Wednesday, January 21, 2009

{Adventures in Yeast} #2 - Dan Lepard's Stollen

One of the most enduring fixtures of the Christmas season in Germany is the traditional Christmas cake, stollen. This is a sweet yeast bread that is filled with dried fruits and is flavored with Christmas spices. The outside is coated with a thick layer of powdered sugar, which is said to be a representation of the Christ Child in His swaddling clothes. By tradition, the stollen weighs 4 pounds and is often filled with a marzipan center.

I've tasted stollen over the years, and have always enjoyed it. Sometimes stollen can be a bit dry, but it always has great flavor. Legend has it that stollen originated in Dresden in the 1400's. Dresden even has a special Stollen Festival each year.

Although I did not make it to Dresden on my most recent trip to German in December (I've been there previously) I saw lots of stollen at the bakeries and Christmas markets. My hotel in Berlin even had a special little shop set up in the lobby to sell Dresden stollen.

My suitcase was too full to bring any stollen back from Germany with me, and I didn't give any thought to the possibility of baking my own until I saw this recipe for Dan Lepard's Extra Moist Stollen (recipe here, forum discussion here). It seemed like the thing to bake on a quiet winter's day in the week between Christmas and New Year's. Although my yeast-baking experience consisted entirely of (1) Kugelhopf for TWD and (2) the King Arthur English Muffin Bread, I jumped right into the deep end and tried this recipe.

noe notes:

- For the mixed-in fruit, I used golden raisins, unsulfured currants, and citron. (I didn't have mixed peel but have lots of citron) I macerated the raisins and currants in warmed dark rum, and used water where the recipe called for rum.

- I grated lime zest because I was out of lemons.

- At the Christmas market in Berlin I bought some orange flavored marzipan, which was perfect for this recipe. I filled one end of the stollen with the marzipan and left the other end plain.

- The recipe gives a choice of rye or wholewheat flour to add to the dough; I chose rye flour.

- I used instant yeast.

- I baked it at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. After baking for the prescribed 35 minutes the stollen was still raw on the bottom, and the internal temperature was somewhere under 150F.

- At that point I turned the oven to 'convect' and took the stollen off the cookie sheet, baking it directly on a cooling rack set on the oven rack so the heat would reach the bottom. I baked it until it registered 185F on an instant read thermometer (I lost track of the time but maybe between 15 and 30 additional minutes?) I declared it "done" and took it out of the oven.

- After letting it cool, I gingerly sliced into the loaf. As a whole it was very dense, yet moist. The very center was still a bit undercooked.

the verdict:

My word, this stollen was amazing. My husband and I LOVED the flavor and rationed it out over several days' time. He preferred the end without the marzipan, and I have to say that I agree. Daughter A.L.E. was home at the time I baked it and there was some flavor in it that really bothered her. We've sort of narrowed it down to the cardamom, so if you aren't a fan of that spice, leave it out.

Every time I looked at it I had this sense of unreality: Did this creation really come from my kitchen? I can see how yeast baking can be totally addictive!

By far the best part of making this stollen (aside from how GOOD it was) is the level of support that I personally received from Dan Lepard, on his baking forum. I posted a couple of questions, and he answered them quickly and completely. I asked him about the way my stollen baked up and learned that I should have used a smaller baking pan or a baking stone (and I think a higher oven temperature). Thanks, Dan!

I plan to bake this again - Christmas season or not - and will make the adjustments Dan suggested. I'll wait a little while before diving in that deep again, though! In the meantime, I'll take a giant step back and take baby steps in further yeast adventures.


pinkstripes said...

Your stollen looks amazing. I'm sure the taste was out of this world. You've got the bread baking bug! :P

That's great that Dan Lepard was so helpful. I'm glad it all worked out for you.

(I, too, probably would prefer the kind without marzipan--I'm not a huge fan of it.)

Sweet Charity said...

Awesome!! I'm so glad you've got another yeast recipe under your belt!

natalia said...

Ciao ! This really sounds so good ! I love Stollen but I prefer the one without marzipan. As you say why make it only for Christmas ? (maybe to avoid getting too fat ?) I'm glad you enjoied yeast !!!

Cathy said...

Wow Nancy, I am impressed! Before long you'll be running your own yeast-baking forum! The stollen looks REALLY wonderful. And how great that Dan Lepard was so accessible and helpful. Sounds like a great baking experience all the way around.

Oh, and I made the KA English Muffin toasting bread that you posted about -- it baked up perfectly and was as wonderful as you said it would be!

Maria said...

Stollen is the best. Yours looks fabulous! I have never made it before!

Reeni♥ said...

Am I the only one who loves it with marzipan!? It came out terrific!! You did a wonderful job with it. How nice that you could get advice on it.

Peggy said...

wow - great stollen. I love that stuff! And here I thought yeast things scared you! HA. Great job.

Natashya said...

I have never had stollen before - just seen pictures. Yours looks great! Glad you have gotten over any fear of yeast. (really not so scary when you get used to it!)

Audrey said...

I agree this looks're not being shy about your yeast-baking at all. I love quiet baking days...I'm going to spontaneously schedule some of them for February!

Joanne said...

I have seen so much stollen lately that I KNOW I need to make it. You've acclaimed this recipe so much that it seems like a good choice for my first try. Looks delicious.

David Whitehouse said...

Hi Nancy,
I hope you don't mind, but I've given a link to this post from my blog at

I've recently taken all my recipes and old posts offline, to talk instead about food blogging and copyright issues, and I just feel that your blog has some great examples of "best practice", which I'd like more people to read, enjoy, and learn from.

Best wishes,
David Whitehouse, Editor, "Short & Sweet"