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Saturday, December 3, 2016

December ABC challenge: stollen

I spent several years in Germany as a kid. While there, my mom picked up the practice of making stollen at Christmas, so I am very familiar with it and regularly make it myself. I have my own preferred, well-tweaked recipe, but gave this one a try.  I have a lot of questions about it.

The preparation seemed overly fussy, which has been a common issue with this recipe source. I'm not sure all the steps are necessary. I normally bloom my yeast but don't bother with a sponge. One or the other seems sufficient. But after that, I don't understand why there are all the resting sessions. I also question the benefits of using the "sweetener". Zesting citrus peel releases the oil, which is where the flavor is. The longer all that surface area is exposed, the more the essence will dissipate. Mixing the zest with a little sugar before adding it to the recipe will prevent clumps of it in the dough, but I think the zest should be used immediately in order to get maximum flavor. As for shaping the dough, they lost me completely.  The instructions weren't clear, but anyway I don't know why they like such a thin layer of bread on the bottom.  I don't think it looks good, and doesn't seem like a very stable slice.

Here's what I used:

180 g mixture of raisins, currants, and cranberries, measured after plumping soaked and dried
1/2 cup rum 
250 g all-purpose flour
135 g lukewarm milk
7 g instant yeast 
2 heaping tablespoons high-gluten flour
5.5 7 g salt
1 egg yolk
40 g (salted) butter, softened
15 g sweetener (orange and lemon zest sugar)
4 teaspoons sugar
zest of 1/3 of a lemon
zest of 1/3 of an orange
150 g almond paste combined with 1/2 a small egg or one egg yolk (recipe below)
melted butter for brushing
icing sugar for dusting

Almond paste
75 g blanched almonds flour
75 g fine sugar
zest of 1/3 of an unwaxed lemon
about 17 g/ml water
1 egg yolk

A few days before making the bread, soak the dried fruits in the rum until they have plumped. Drain and dry on paper towels before using. Also make the almond paste by mixing the first three ingredients to a smooth paste, adding enough water to make it smooth and firm. Keep tightly sealed and refrigerated.

When you are ready to make the bread, bring the almond paste to room temperature, then mix with the egg yolk.  The paste should be smooth and supple.

In a bowl, combine half the AP flour, all the yeast, the egg yolk, and lukewarm milk. Mix well with a dough whisk, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the dried fruit) and knead for 5 to 7 minutes with a standing mixer or about 10 to 14 minutes by hand. The dough should be smooth, supple and satiny, slightly sticky, and with good gluten development.  Add the prepared fruits and work them through the dough until evenly distributed. (If the fruit mixture is a bit wet, sprinkle on some flour before adding it to the dough.)  Form the dough into a ball, place in a greased bowl, cover, and let it rest for 20 minutes in a warm, draft-free environment.

Shape the dough into a loaf (similar to Italian bread), cover, and let it rest again for 20 minutes in a warm, draft-free environment. Flatten the loaf with a rolling pin into an oval shape, leaving the edges a little thicker. Make a flattened log out of the almond paste, almost the length of the bread, and place it in the middle. Fold the dough in half over the paste, leaving the top half to fall just short of evenly meeting the bottom half.  Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover, and allow to rise.  This should take at least 40 minutes to 1 hour. 

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.  Make sure the bread is fully risen before it goes into the oven. When you think it has risen enough, gently poke the dough. If the dent remains and you feel no resistance at all, the bread is ready to bake.   If the indentation disappears, the dough needs more time.  (For a light, fluffy loaf, let the dough rise as long as possible.)  Bake the stollen for 35 minutes until golden brown, covering lightly with foil if it's browning too quickly. While still warm but not hot, rub the loaf with butter, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.  If desired, rub on a second coat of butter, then sprinkle a second time with powdered sugar.  Allow loaf to cool completely before slicing.

While I've enjoyed the change up in recipes from American standards with this recipe source, I'm happy to see its backside.  It's been a frustrating journey.  On this challenge, I had a hard time getting this dough to come together as it should.  For example, why are they using AP flour if they want good gluten development?  I had no choice but to finally add some high gluten flour after kneading the dough in a mixer for about 20 minutes with no success.  I also think the author misrepresented the amount of fruit. There was far too much in the dough---it was essentially raisin bread---and I wasn't the only one in our challenge group who got this result. I measured 180 grams of fruit, and then soaked them, but I think you're supposed to soak the fruit, and THEN measure out 180 grams. The additional wet fruit made incorporating it very difficult: the dough tore, the fruit fell out, and I had to sprinkle flour over all the wet spots to try to get things to hold together. I also did not get a huge rise (to give "light and fluffy" bread). It's obvious from the photos on their web page that they had less fruit in their bread. I've adjusted the directions accordingly.

Conclusion:  In the end, the bread was good.  It wasn't light and fluffy, but that's fine with me; I don't think stollen should be.  I couldn't taste the citrus over all the fruit, and I would have liked to have had some spices in there.  I also think there was a little too much almond paste to bread, but I'd reduce that only a small amount.  (Perhaps with less fruit the balance would be okay.)  My own recipe has a lot more butter in it, and that creates a crust with an almost deep-fried crunchiness to it, which I missed on this one.  Nonetheless, it got rave reviews from the family.

Recipes:  Our Perfect Stollen and almond paste via Weekend Bakery.

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