A Simple Stollen

When I first started baking bread a few years ago one of the recipes I copied into my own recipe book was for a very simple German Christmas bread: stollen. I have since made a few different versions of stollen – sourdough stollen, stollen with elaborately spiced fruit mix that marinates in alcohol for weeks, wholegrain stollen – but this year returned to that first easy to make recipe.

Stollen, dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon
Stollen, dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon

Stollen, for me, is one of those recipes that does not benefit from being messed around too much. If you use a reasonable quality of dried fruit, decent bread flour, and good marzipan then I feel there is no need to play around with the additional and time consuming changes to the basic recipe. This goes completely against my normal stance on bread making, but, when it’s Christmas and there are hundreds of other things to get on with, there’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple.

Simple Stollen Recipe Makes one large stollen

  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tbsp cointreau or brandy
  • 175g mixed dried fruit
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 350g strong white bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 40g butter, diced
  • 55g blanched almonds, chopped
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 125ml warm milk
  • 175g marzipan
  • icing sugar and cinnamon, to dust
  1. The night before, combine the fruit, lemon zest and liqueur in a bowl. Cover and leave at room temperature.
  2. The day of making the stollen, sift flour, salt and mixed spice into a large bowl. Rub in the butter, and stir in the sugar, yeast and almonds.
  3. Combine the egg and milk, make a well in the centre of the flour, and add the mixture. Mix to make a soft dough.
  4. Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.
  5. Shape into a ball and rest in a lightly oiled bowl, covered, for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until the dough has risen to about 1 and a half its original size and is springy.

    Stollen, ready for its first rise
    Stollen, ready for its first rise
  6. On a lightly floured surface, flatten the dough ball and shape into a 20x10cm rectangle, about 2.5cm thick. Roll the marzipan into a sausage and place down the centre of the dough.
  7. Roll the dough up, enclosing the marzipan. Press the seams together and shape into a loaf. Place, seam side down, onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover with clingfilm.
  8. Proof at room temperature for 60-90 minutes, until the dough has again risen to 1 and a half times its original size. Preheat oven to 180C.

    Rolled and ready for a final proof before baking
    Rolled and ready for a final proof before baking
  9. Bake on the middle shelf for 40 minutes, turning after 20. The bread is finished when it is golden brown.
  10. Cool on a wire rack, then dust with icing sugar and cinnamon.

 

This bread is delicious on its own, as a snack, or a dessert. Like all enriched breads (breads with eggs, sugar, and other ingredients) it does not keep for very long, so it should be eaten as soon as possible. Whilst making it you may notice that it does not rise as much as other doughs might. This is because the amount of sugar (and alcohol, to some extent) in the dough inhibits the yeast. It will not adversely affect the final bread.

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Das ist nicht brot

So, five posts down and I’ve already strayed from bread to write about something else. I’ll justify it by saying that this German ‘friendship’ sourdough cake uses many of the same techniques as a sourdough bread (sort of), and that any cake that tastes this great can be written about anywhere.

german_sourdough_cake
The German Friendship Sourdough Cake

A couple of weeks ago I gave a portion of my rye sourdough starter to a colleague who, coincidentally, had brought a tupperware full of German cake starter to work on the same day. Starters exchanged, I spent the next ten days stirring, feeding, watching, and wondering if this cake was going to turn out edible. I generally have mixed success with desserts, and my wife steps in as she is much better at sweets than I; but, I thought, surely a sourdough cake would be as simple as a sourdough loaf, so why not?

Sourdough starter, bubbling away in its fetching green bowl
Sourdough starter, bubbling away in its fetching green bowl

Luckily I was rewarded with an incredibly easy to make and extremely moist, delicious fruit cake, that even I could not manage to burn/undercook/drop on the floor. The point of the German ‘friendship’ cake is to feed up the starter to a point where there is enough to bake your own cake, and give three portions away to friends. Having dutifully forced two containers onto other co-workers, I kept an extra portion to make again, with some slight adjustments to the recipe, which is as follows (the original recipe, including how to make the starter, can be found here):

German ‘friendship’ sourdough cake

Starter

  • One ‘portion’ (about 250g) of starter – if you are unable to find someone to inherit the starter from, then you can make your own from scratch and begin harassing your neighbours with the original recipe.
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups warm milk

Cake

  • 1 portion of starter, after feeding cycle
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 heaped tsp cinnamon
  • 2 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

The starter feeding cycle

The following assumes that you have been given a portion of starter on ‘Day one’:

  1. Day 1-3: Leave starter in a container at room temperature, with no lid. Stir every day. It should double in size each day until you stir it and knock the air out.
  2. Day 4: Feed with 1 cup sugar, 1 cup warm milk, and 1 cup flour. Stir well.
  3. Day 5-8: Stir.
  4. Day 9: Feed with 1 cup sugar, 1 cup warm milk, and 1 cup flour. Stir well. Divide into four portions of roughly 250g each. Keep one portion to bake with, and give the other three to unsuspecting friends and family.
  5. Day 10: Bake as follows:

The cake

  1. Line a greased 23cm springform tin with baking paper. Preheat oven to 175°C.
  2. Mix the sourdough starter and the remaining ingredients, folding in the fruit to distribute evenly. The mix should be a fairly wet ‘batter’.
  3. Pour into the lined baking tin and sprinkle the brown sugar and melted butter over the top.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Test with a skewer, which should come out clean when the cake is cooked through.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer onto a wire rack.
cake_before_bake
The thick cake batter poured into a greased, lined baking tin before going into the oven
cake_skewer
A cake skewer (my wife’s…) inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean when the cake is baked

In the end, quite different from a sourdough bread, but just as flavoursome. Giving the starter a feed with milk and sugar obviously adds a different dimension to the starter than a standard flour and water bread levain. For the 10 days that the start sits in your kitchen, you will notice a sweet, fruity, cider-like smell that you can tell will complement the apple and cinnamon cake. Perhaps one day a portion of this sourdough cake starter will work its way back to me through a friend or a colleague, and I’ll get to make it again. Or perhaps I’ll just make the starter again from scratch next week and have it sooner.

german_cake
The finished cake