As you may already know, there are two days I really love throughout the year. The first one is my birthday, when, at the end of July, I love to enjoy the last moments of sleep under my fresh linen sheets, savouring every second before the big day begins. The second one is Christmas: obviously there’s a totally different set. I’m wrapped into my colorful duvet, looking outside the window at the white sky. My mind rings with jolly tunes and runs to my letter to Santa, to the gifts under the Christmas tree, to the upcoming big feast with my dear ones. As soon as my sister jumps onto my bed to drag me to the living room where my family is already waiting, the sleep is rubbed away from the sleepy eyes, my rebel curls are combed into a more civil aspect and a persistent smile rises to light up my face throughout the day.
As you can see, my inner child is still kicking and alive, and therefore I live Christmas and all the holidays till New Year with the enthusiasm of a 5-year-old girl. After the end of the holidays, however, let the spring begin, because I’m already looking forward to light dresses, warm sun and fresh grass smell. For the moment, since we are still immersed into the Yuletide, my wish for you: live these glory days with the enthusiasm of a child, rejoice in every single emotion, surprise and discovery, be grateful for what you have and, most of all, have a passionate new year!
The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book and Martha Stewart’s demonstration. I followed the recipe step by step, and I’ve been highly satisfied with the result. Even though I’m not so skilled with leavened cake, this one was delicious and easy to make, since Penny was so kind to explain everything with lots of details!
- 60 ml lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
- 2 packages (14 g) active dry yeast
- 240 ml milk
- 140 g unsalted butter
- 770 g all-purpose flour (Measure flour first – then sift – plus extra for dusting)
- 115 g sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract or orange extract
- 135 g mixed peel
- 170 g firmly packed raisins
- 3 tablespoons rum I used brandy
- 12 red glacé cherries (roughly chopped) for the color and the taste (optional)
- 100 g flaked almonds
- melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
- icing sugar for dusting wreath
Soak the raisins in a small bowl, soak the raisins in the brandy (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside.
Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium – low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.
In a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests. Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!
Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn’t enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.
Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath
Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to moderate 180°C with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 40 x 61 cm and 6 mm thick. Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder.
Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape. This was before I pinched it together.
Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough. Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot. Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter. Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first. The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar. Let cool at least an hour before serving. Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings helps keeps the stollen fresh – especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!
When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.
Tasting test. Run out under the snow or the rain, buy all you need and bake it. Rejoice in the heavenly and festive smell that will linger in your house and be happy, from the moment you will soak the raisins in brandy to the moment you will savour the last crumb of the Stollen. It’s Christmas, baby! Miracles can happen, and I baked a wonderful leavened cake!
Daring Bakers’ Challenge – This year so far: