Friday, December 16, 2011

A Christmas Tale of Bread Baking

Time has passed in the Land of St. Honore', as it does everywhere. Hearing the Angelus church bells ring out in the early morn over the snowy winter land, twelve year old Elias knew it was time to start the surprise for Grandfather. He had plans to spread good will through his baking. Christmas was coming and it was time his Grandfather knew that he had, indeed, inherited the family talent for baking.

Thirteen years ago his mother, the princess, had chosen his father, Ian, as a husband because his baking made her happy.

Elias's grandfather the king also enjoyed a fine baked good and had been hoping that the baking gene, so prized in the Land of St. Honore', had been passed on to Elias because his mother was a better baked good eater than baker.

Although Elias enjoyed the comportment and manners training that was part of his education and really appreciated access to spirited horses since he loved to ride, he truly loved spending time in the kitchen with his father learning the ancient secrets of butter and eggs, sugar and flour. Recently his father had been given a gift of quantities of candied orange and lemon peel. He had just the recipe to make good use of them.

The day before he had gathered his ingredients and started the candied peels to soak in their rum bath. Although the recipe looked fine he was going to change a few things. He preferred to mix together all of the dough ingredients (except for the soused fruit) and let it chill overnight for extra flavor. In the morning he could knead in the fruit and shape the loaves.

For Christmas the tradition is to use a richer dough than usual, so to the flour and yeast he added milk, eggs, butter, citrus zest and spices. All of that butter fat meant that the dough wouldn't rise as much, but since Elias planned a shaped set of loaves that was OK. The overnight chilling would still add flavor.

So now he was returning from his early morning visit to church and he was looking forward to the warmth of the kitchen. He retrieved the dough from the cooler, tipped it out on a floured board and punched it down. As the dough warmed he found it easier to spread the dough out on the board and then he spread the rum and fruit mixture over the dough, rolled it all up, then kneaded it to distribute the fruit.

As he kneaded the dough he leaned down and really appreciated the fragrance of the fruit and spices. After dividing the dough into three pieces, he shaped each one into a batard, then used a large dowel to create an indentation, slightly off center. One piece was flipped on top of the other and lo and behold! Stollen. Once the loaves had been proofed for about two hours they were ready for the oven. After baking to a golden brown he brushed them with clarified butter and gave them a generous coating of superfine sugar so they looked snowy.

Don't let anyone tell you that stollen, the lovely fruited yeast loaves of Christmas from Dresden, Germany, is supposed to be hard and dry. These loaves were fragrant with spice, zesty with citrus and rum, tender and moist and sweet. Elias knew that the stollen he had made as a gift for the king would be enjoyed because he enjoyed his own loaf very much!

A big thank you to Susan of Wild Yeast for this delightful take on stollen and congratulations to her on her special day. Hope you enjoyed the story above. It's been a while since I visited the Land of St. Honore', where baking is a birthright.

Please visit the other Bread Baking Babes (links found at right) to enjoy their beautiful stollen posts. I'm including the recipe below so you can see what should have happened. My experience was pretty much the same as Elias'. I also chose not to use confectioners' sugar on the finished loaves. The superfine sugar was enough sweetness.

Do consider baking these for yourself and your gift giving. You can be a Buddy by sending Susan an e-mail with a link to your post and/or a description of your baking experience and a photo of the finished bread(s). You have until Dec. 29th but I encourage you to make these in time for Christmas.
Of course I'm sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting. Merry Christmas Susan!

(Adapted from San Francisco Baking Institute)

Yield: 1500 grams (3 loaves, more or less)

• Candy and dry citrus peel: 12 hours or more (can be done ahead)
• Soak the fruits: 12 hours
• Mix and ferment sponge: 12 hours (can be simultaneous with fruit-soaking)
• Mix dough: 20 – 30 minutes
• First fermentation : 30 minutes
• Pre-shape, rest, and shape: 30 minutes
• Proof: 90 minutes
• Bake: 30 minutes

Sponge Ingredients:
• 120 grams flour
• 80 grams water
• 0.1 gram (small pinch) instant yeast [or 0.13 g active dry, or 0.25 g fresh]

Soaked Fruit Ingredients:
• 130 grams raisins
• 75 grams dried cherries (or more raisins)
• 61 grams candied orange peel
• 92 grams candied lemon peel
• 82 grams slivered almonds
• 34 grams rum

