It was butter that made the city of Dresden the home of Germany’s most famous edible Christmas tradition. In 1491 Pope Innocent VIII gave in to the request of the Saxonian rulers to lift the ban on dairy products during the days of fasting. After he sent the legendary Butterbrief (“Butter Letter”) the bakers in Dresden started to use butter in their Stollen, and the sweet bread that we know today was born.
I love a good Stollen and frankly, in the time leading up to Christmas, I could eat it every day – if only it was a little less rich.
In my quest for an everyday Stollen recipe, I found a recipe with a moderate amount of butter and sugar and otherwise only natural ingredients. Artifically colored fruitcake mixes have no business being in Stollen. Many storebought orange peel, diced citron and lemon aren’t much better, as they are often coated in a syrupy substance that contains high-fructose corn syrup. Another Stollen impropriety, although I love marzipan, is a big glob of it baked into the center of the Stollen.
What intrigued me about the Stollen recipe on the bread blog The Bread She Bakes was not only that it is less rich but also that it uses sourdough. I’ve never had Sourdough Stollen before. Over the past few months I have baked most of our breads with sourdough, getting a bit more confident with every loaf. I had to give this recipe a try.
My first attempt produced a much too soft dough that, hadn’t I contained with a strip of aluminum foil all around, would have been more of a sheet cake than a loaf. That was not the recipe’s fault, it was yet another proof that German bread recipes cannot be translated 1:1 using American flour. I swapped the German 550 flour for US bread flour and used less milk, which took care of the softness issue. The other changes I made were more taste-inspired. I skipped the pistachios and made an all-almond paste and used additional orange extract and orange peel. And, finally, Stollen for me must look like some snow just fell on it so I gave it a light dusting with confectioners’ sugar.
Unlike the classic butter-rich and raisin-studded Stollen (the recipe is in my book), this one does not need to mature, it can be eaten right away. This also means I do not have to hide the Stollen from human predators (myself included) for several weeks.
The Sourdough Stollen can be eaten right away, and it is fabulous toasted and smeared with butter. OK, only a little bit of butter…
Sourdough Christmas Stollen
Recipe adapted from The Bread She Bakes
1¾ ounces (50 g) sourdough starter (all-purpose flour, 100% hydration)
5½ tablespoons (50 g) bread flour
¼ cup (50 g) water, at room temperature
Fruit and nut soaker:
½ cup + 2 tablespoons (3½ ounces/100 g) raisins, washed and patted dry with paper towels
½ cup + 2 tablespoons (3½ ounces/100 g) yellow raisins, washed and patted dry with paper towels
1¾ cup (3½ ounces/100 g) blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated organic lemon zest
1 teaspoon finely grated organic orange zest
1 pinch each of ground nutmeg, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, ground allspice
3 cardamom pods, seeds removed and finely ground
3 tablespoons (50 g) golden rum
¾ cup (3½ ounces/100 g) blanched almonds
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons (3½ ounces/50 g confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon organic orange extract
2/3 cup (5½ ounces/150 g) lukewarm milk
2¼ teaspoons (¼ ounce/7 g) active dry yeast
3 1/3 cups (16 ¾ ounces/475 g) bread flour
½ cup (100 g) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
5½ tablespoons (80 g) butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter, preferably organic
A handful of sliced blanched almond
1. Mix the sourdough starter, bread flour and water in a container with a lid until well combined. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight.
2. Mix the raisins, yellow raisins, almonds, lemon and orange zest, spices and ground cardamom in a container with a lid. Add the rum and stir well until evenly moistened. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight.
3. Place the almonds in the food processor and grind very finely. Add the confectioners’ sugar and water and process to a smooth paste, scraping down the sides of the food processor bowl as needed. Put the almond paste in a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate overnight.
4. The next day, let the almond past come to room temperature. Mix the milk with the yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes until it starts to foam.
5. Place the sourdough starter, bread flour, sugar, salt, butter, egg and vanilla in the bowl of a kitchen machine fitted with a dough hook. Knead for 5 minutes on low. Add the almond paste and knead for another 5 minutes on low.
6. Add the fruit and nut soaker with all the liquid and knead on low for 1 to 2 minutes until well incorporated.
7. Lightly oil the bowl, return the dough to the bowl, and turn it over. Cover with a lid or with cling wrap and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
8. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the dough on a clean work surface and knead for 1 to 2 minutes to remove any air, then shape into an oblong loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet and cover with a tea towel. Let rise for 1 hour, or until the dough does not spring back when you poke it gently with your index finger.
9. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
10. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and brush it all over the loaf. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and gently press them down so they stick. Bake on the medium rack of the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Cover with a large sheet of aluminum foil and bake for another 35 minutes, or until golden brown.
11. Carefully transfer to a cake rack and let cool. Store in an airtight container or wrap in aluminum foil and keep in a cool place.
Makes 1 large Stollen