perhaps they were perplexed by the idea of incorporating the marzipan. After lots of my own recipe tests, I'm happy to say that baking your own stollen is not difficult, and definitely worth the effort. A stollen, at its heart, is nothing more than an enriched bread, so if you've made any kind of bread before, this will be a cinch. This recipe makes a stollen that's smaller than most, making it very easy to manage.
Here's how I make it.
Start With a Short Sponge
A sponge, also known as a pre-ferment, is a mixture of yeast, water, and flour that's left to sit and ferment before making the final dough. To save time here, I do a quick version with yeast, milk, and some flour, leaving it in a warm place for just 30 minutes. It's just enough time to develop some extra flavor, but not so long to make it a chore.
Flavor the Dough
Making your own stollen means you get to pick and choose what goes in it. Don't like candied citron? No problem! Use orange zest and bourbon-soaked raisins, as I did in my recipe. Like nuts? Sliced almonds, which I love to use, or toasted hazelnuts are great. The stollen is your oyster, or something like that.
The only difficult part of making stollen is shaping it, but this is a rustic bread, so it does not have to be perfect. Start by pressing the dough into a flat oval and then rolling the center with a rolling pin to create a trench.
Place the strip of marzipan in the trench.
Then fold the dough over to enclose it.
The classic shape of the original Dresden stollen has a round hump on the top. This is formed during the folding step: when folding the dough over the marzipan strip, the key is not to make the ends on the fold meet up flush. This way, the top piece creates a lip along the length of the stollen. This video shows Dresen stollen makers, including the hump forming over the marzipan (about halfway through the video, after they demonstrate marzipan-free stollen).
This stollen is smaller than your typical version, so it does not take long to bake—just 25 to 30 minutes should do it. Don't overbake or you'll end up with (eek!) a dry stollen.
Stollens are typically finished with a glaze of melted butter followed by powdered sugar. This helps keep the stollen moist, and adds a bit of sweetness to an otherwise not overly sweet bread.