Sourdough Stollen – Traditional German Christmas Bread

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Stollen is a classic German yeasted bread, that is traditionally made to enjoy over Christmas. Originally, ‘food of German kings’, Stollen is now enjoyed all over the world and you can buy it in most shops during the festive period. Here, we are sharing our home-made naturally leavened Sourdough Stollen version, created without any commercial yeast. Generously studded with brandy-infused dried fruit and rolled with luxurious marzipan, Sourdough Stollen undoubtedly presents serious competition to even the best of the traditional British Christmas Cakes.

It’s just a personal preference but I would take a Christmas Stollen over a more traditional Christmas Cake any day. I bought many of them in my life and I’ve eaten even more! So, here’s why I think everyone should attempt to make their own…

  • You can use all the dried fruit that you love and not settle for just raisins and sultanas that shop-bought Stollens mainly contain.
  • You can soak your fruit in your favourite brandy, or spiced rum (!) and make sure you can taste it in your finished Stollen (if you like the taste, of course)
  • Let’s be honest, the white icing-sugar coating of shop-bought Stollen isn’t exactly the nicest thing ever, right? Commercially produced Stollens are typically made with lots of cornflour mixed with icing sugar to make sure the coating sticks to the top and keeps dry in their packaging.
  • You can pack in a lot more marzipan!!!
  • Most importantly, you can make a naturally leavened Sourdough Christmas Stollen without commercial yeast, making it easier to digest. Moreover, I feel a great sense of achievement when I make things work using sourdough 😉

How to Make our Sourdough Stollen?

The Night Before – Prepare the Levain and Soak your Fruit:

Let’s begin! The night before you want to bake your Sourdough Stollen, prepare your levain. Take 125g of your starter. It should be the starter that’s not been fed for the last day or two or even the one that’s been stored in the fridge for a week or so. Add 125g of strong bread flour, 60ml of milk and a teaspoon of caster sugar. Mix together to make a ball, partially cover and leave at room temperature overnight (or 8-12 hours).

Your mixture will be quite stiff. It’s certainly different from 100% hydration starter that I make for our White Sourdough Bread (which I make by mixing equal parts of starter, flour and water). The stiff starter made with milk is slower to rise and is perfect for leaving overnight. Furthermore, a stiff starter means I can pack more of it into the dough without making it too wet. With all the butter, fruit and marzipan that goes into our Stollen, some extra oomph from the additional starter definitely helps the rise.

Deciding on the fruit to use in your Sourdough Stollen will greatly determine the flavour of it. We love the combination of sultanas, dried apricot, dried cranberries and cut mixed (candied) citrus peel. Whatever you use, this recipe requires a total amount of 200g of dried fruit, including peel.

I soak my fruit in brandy overnight, but I always leave out the peel. We love a bit of zesty flavour in my Stollen. Soaking peel in alcohol overrides the fresh zesty flavours too much, so I add the peel the next day.

To soak, put the dried fruit in a shallow bowl, pour your brandy all over and mix to coat. You don’t need to fully submerge your fruit. I normally use about 50ml. You can use other spirits, like dark or spiced rum, bourbon or cognac to soak your fruit in. Cover and leave to soak overnight!

Sourdough Stollen

The Next Morning:

Overnight, your sourdough starter should have grown into a ball twice the size! Scoop it out into a large mixing bowl, add 125g of strong white flour, 25ml of milk, 20g of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Knead it just enough to bring it all together into a cohesive ball of dough. You can do this in a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment or by hand on a clean surface. The dough will be rather firm at this point but don’t worry, butter and fruit will soon change that.

Cube 75g of your room temperature butter (the softer it is the easier it’ll be to incorporate into your dough). One piece at a time, slowly work the butter into the dough. As soon as the butter is fully incorporated, leave it to rest for an hour in a covered bowl. We will knead it again when we add fruit.

In the meantime, weigh out your citrus peel and finely chop your almonds. Drain your fruit, that’s been soaking overnight. Make sure to squeeze out most of the moisture.

Sourdough Stollen

After an hour of resting, lightly flour your kitchen surface and stretch the dough out into a rough rectangle with your hands. Sprinkle 1/4 of your soaked fruit, 1/4 of mixed peel and 1/4 of chopped almonds. Roll it into a log and then flatten into a rectangle again. Sprinkle with fruit, peel and nuts again and roll in a different direction than before. Repeat twice more. This way, it’s easy to distribute your fruit evenly in the dough. Knead for another 8-10 minutes until the dough becomes very soft, smooth and elastic. Using a flexible dough scraper, shape into a ball, place it into a clean large bowl, cover and leave to rise until it doubles.

The time it takes to rise hugely depends on the temperature of your kitchen. It’s best to leave it in a warm spot (21-25°C). If your kitchen is colder than that (ours is!), here’s what I do. Turn your oven on the lowest temperature possible for 1 minute. Then turn it off and put the covered bowl with your dough in the oven. Close the door and leave it in there whilst the oven cools. It normally takes my dough about 3 hours to double.

In the Afternoon:

Once your dough has risen, place it on a floured surface and roll it out to 30x20cm rectangle.

