This festive looking and tasting sweet bread is wonderful served over the holidays. You start seeing them being sold around the year-end as it is often associated with the Christmas season. Boozy dried currants, cranberries and sultanas plumped up by rum or brandy are mixed into a lightly spiced, butter and milk bread dough. A log of marzipan is often hidden into the dough before baking. For those eating Stollen for the first time, it’s a pleasant treat to bite into a morsel of that sweet almond paste.

I was at the hairdressers flipping through the Christmas issue of BBC Good Food. They had a feature on an intriguing looking Stollen. There was not one but three logs of marzipan that had been enclosed in the loaf. It looked beautiful!


I have not made Stollen in years and that pretty sweet loaf strewn with a handful of thin almond flakes and bathed in powdered sugar made me want to leap out of the hairdresser’s chair and into a kitchen to try my hand at a braided Stollen. I really liked the idea – almost every bite into a Stollen will have a nugget of marzipan. 
This recipe is an adaptation of BBC Good Food Spiced Stollen Plait. I had tried their recipe. My loaf was a bit too dense and dry. It could be because of the quality of the flours that are available to us.  I also wanted a richer tasting bread base. The recipe below is almost nothing like the original recipe. It bakes a plaited Stollen that is light and moist, and smells wonderfully boozy, fruity and not too heavy on the spices. It is best eaten on the day it is baked with a cup of black coffee. 

Braided Stollen With 3 Logs Of Marzipan

Prep: 45 minutes 
Cook: 25 to 30 minutes 
Inactive: First rise: Approximately 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours rising time
Second rise: Approximately 30 minutes
Level: Bit of a challenge
Serves: ~8 persons
Oven Temperature: 380 F (190 C)
Can recipe be doubled? No
Make ahead? Tastes best on the day it is made. To keep until the next day, it must be tightly covered with plastic wrap to ensure the bread does not dry out.

Ingredients

1 cup=250ml=8.45 fl oz

Dried fruit mix
4.23 oz (120g) mix of dried cranberries, currants, sultanas
3 Tablespoons brandy or rum or orange juice
Wet ingredients
3 oz ( 85g) unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons honey
8 oz (225ml) (Just under 1 cup) room temperature water
1/4 cup beaten egg (1 large egg)
Dry ingredients
1 lb (450g) bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 cup (1.41 oz) (40g) nonfat dry milk powder*
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten**
1 Tablespoon and 1/4 teaspoon (10 g) instant yeast***
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder*
1/4 teaspoon allspice powder*
Everything else
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
11 oz (300g) marzipan
Butter for greasing
For the top of dough 
Small egg for glazing
~1.76 oz (50g) (handful) flaked almonds
~2 Tablespoons melted butter for brushing on loaf just out of the oven
~1 cup icing sugar
* I use Bob’s Red Mill Nonfat Dry Milk Powder. I buy this online as the taste is far superior to what I find on supermarket shelves. Omit this if you cannot find good quality nonfat dry milk powder.
Substitute by replacing the water asked for with an equal amount of room temperature milk.
** Vital wheat gluten is derived from the wheat berry and is added to help bake a loaf with more volume.  Purchase at better stocked supermarket. I use Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten. This does come in a 1 lb 6 oz (623 g) bag, keep sealed and refrigerated. I use it often in my wholemeal loaves and sweet loaves. Take a look at my recipe for Moroccan Inspired Wholemeal Round Bread Loaves, it is very light.
*** I use SAF-instant.
* Instead of cinnamon and allspice powder, you could use nutmeg, mixed spice or whatever combination of spices that are traditionally used for sweet baking. Do not go beyond a collective total of 2 teaspoons of spices as it will not only get too overpowering, it might affect the rise of your bread. I like to go lightly on the spices. 

Method

Dried fruit mix
1. Place dried fruits and the alcohol of your choice or orange juice in a microwavable bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir and set aside to cool. Alternatively, soak overnight.