Final Dough Ingredients:
• 348 g flour
• 53 g milk
• 25.3 grams (2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) instant yeast [or 18.6 g osmotolerant, or 31.6 g active dry, or 63.3 g fresh]
• 8 g (1-1/3 t.) salt
• 8 g (2-1/3 t.) diastatic malt powder (omit if you don’t have it)
• 51 g sugar
• 50 g egg (about one large egg)
• 5 g grated lemon zest (one average lemon)
• 5 g grated orange zest (one small orange)
• 1/3 t. of each of these ground spices: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, allspice, nutmeg
• 273 g unsalted butter, at room temperature (should be pliable)
• all of the sponge
• all of the soaked fruits

Finishing Ingredients:
• clarified butter
• fine granulated sugar
• powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

1. Toss the soaker fruits with the rum in a medium bowl. Cover and leave at room temperature for about 12 hours.
2. Meanwhile, combine the sponge ingredients in another medium bowl. Cover and ferment at room temperature for 12 hours.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine all of the final dough ingredients except the soaker. Mix in slow speed until all the ingredients are incorporated.
4. Continue mixing in medium speed until the gluten reaches full development. The dough should come together around the hook and should no longer stick to the sides and bottom of the bowl. This could take about 20 minutes or more, but will depend on your mixer.
5. Add the soaked fruits and mix on slow speed just until they are evenly distributed through the dough.
6. Transfer the dough to a lightly buttered container. Cover and ferment for 30 minutes at room temperature.
7. Turn the dough onto the counter. Divide into three pieces, or however many you would like. Pre-shape the dough into balls and let them rest, covered, for 30 minutes.
8. To shape each loaf: Form a blunt-ended batard and dust it lightly with flour. With a thin rolling pin, press down firmly, separating about 2/5 of the dough from the other 3.5. Roll out the flap of dough connecting the sections so it is about 2 inches wide. Flatten the larger section slightly with your hand, then fold the smaller section over to rest on the larger one.
9. Place the loaves on parchment-lined baking sheets (two per sheet) and slip them into a large plastic bag with a bowl of warm water. Proof for about 90 minutes, replenishing the water when it cools.
10. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 on convection setting or 400 on regular bake setting. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.
11. Bake for 10 minutes, open the oven door briefly to allow any remaining steam to escape, and bake for another 20 minutes. If you do not have convection, you may need to rotate the position of the baking sheets halfway through the bake to ensure even browning and keep the one on the lower rack from burning on the bottom.
12. While the loaves are still warm, brush them with clarified butter. Dredge them in fine granulated sugar, brushing or shaking off the excess.
13. To finish, sift powdered sugar over the loaves.
14. Cut when completely cool. You can leave the stollen out overnight to let the loaves dry and the sugar crust up a bit.


  1. Love Love Love it and the Stollen and the candied orange/lemon peel and you!
    Your loaves are really gorgeous.
    Agreed: this is not a dry Stollen, it's just right.
    I'm really torn with the orange peel: give it away - such a beautiful gift - and save myself from eating it all OR just eat it all myself and make another batch ... best to give it all away and then make another batch, you think?

  2. "the fragrance of soused fruit and spices" so true!

    Wonderful loaves!

  3. How lovely, Elle!!! Both the tale and the Stollen.

    (I KNEW that Stollen wasn't supposed to be hard and dry!)

    I'm with Tanna on the candied peel. I adore it! Hmmm, can we pretend that it's good for us?

  4. YUM.
    This past winter I candied peel just for the stollen. I have my stash of dried fruits and chopped nuts, and I cannot wait!

    ...just have to make it through one last Christmas show...

  5. What a wonderful story and you're totally right, stollen is not dry or hard! I love those smells too, spices, candied fruits and citrus zest.... have a wonderful Christmas !

  6. I love your charming story, and the loaves look absolutely perfect!

  7. What a lovely story - and I can smell the fragrant bread.... Yum.... I have to admit, the Stollen I've eaten in Germany has not been hard and dry.... Must have been in the wrong place LOL

  8. Beautiful! I love your tales from the Land of St Honore. And have you ever put up a post that didn't include the words "change things a few things?"

    Wishing you and your family a wonderful, peaceful, beautiful, joyful, and merry Christmas!

  9. Tanna, I think you should eat as much candied orange peel as you want and make some more stollen, too. XO Elle
    Baking Soda, these were yum weren't they?
    Elizabeth, of course the peel is good for you...lots of fiber LOL
    Tanita, hope the show went well and that the stollen are made. Saw the photos for the raspberry apple dumplings...delicious!
    Lien, we did well this month didn't we? Yay Babes!
    Susan, great recipe and a perfect challenge for December.
    Katie, I think most stollen isn't hard or dry, but my last attempt had that result. This was much nicer.
    Lynn, There must be the odd post where I didn't change anything, but that's no fun!