Looking around the Christmas traditions of europe, it seems that dried fruit and orange dominate the baking offerings. While I am very tempted to make a panettone, my last one dating back a few years, I couldn't resist making stollen. Stollens are ubiquitous in Germany, and here as well and they are particularly appreciated by my side of the family for some reason. They aren't very difficult to make provided one is armed with the right recipe.
How could I resist Nigel Slater's when I know that everything I have made following his advice has turned up beautifully. There are a few moot points between us on this particular occasion, but the end result is nearing perfection.
What are the issues under debate? Well, first of all, Nigel suggests using glacé cherries, which I hate with a passion, and which rear their ugly little noses everywhere in British recipes around the festive season. Common glacé cherries are not good for you, as you'd guess by just looking at their ultra red translucent flesh, a hundred degrees or so removed from their cousin the fresh cherry (my favourite fruit ever). They are drenched in chemicals so I suggest you avoid them too. Natural glacé cherries might be better but I woulnd't go out of my way to find them.
May I add that I have lived four years in Germany, am partnered with a German dude and have never seen a glacé cherry in stollens before, even in supermarket ones though they offer multiple variations from the norm.
Secondly, you have to drench the stollens in melted butter and icing sugar the second they pop out of the oven, alternatively brushing butter and sifting sugar to get that desirable thick sugar coating that is so typical. It's not an easy feat, and it's one at which I fail because of my inadequate left-right coordination. But it's the rule, Nig! Not just butter while still hot and then sugar once it's cooled down.
Lastly, I suggest you up the sugar especially if you are going to be making a poor job of icing the cake.
But do not dwell on the impression that I regret using Nigel's recipe as it makes a very pliable dough, two nice loaves, not too sweet, not too butter-rich, and is really my best one so far (and I have used German recipes before).
Here's the recipe with the few changes I have made:
40g fresh yeast -I used dry active
225ml warm milk
40g sugar - 60g
salt - about a teaspoon
a large egg
for the filling: 6 green cardamoms
50g undyed glace cherries -mixed candied fruit
100g mixed peel -orange only
½ tsp ground cinnamon
50g flaked almonds - chopped whole ones
200g marzipan -none, marzipan is another of my pet hates
for the glaze: 50g butter
icing sugar - I used golden
Melt the butter. Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl. Crumble in the yeast then stir in the milk, sugar, salt, cooled but still soft butter and the beaten egg. Mix and knead.When the dough is soft, elastic and no longer sticky, put it into a floured bowl. Set aside, covered with a clean tea towel for a good hour.
Break the cardamom pods and remove their black seeds. Crush the them to a coarse powder. Mix the fruit, mixed peel, sultanas, cinnamon and almonds together. Dust the work surface with flour and tip your risen dough on to it. Cut the dough in half, then flatten each piece out into a rectangle about 22cm x 16cm.
Here I differ again in that I mix in the fruit with the dough to distribute it evenly. Then to make it look like the baby Jesus all swaddled up, fold one of the long sides to the middle of the rectangle.
Lift on to a floured baking sheet, cover with a towel and return to a warm place to prove for a further hour and a half.
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Place the loaves in the hot oven and bake for about 35-40 minutes until pale gold. Melt the butter for the glaze and brush over the loaves then dust with icing sugar quite generously.
Wrap in clingfilm an foil and keep in a biscuit tin. They can keep about two weeks I'd say. But we just dug in one of them for the sake of reporting, of course. The texture is dense, the flavour subtle, but it will deepen the longer it keeps. Another Nigel winner. If you skip the cherries and marzipan!
It might be of interest to you that the stollen tradition originates in the former democratic republic of Germany, long before it was separated from the western part of the country , in dresden. In other recipes for it,n a lot of butter is called for, but I am with Nigel on this one, it's better with less butter, as it used to have none at all in it (in more difficult times).