Wet ingredients
1. Heat the butter until it has almost completely melted. Remove from heat source, add honey, stir until butter completely melts, add water.
2. When completely cool, mix in the 1/4 cup lightly beaten egg.  Set aside.

Dry ingredients
1. Mix all the dry ingredients and the orange and lemon zests together.

Using a mixer
1. Use a standing mixer with the dough hook attachment. A handheld mixer would not be powerful enough.
2. Add the premixed dry ingredients into mixer bowl.
3. Then, add the wet ingredients into it.
4. Start mixer at low speed to prevent the flour from flying out of bowl and all over the kitchen counter.  Work it up slowly to medium high speed.
5. If the mixture seems dry and does not seem to be coming together to form a dough, with the machine running, add 1 Tablespoon of water and let the machine go at it for 1 minute. Work in more water the same way if required. Err on the side of a more moist dough. If there is dough stuck to the sides of the bowl. Scrape down.
6. If the dough is too wet, add 1 Tablespoon flour and let the machine it in for 1 minutes. Add more flour if required but again, err on the side of a more moist dough.
7. Please note that this is a very wet and sticky dough. So hold off the flour as much as you can. Notice how sticky the dough initially looked and how it still looks tacky after kneading.


8. It usually takes 10 minutes of machine kneading before I am happy to shape the dough into a ball. At this point, the sides of my bowl would be relatively, though not entirely cleaned of dough and the dough would have gathered up on the hook. It would look pliable, smooth and would be tackier than most dough.
9. Do not use flour but butter your hands and use a dough scrapper to gather up the dough to form a smooth ball. Pulling loose dough end downwards to the bottom of the dough ball will get a nice dome surface.
10. Butter the mixer bowl, place dough back in, butter the tops of dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until almost double in size. It might take anywhere between 1 and 1 and 1/2 hours, depending on how warm it is.


Working dough by hand
1. Place premixed dry ingredients into mixer bowl on a flat working surface or in a very large bowl.
2. Create a well in the centre of dry ingredients. Pour in wet ingredients and work it in slowly into the dry ingredients.
3. To start kneading, you have to work with pushing the dough out with the palm of your hand and pulling it back with your fingers.
4. At any point, if the dough is too dry or wet to work, you can add 1 Tablespoon of water or flour and work it in completely before adding more water or flour. Err on the side of a moist and not a dry dough. This is a very wet and sticky dough so your kneading surface would not be entirely cleaned of dough at any point. Use a buttered dough scraper to help you clean the kneading surface as you work. You might want to butter your kneading surface if the dough gets too sticky. I would try to hold off the flour as you might end up with a dry Stollen. You will know you are doing well when you find yourself working with a smooth elastic ball. Could take as long as 20 minutes of kneading.
5. Do not use flour but butter your hands and use a dough scrapper to gather up the dough to form a smooth ball. Pulling loose dough end downwards to the bottom of the dough ball will get a nice dome surface.
6. Butter the mixer bowl, place dough back in, butter the tops of dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until almost double in size. It might take anywhere between 1 and 1 and 1/2 hours, depending on how warm it is.

After rising: (1) Divide the dough (2) Mix in dried fruit (3) Shape into stollen & final rise


(1) Divide the dough
1. The dough should have risen exponentially. Knead lightly to knock off air and divide into three equal balls. I always use my kitchen scales to get equally divided dough.

(2) Mix in dried fruit
1. Drain any excess alcohol or orange juice from the soaking dried fruits. Divide into three equal portions.
2. Work each portion of soaked dried fruit separately into a ball of dough. Try not to squash the dried fruit as you do so. It can be a little challenging so work with a light hand or the soaking liquid from the dried fruit will spill into the dough and it will be difficult to work with an increasingly wet dough. Do not over handle the dough balls. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 10 – 20 minutes to allow dough to rest so that it will be easier to roll into logs later.

(3) Shape into stollen and leave to rise
1. Divide the marzipan into three equal pieces. Again I use my kitchen scales. Roll each log approximately the length of the oven tray you will be using for baking. Set aside.
2. Roll each of the dough ball into long rectangles that can be used to enclose each log of marzipan. If the dough is difficult to stretch out, it needs to be rested for another 10 minutes.
3. Place a log of marzipan on each rectangle piece of dough. Pinch and seal the sides well to enclose. You do not want marzipan seeping out during baking because the seams were not secured well enough.
4. Flip the dough seam side down and pinch one end of the 3 doughs together.
5. Plaiting tightly from this end, making sure seams don’t burst as you do. Finish off plaiting and tuck both ends neatly underneath.
6. Transfer to baking tray that has been lined with parchment or a silicon mat. Leave a 2″ (5 cm) border for dough expansion. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and not a kitchen towel as it might stick to the latter. Let it rise for 30 minutes or until almost double its size. It will feel like a pillow if you gently tap on the sides of the loaf.
7. Preheat the oven, oven rack adjusted to lower middle position, 380F (190C).
Baking
1. Oven should have been preheated and ready for baking.
2. When Stollen is ready for baking, uncover plastic wrap, brush with beaten egg, strewn over almonds and place into oven.
3. After 15 minutes of baking, the tops should have browned. Cover with an aluminium foil to avoid burning and continue baking for 10 minutes.
4. After that time, check the loaf by looking at the bottom of the loaf. It should be golden brown to brown. If you tap the base of the loaf it would sound hollow.
5. Remove from oven if it has reached this stage. If not, leave it in the oven for another 5 minutes.  More often than not, 25 minutes baking time is sufficient. At times, 35 to 40 minutes.
6. Transfer the Stollen onto a cooling rack. With a pastry brush, brush the melted butter over the entire surface. Once the butter has soaked in, dust icing sugar over the still hot loaf. You want some of the icing sugar to melt into the bread. Buttering and sugaring helps to keep the Stollen moist. Reserve the rest of the icing sugar.
7. Cool the Stollen completely. Do not be tempted to cut into it before it cools or the marzipan will ooze out. Not pretty.

To serve
1. When the Stollen has cooled completely and you are ready to plate and serve it, transfer to the serving vessel and dust completely with icing sugar.
2. Alternatively, slice the Stollen before serving it at the table. Cut Stollen into generous slices. Serve the sliced Stollen with any remaining uncut Stollen on the same serving vessel. Dust a final time with icing sugar. Take to table.

Tips

What to drink with Stollen
I like Stollen with an espresso. It also pairs well with sweet wines, dark sherry, port, brandy and rum.

Potluck
This makes a lovely gift to bring to a dinner party be it a pot luck or otherwise. I check with the dinner host/hostess beforehand to see if they would like me to bring a dessert that would be served after dinner. I would not bake this otherwise as it really tastes best on the day it is baked. Remember to bring extra icing sugar and a sifter so that you can dust the Stollen with more powdered sugar before serving. It will look prettier.

Bake Stollen without the alcohol
I have baked a Stollen without alcohol. I used orange juice. It was lovely but I miss the boozy taste and smell of rum and brandy. If you opt for a non alcoholic Stollen, I suggest you get your hands on a non alcoholic rum emulsion and add a teaspoon or two to the orange juice. Orange juice and rum extract should total 3 Tablespoons. Read labels carefully as some rum emulsions contain trace amounts of alcohol.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

I can squeeze in another recipe before the upcoming vacation and festive preparations starts to overwhelm me. I am not doing well at all with the buying of presents and the Christmas baking. There is definitely going to be several Cheese Boards and Antipasto Platters served up at my dinner parties. It is such a help when the kitchen gets busier! Visit that page if you want to find out how I keep sane in the kitchen.  Probably the last recipe from me until after Christmas are these addictive Candied Walnuts with an optional sprinkling of chilli powder and mango powder or sour salt for that slight tang that I am fond of. They might just as well be called Sweet, Spicy, Sour and Salty Walnuts! Goes well with those party drinks!

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