Long before the Romans occupied parts of Germany, special breads were prepared for the winter solstice that were rich in dried or preserved fruit. Historians have traced Christollen, Christ's stollen, back to about the year 1400 in Dresden, Germany. The first stollen consisted of only flour, oats and water, as required by church doctrine, but without butter and milk, it was quite tasteless. Ernst of Saxony and his brother Albrecht requested of the Pope that the ban on butter and milk during the Advent season be lifted. His Eminence replied in what is known as the famous "butter letter," that milk and butter could be used to bake stollen with a clear conscience and God's blessing for a small fee. Originally stollen was called Striezel or Struzel, which referred to a braided shape -- a large oval folded in half with tapered ends -- said to represent the Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothing. Around 1560 it became custom that the bakers of Dresden give their king, the ruler of Saxony, two 36-pound stollens as a Christmas gift. It took eight master bakers and eight journeymen to carry the bread to the palace safely. This custom was continued for almost 200 years. In 1730 Augustus the Strong, the electoral prince of Saxony and the King of Poland, asked the Baker's Guild of Dresden to bake a giant stollen for the farewell dinner of the Zeithain "campement." The 1.8-ton stollen was a true showpiece and fed over 24,000 guests. To commemorate this event, a Stollenfest is held each December in Dresden. The bread for the present-day Stollenfest weighs 2 tons and measures approximately 4 yards long. Each year the stollen is paraded through the market square, then sliced and sold to the public, with the proceeds supporting local charities. Although there is a basic recipe for making the original Dresden Christollen, each master baker, each village and each home has its own secret recipe passed down from one generation to the next. There are probably as many recipes for stollen as there are home bakers. The commercial production of Dresden stollen is carefully licensed and regulated to ensure quality and authenticity. Authentic German stollen is usually sprinkled heavily with confectioners' sugar prior to serving. I personally have never liked this topping and choose to drizzle the tops of my loaves lightly with a simple icing (confectioners' sugar mixed with enough heavy cream to reach the consistency of honey).
For the Fruit:
For the Sponge:
- 1 scant tablespoon or 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
For the Dough:
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
- 1/2 cup chopped almonds, toasted
- 3 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- Oil, for coating bowl
For the Filling:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the Topping:
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
Prepare Fruit: Combine the mixed fruit, raisins, and rum. Cover and set aside. Shake or stir the mixture every so often to coat the fruit with the rum.
Prepare Sponge: In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110 degrees F and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 cup flour. Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles, about 30 minutes.
By Hand: Add the fruit mixture, honey, egg, butter, zest, salt, mace, almonds, and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
By Mixer: In the mixer bowl, add the fruit mixture, honey, egg, butter, zest, salt, mace, almonds, and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge. Using the paddle, beat the mixture on medium low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Change to the dough hook. Continue to add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to clean the bowl. Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.
First rise: Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Shape and Fill: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. For 1 large loaf, roll the dough into a 9 by 13-inch oval. For 2 loaves, divided the dough in half and roll each half into a 7 by 9-inch oval. Brush the melted butter over the top of the oval(s). Combine the cinnamon and granulated sugar and sprinkle over one lengthwise half of the oval(s). Fold the dough in half lengthwise and carefully lift the bread(s) onto a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet. Press lightly on the folded side to help the loaf keep its shape during rising and baking.
Second rise: Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven: About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Bake and cool: Bake for 25 minutes until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees F. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a rack to cool.
To serve: Sprinkle heavily with confectioners' sugar just before serving.
Variation: Between 2 pieces of waxed paper or plastic wrap, roll 3 ounces almond paste or marzipan into the lengthwise shape of half the oval. Omit the butter and cinnamon-sugar filling. Place the marzipan on half of the oval and fold the dough in half. Let rise and bake as directed.
Notes: One cup coarsely chopped mixed dried fruits may be substituted for the candied fruit. Cover the dried fruit with boiling water and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. Drain and use as you would candied fruit. You can also make your own candied fruit and peel. This bread freezes nicely for up to 6 months. If freezing it, do not sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. To serve, first thaw the bread, then bake on a baking sheet in a preheated 375 degree F oven for 7 to 10 minutes. Just before serving, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.