Then, in a different spot, sprinkle the work surface with icing sugar and roll your 125g of marzipan out into a 20x12cm rectangle. Your marzipan sheet has to be smaller than your dough. Yes, it means that you won’t get marzipan in the corners of your loaf (!?). It is, however, necessary, to make sure your marzipan is fully encased by the dough, otherwise, it will leak out during the time in the oven.

Stollens are often made with a log of marzipan in the middle, rather than a swirl. It’s certainly less risky that it will leak out from the centre of the loaf if you take the log option. However, we much prefer the more even distribution of the marzipan that a swirl provides.

Lightly brush your dough with melted butter and place the marzipan in the centre of your rolled-out dough. From the shorter side of the dough, start rolling it into a log. Make sure your roll it really tightly, or else you’ll have big gaps between your marzipan and the dough once baked. Carefully tuck both sides of the loaf under to encase the marzipan completely.

Place your stollen roll onto a baking parchment-lined tray. Carefully cover with greased clingfilm or a clean plastic bag and leave to rise again at room temperature (again 21-25°C, ideally) for 2-3 hours until just about doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 170°C Fan. Place the your Sourdough Stollen on the middle shelf and bake for 45-50 minutes. When baked, take it out of the oven and brush with some melted butter. Sift icing sugar on top and leave to cool completely.

Fun fact, I’ve recently discovered that the shape of baked Stollen and its thick icing-sugar coating is meant to represent baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes.

For more festive ideas, have a look at our other Christmas-inspired recipes:

Sourdough Stollen

Sourdough Stollen

Originally 'food of German kings', Stollen is now enjoyed all over the world. Here, we are sharing our home-made naturally leavened Sourdough Stollen version, created without any commercial yeast. Generously studded with rum-infused dried fruit and rolled with luxurious marzipan, Sourdough Stollen undoubtedly presents serious competition to even the best of the traditional British Christmas Cakes.
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Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 50 mins
Starter Fermentation and Proving 16 hrs
Total Time 17 hrs 20 mins
Course Baking, Dessert
Cuisine Christmas, German
Servings 1 loaf

Ingredients
  

For Sourdough Levain:

  • 125 g starter unfed
  • 125 g strong bread flour
  • 60 ml milk
  • 1 tsp caster sugar

For Stollen Bread:

  • 300 g sourdough levain
  • 125 g strong bread flour
  • 20 g caster sugar
  • 75 g butter plus a little extra for brushing
  • 25 ml milk
  • 50 ml brandy or spiced rum or cognac
  • 70 g sultanas
  • 70 g dried apricots roughly chopped
  • 30 g dried cranberries
  • 30 g mixed cut peel
  • 20 g almonds roughly chopped
  • 125 g white marzipan

For the Top:

  • 1 tbsp butter melted
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar

Instructions
 

The Night Before:

  • Make a stiff levain by mixing your unfed starter with flour, milk and sugar. Place it in a semi-covered bowl and leave to rise overnight (8-12 hours) at room temperature.
  • Pour brandy over your sultanas, dried apricot and dried cranberries in a shallow bowl and mix to coat. Leave to soak overnight.

The Next Morning:

  • Your starter should have doubled in size. Place it in a large mixing bowl, add flour, sugar, milk and a pinch of salt. Mix together into a cohesive dough. It will be very firm, but don't worry. It will change once we add butter and fruit.
  • Cut room temperature butter into cubes. One piece at a time, slowly work the butter into the dough, kneeding it until butter is fully incorporated. Then pop the dough back into the bowl. Cover and leave to rest for an hour.
  • In the meantime, finely chop blanched almonds and weight out the mixed peel. Drain the dried fruit and squeeze out excess brandy.
  • Get the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Stretch it out into a rough rectangle and sprinkle 1/4 of your dried fruit, 1/4 of the peel and 1/4 of almonds onto it. roll it up and flatten again into a rectangle. Sprinkle with fruit, peel and nuts again. Roll it again, but in the opposite direction to last time. Repeat twice more. This will make sure the fruit is evenly distributed in your dough.
  • Knead your dough for 10 minutes until it's smooth, soft and elastic. Then shape into a tight ball and place into a large clean bowl. Cover and leave at 21-25°C temperature to rise for 2-3 hours, or until doubled in size. If your kitchen is much colder than that, see tips in the text above.
  • Once doubled, scoop the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface and roll out into 30×20 cm rectangle.
  • In a different spot, dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll out your marzipan into a thin 20x12cm rectangle. Make sure your marzipan sheet is smaller than your dough sheet.
  • Brush the surface of the dough with some melted butter and place the marzipan on top in the centre of the dough rectangle. From the shorter end of the rectangle, tighly roll the stollen, leaving the seam at the bottom.
  • Tuck both edges of the roll under to fully encase the marzipan so that it doesn't leak out during baking.
  • Transfer the Stollen roll onto a baking parchment-lined sheet. Carefully cover with lightly-greased clingfilm or a clean plastic bag and leave to rise again for 2-3 hours until just about doubled in size.
  • Once doubled, preheat the oven to 170°C Fan. Place your Sourdough Stollen in the centre of the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes.
  • When cooked through, take it out of the oven and immediately brush with melted butter. Sift 2 tbsps of icing sugar all over the top and sides and leave to cool completely before slicing.
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