Growing up I always knew when I visited my auntie’s house at Christmas that she’d have stollen sliced up on a platter ready for snacking. She bought hers from the German bakery, but this bread isn’t hard to make—it just takes some time. First, mix together the sponge and let it rise. Then finish the dough, mixing in candied fruit that’s been macerated in booze. Form the dough into the classic long oval shape, let it rise, then bake it. Brush it with plenty of butter, cover it with a thick coating of powdered sugar, and enjoy it after Christmas dinner, on Christmas morning, or as part of a holiday brunch spread.
Special equipment: You’ll need an instant-read thermometer and a pastry brush for this recipe.
What to buy: For best results, make sure to buy quality candied zest, not artificially dyed candied fruit. You can find candied zest in the dried fruit section at most well-stocked grocery stores, especially around the holidays.
Game plan: You can store the stollen in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day. If the butter oozes through the powdered sugar, sprinkle the bread with additional sugar before serving.
- 1Combine all of the ingredients in a quart jar and seal the jar. Let it sit at room temperature overnight or up to 3 days, turning the jar occasionally. Alternatively, place the ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Warm the mixture, stirring occasionally, just until steam starts to rise from the pan. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
For the sponge:
- 1Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until it registers between 120°F and 130°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat.
- 2Place the flour, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk by hand to combine. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Add the egg and whisk until evenly combined.
- 3Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the sponge rise in a warm place until it doubles in size then collapses in on itself, about 2 hours.
For the dough and to finish:
- 1Remove the plastic wrap from the sponge, attach the bowl to the mixer, and fit the mixer with a paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the butter 1 piece at a time, letting each piece incorporate before adding the next, about 5 minutes total.
- 2Reduce the speed to medium low, add the sugar, cardamom, salt, almond extract, nutmeg, and vanilla seeds, and mix until the dough starts to collect in 1 mass on the paddle, about 10 minutes. Stop the mixer and, using a rubber spatula or rubber bowl scraper, scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
- 3Remove the paddle and attach the dough hook. Add the reserved fruit mixture (including any unabsorbed liquid) and almonds and mix on low speed until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Gradually add 2 cups of the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, about 5 minutes total. Once all of the flour has been added, continue to mix until the dough is starting to pull away from the bowl, about 3 to 5 minutes more.
- 4Sprinkle a work surface with 1/2 cup of the flour and scrape the dough out onto it. Knead the dough, pushing any fruit or nut pieces back in that fall out, until all of the flour is incorporated and the dough feels slightly tacky and fairly firm, about 7 minutes. (If the dough feels very sticky, knead in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.)
- 5Lightly coat a large bowl with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Shape the dough into a ball, place it in the bowl, turn it to coat it with oil, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- 6Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and divide it in half with a sharp knife or pasty scraper. Shape each piece into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.
- 7Divide the marzipan or almond paste in half and roll each piece into a cylinder about 11 inches long; set aside.
- 8Pat each piece of dough into an oval measuring 12 inches long and 9 inches wide at its widest point. (If the dough sticks at any point, lightly dust it with flour.)
- 9Using the side of your hand, make a lengthwise depression down the center of each oval. Place a cylinder of marzipan or almond paste in each depression. Lift 1 long side of each oval over the marzipan or almond paste to enclose it (as if closing a book), placing the top flap about 1 inch from the edge of the bottom flap.
- 10Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the stollen loaves on the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches of space between them. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until increased in volume by about half, about 45 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the lower third.
- 11Uncover the loaves and bake until browned and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 195°F (test several spots because you may hit a pocket of marzipan), about 35 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter.
- 12Transfer the loaves to a wire rack and immediately brush the loaves with the butter, using all of it. Place 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar in a fine-mesh sieve and sift it over the stollen (there should be a generous coating). Repeat if the powdered sugar starts to melt in spots. Let the bread cool completely, about 40 minutes. Before serving, dust with additional powdered sugar if necessary. To serve, slice into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife.