Why It Works
- Soaking the yeast in advance with flour and milk (known as a sponge) adds flavor.
- Chopped orange zest takes the place of candied citron peel.
- The layer of marzipan keeps the stollen moist.
- A butter and sugar glaze locks in additional moisture.
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.
- 1/3 cup (3 ounces) milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon bread flour, divided, plus more if needed
- 1 tablespoon bourbon
- 1/2 cup (3 ounces) raisins
- 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened, divided
- 4 teaspoons finely chopped orange peel from one orange (see note)
- 1/3 cup (3 ounces) sliced almonds
- 3 1/2 ounces marzipan
- For the Glaze:
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioner's sugar
Heat milk in small saucepan over low heat until just warm. Pour into bowl of stand mixer and whisk in yeast and 1 tablespoon bread flour. Set aside for 30 minutes. In same unwashed saucepan, gently heat bourbon and raisins until warm; set aside.
Add 1 1/4 cups bread flour, sugar, and egg yolk to yeast mixture. Mix with dough hook at low speed until mixture just begins to come together, about 1 minute. With mixer running, add salt and then slowly add butter to incorporate. If dough seems too wet, add up to a few tablespoons more flour. Continue to mix until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 8 minutes. Mix in raisins, orange zest, and almonds until just incorporated.
Form dough into a ball, place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rest in a warm place until dough has risen by about 50 percent, 1 to 2 hours.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough onto lightly floured work surface and press into an 8- by 10-inch oval. Using rolling pin, press a trench lengthwise into the dough about 1/3 from the bottom.
Roll the marzipan into a log to fit the length of the stollen. Place the log on work surface and flatten with a rolling pin to about 1/2 inch thick. Place strip of marzipan into the trench in the dough.
Lift bottom portion of dough up and over the marzipan to seal it inside, being sure not to fold it so far as to make the edges meet (this will form the hump on top of the stollen). Gently press top of stollen with rolling pin to seal, leaving the hump of dough on the top. Carefully transfer stollen to parchment-lined baking sheet, loosely cover, and let rest in a warm place for about 45 minutes.
Bake until golden brown and just cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overbake or your stollen will be dry.
For the Glaze: Brush stollen immediately with half the melted butter. Sprinkle with a coating of confectioner's sugar. Brush with remaining melted butter and sift 1/2 of the remaining confectioners' sugar over the top. Let cool. Sift with remaining confectioners' sugar and serve.
Stand mixer fitted with dough hook attachment
For the orange peel, use a sharp vegetable peeler to slice off the outer peel of the orange (it's okay if a small amount of the white pith is included), then finely chop. This is a dense bread, so you may not notice much rising of the dough, but it will rise more when baked.