Back when I wrote about sourdough, I mentioned that I had a fruit & nut bread, also known as stollen, on my baking to-do list.
It’s since been baked. And I’m already down to my last few slices. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Stollen is one of my favorite breads of all time. I used to just make it for holiday gift-giving, but it’s now become a year-round staple. Soft and lightly sweet, it’s a yeast bread filled with dried fruit and nuts and a log of almond paste. When you cut the loaf, each slice yields a coin-sized amount of the paste, which you pop out and spread on top along with some butter and a little jam, if you like. Please tell me you’re sold. Whoever invented this deserves a medal.
I’d love to make a naturally leavened (aka sourdough) version of this bread one day, but for now, I’m fine sticking with the yeast version. It’s a nice change of pace from our more hearty loaves, and everyone loves it. When I go home to upstate New York to see my family, I can’t show up without a loaf or two (which my sister and I then hide and only have once her kids have already eaten so they won’t ask us for any. Sharing: 0, Us: 2).
If you’ve never made bread before or are “afraid of yeast,” as I hear people say, this is a great first recipe to try (especially for Easter!). Yes, it has a few ingredients, but the directions are very step-by-step and hard to mess up. In fact, this was one of the first breads I ever baked, and I’m still convinced that my very first loaf was actually better than any I’ve made since. If you’re going to capitalize on beginner’s luck, this is the loaf to use it on!
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour and the Food Network. If you don’t like nuts, you can leave them out, though I’d argue to give it a try as is first, as all the elements together really make it phenomenal. The original recipe uses candied fruit, but I can’t stand the stuff (it’s filled with dyes and additives), so I stick with dried fruit and just soak it first to make it soft. As for the almond paste, I’ve used both store-bought and made my own (using this recipe); both are great. You could use marzipan too, I would think, but it’s less almond-y and even more sweet than regular almond paste, so the outcome might be a little different. // Finally, note that this recipe take a couple hours from start to finish, though most of it is hands-off. Devote a Sunday afternoon to it, and you can look forward to a week of great toast!
Yield: two medium-sized loaves
For the dried fruit:
1 cup dried fruit, diced (l like to use a mix of dried cherries, golden raisins, dates, and figs)
1/4 cup rum or orange juice
For the sponge:
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
2/3 cup milk (I use whole)
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
For the dough:
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg, beaten
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon or orange zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup toasted and chopped nuts (I like to use a mix of walnuts, almonds, pecans, and pistachios)
3 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Oil, for coating bowl
For the filling:
7 ounces almond paste (I like Odense brand, which comes in a tube), divided into two pieces
To prepare the dried fruit: Combine the dried fruit and rum or orange juice. Cover and set aside. Shake or stir the mixture every so often to coat the fruit with the liquid. I like to leave it overnight so my fruit is really soft, but a half-hour or so is fine too.
To prepare the “sponge”: In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110 degrees F (just warm to the touch, not any hotter) and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 cup flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles, about 30 minutes. This is your sponge.
If preparing the dough by hand: Strain the dried fruit mixture, discarding the liquid. To the bowl with the sponge, add the dried fruit, honey, egg, melted butter, zest, salt, nutmeg, nuts, and 2 cups of the flour. Stir vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining 1 to 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl; I usually end up adding about 1 1/2 cups total. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead, adding a little flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 6 to 7 minutes. The dough should be smooth and supple—not dry or crumbly, but not sticking to your hands either.
If preparing the dough in a stand mixer: Strain the dried fruit mixture, discarding the liquid. To the mixer bowl with the sponge, add the dried fruit, honey, egg, melted butter, zest, salt, nutmeg, nuts, and 2 cups of the flour. 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 and feels supple, but not sticky or dry. Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.
First rise: Put the dough in a large, oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a towel or lid and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. You’ll know the dough is ready when you press it gently with your finger and it takes more than a minute for the indentation to fill back out again.
To shape and fill: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, gently roll/press the dough into a 7 by 9-inch oval. Roll half of the almond paste into a log that is just a little less than the length of the dough (about 8 inches) and lay it on top of the dough, close to the center. Carefully roll the dough up into a loaf, pinching the ends together as you roll, so that the log of almond paste stays in the center and doesn’t stick out. Place the loaves on a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet, seam-side down, and cover with a lightly greased piece of plastic wrap (I cover mine with the top lid of a cardboard box, so it doesn’t touch the loaves but does keep away any drafts that would keep it from rising properly). Let rise for at 45 minutes, or until just about doubled and nicely puffy.
About 20 minutes before the loaves are ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Bake the loaves (on the middle rack) for 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees. If the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, it’s done.
While the loaves are still warm, brush the outside with butter (this helps keep the crust soft). Place on a rack to cool completely before slicing.
Eat within 2 to 3 days, or slice and freeze. You can toast the slices directly from the freezer, no need to defrost. I like mine with butter and tart cherry jam.