Friday, 26 December 2014

Stollen

Christmas baking is very much about spices and dried fruit as evidenced by all the cakes, puddings pies, biscuits and preserves containing these ingredients during the festive season. I love nothing more at this time of year than finding a quiet moment to myself, sitting down with a hot cup of tea, nibbling on something sweet and spicy and just relaxing! Although I am a huge fan of traditional fruit cakes, they can be a little heavy and mince pies can be very rich, so I have been looking for something a little lighter to eat but still sweet and encompassing typical Christmas flavours.
 
Stollen is a bread-like fruit cake of German origination which also often contains candied citrus fruits and marzipan. The only stollen I have eaten before was the shop-bought, mass-produced variety and I have to admit that despite my great love of marzipan (which all versions I’d previously tried, had contained) I was distinctly underwhelmed! I couldn’t understand why it was considered one of THE classic Christmas bakes.
 
Those who read my blog regularly will know that I recently re-discovered a love of bread making and that I have been furiously experimenting… baking a whole range of breads and buns recently. Without sounding completely pretentious, there is something so fundamentally life-affirming about baking your own bread and despite the energetic kneading and the time spent waiting for the bread to prove, I hugely enjoy it. Also, of all the things that I cook and bake, the breads that I have made have been the most popular with my three children, who, it sometimes seems to me, are the fussiest eaters on the planet. When you see the people you love enjoying the food that you have made, you feel like a million dollars!
 
The other day I had quite a lot of homemade marzipan left over from icing and decorating my Christmas cake and wanted to use it up and not let it go to waste.  Without any great level of great enthusiasm, I decided that I would try making my own stollen, merely to see if I could produce something that came near to deserving such popularity…. And let me tell you, I am now a convert! The stollen was SO delicious and will definitely become a staple in my house each year.
 
As I do when making any fruit cake, I soaked the dried fruit in a little brandy and let it sit overnight to plump up a little and become juicy. If you prefer, you can soak the fruit in the same amount of extra orange juice or even a little bit of tea, but at this time of year, brandy is king as far as I am concerned. In addition to the usual raisins, sultanas and currants, I also added some dried cranberries for some extra Christmas flavour. Dried cranberries have a slightly sour taste, but this is almost welcome when contrasted with the sweetness of the marzipan and the icing sugar with which the finished stollen is dredged.
 
I made my own marzipan and have included a link to a recipe for it that I previously posted, but to be honest, you can use a store bought version.
 
I worked and kneaded the dough by hand and whilst it initially feels quite soft, with continued stretching and kneading, it will eventually come together – persevere! You can always mix it using the dough-hook attachment on a stand mixer, but with bread I prefer working the dough with my own hands.

Ingredients:

Fruit:
100g raisins
100g sultanas
50g currants
25g dried cranberries
25g candied orange peel, chopped into small pieces
50g glacé cherries, halved
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 orange
30ml brandy
Dough:
275g strong white flour
25g caster sugar
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp fine sea salt
12g fresh yeast or 7g dried active yeast
125ml whole milk
50g butter, melted
1 large egg, lightly beaten
To finish:
125g marzipan, homemade or pre-bought
Icing sugar, to dredge
 

Method:

Fruit:
1. Place all the fruit, the orange juice and zest in a small saucepan and heat up until the liquid is just beginning to bubble. Immediately remove from the heat, place a lid on the saucepan and set aside overnight to allow the fruit plump up a little. Make your dough the following day after the dried fruit has soaked overnight.
Dough:
2. Place the flour, sugar, mixed spice and salt in a large mixing bowl and mix together with your hands so that everything is evenly distributed.
3. Crumble in the fresh yeast or sprinkle in the dried yeast and mix through. Make a well in the centre and add the milk, melted butter and egg. Using your hands, start mixing the flour into the wet ingredients until everything starts to come together.
4. Turn out on to a clean work-surface and knead for ten approximately ten minutes until the dough starts to come together and becomes smoother and more elastic and is not sticking as much, (I find a dough-scraper an essential piece of equipment when doing this).
5. Place into a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and set aside to prove for about 1 hour or slightly longer, if needed until almost doubled in size.
6. Turn out the risen dough onto a clean work-surface and start to incorporate the fruit which you has soaking overnight buy gently kneading into the dough. You can lightly flour your work-surface if needed. Once all the fruit has been incorporated, roll it out into a rectangle, roughly 30cms x 20cms.
7. Separately, take the marzipan and form into a long cylinder about 25cms long. Place in the centre of the dough. Brush one long edge of the dough with milk and fold it over the marzipan, encasing it completely. Press the edges together to seal it. Tidy up the stolen by gently shaping it into a soft oval shape and gently life onto a large baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment. Cover loosely with oiled cling-film and set aside to rise for about 1 hour to rise again until almost doubled in size.
8. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Remove the cling-film and bake the stollen for approximately 30 -35 minutes until well risen and a deep golden colour.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on baking tray for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
9. Dredge with icing sugar before serving cut into slices.

Makes 1 large loaf.