A traditional German Stollen, that raisin-studded, marzipan-filled, powder sugar coated, sweet bread always signals Christmas to me. A slice of this fruity loaf with a cup of milky tea or coffee makes a festive light breakfast or delicious afternoon snack. This one is the easier Quarkstollen, so there's no need to fiddle with yeast and rising dough or waiting two weeks before eating it. See the gluten free version here, too. (Skip to recipe.)
Pa-rum-pum-pum-pummmmm. Christmas is almost here!
Where has the time gone? It was just autumn, and now we have the house decked out for Christmas. And no matter how small it will be, the spirit of the season is wafting joyfully through the air. Finally. For I was afraid I wouldn't find it this year. My Christmas joy was sadly lacking. But I have found it again, and for that I am thankful.
Because it is still the blessed celebration it has always been.
I found this little saying on Facebook:
'The first Christmas was pretty simple. It's okay if yours is too.'
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, it is totally okay if it is pretty simple. We can be grateful we are able to celebrate.
The one thing I've been doing in the name of Christmas this year, is trying to adapt recipes for a traditional Quarkstollen to make it gluten free and have it turn out like the Stollen I ate every Christmas as a child.
Mostly we bought this traditional fruit-studded bread from German delicatessens or were gifted a loaf of it from relatives or friends, and some years my mom baked a batch of Stollen for us. As a child I never appreciated this traditional Christmas treat. My dislike of anything with raisins in it was a deciding factor, as well as what I though was the dryness of the cake. Its only redeeming quality was the luscious little bite of marzipan in the middle of each slice. If I could, I surreptitiously crumbled off the bread around the outsides, and only ate out the middles of each slice.
But now that I'm a grown-up, I've magically developed a liking for a fruity, crumbly slice of Stollen to go with a morning cup of coffee or an afternoon cup of tea. I think I really grew to love it when, years ago, the parents of our first German exchange student sent us a huge whole Stollen directly from Dresden - an authentic Dresdner Christstollen - packed in its trademark decorated box, right from the birthplace of Stollen where these Christmas breads are still made with pure ingredients, using the same recipe and in the same way they've been made for many centuries. There was something so magical about that Stollen, and I've had a nostalgic feeling for it ever since. (I still use the box to store some of our special blown glass German Christmas ornaments in).
So this fall I set about making one that would satisfy my yearning.
While in Germany last Christmas, I bought a Christmas baking magazine in a grocery store in Gröbenzell, the little town we stayed in. There was a recipe for Quarkstollen that piqued my interest. Now this I could do. Traditional Stollen is a yeast dough containing raisins, candied citrus peel, almonds, spices, sometimes marzipan. A Quarkstollen has all that, but it uses quark (a type of German fresh cheese) for tang and rising power instead of yeast. A traditional yeasted Stollen needs all the rising stages of yeast dough in baking, plus it needs to be aged two whole weeks before you should eat it. Well, the Quarkstollen can be sliced as soon as it's cooled (though it does do better to have one day for flavours to meld and mellow). So, there's still time to make it!
Another trademark of a traditional Stollen is the thick blanket of icing sugar coating it. This isn't just for looks: the hot cakes are thoroughly soaked with melted butter right after they come out of the oven, then heavily coated with icing sugar once cooled. This helped to seal and preserve the cakes in days before refrigeration. It was said that a properly buttered and sugared Stollen could still be eaten at Easter time. Yes, it might have been a little dry by then, but having it with a cup of something hot revived that unique delicious flavour of raisins, peel, and marizpan.
My Stollen Adventures
I've made this recipe four times in the last few weeks, tweaking it to get it just right. I started with using dry cottage cheese to try replicating the quark (hard to get here). The first batch went to the chickens (they need Christmas, too). The second batch was crumbled up and is being used for a delicious version of Stollen bread pudding (we'll have it again during the holidays). The third batch was close enough to send it out to our kids in their Christmas parcels, and this last batch was finally right. It has the right balance of rum, raisins, peel, and almonds that I love, with just the merest whiff of spices and a generous filling of marzipan (the best part). This cake keeps well and just gets more moist and complex in flavour as it ages.
And don't worry if you have leftover almond paste or marzipan - you can freeze it (it's okay to refreeze it even if it's been frozen before) to use later in these delicious Almond Cranberry Scones.
A Quarkstollen takes a few steps to make (even without the yeast), but when it's a special Christmas treat, the time spent is worth it and is even a beautiful Christmas activity. I enjoyed every minute of it. And I'll be making this Stollen recipe in the years to come as a new part of our family's Christmas tradition.
Step-by-step Instructions for Making Your Stollen
This part of the instructions includes photos and general directions to help you see how it's made. It's quite lengthy. The recipe below them contains the ingredient amounts and just the instructions without the photos. Skip to the recipe if you want to avoid the lengthy instructions and photos that follow.
The day before you start, you'll need to chop the candied citrus peel and mix it with raisins and rum and then leave them to soak. Stir or shake them a few times during that time. I find a mason jar works well for this.
If you don't have German quark (a kind of cross between stiff yogurt and smooth fresh cheese), you can strain regular yogurt to get it to be a close substitute. Put the yogurt into a sieve lined with a coffee filter, paper towel, cheesecloth, or a clean towel. Set the sieve over a bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap or a plate. Put it in the fridge and leave it for a day.
The whey drains away and now the yogurt is a nice thick consistency, similar to quark, for making our Quarkstollen.
Now we can make our dough, with flour (gluten free or regular, see the recipe), butter, eggs, sugar, spices, ground almonds, the strained yogurt and our rum-soaked raisins and peel.
Pat the dough into two nice, even balls.
Place them onto a piece of parchment paper and roll them each into a 7 x 10 inch rectangle with rounded corners. Use your hands to pat and push and shape the edges smooth.
Now roughly dice the marzipan (almond paste) and knead it with two tablespoons of butter to make it soft and pliable for a delicious filling for our stollen.
Roll it into two 9 inch ropes (kinda fun, like playing with playdough). Put one rope down the center of each Stollen dough rectangle.
Then use the paper to help you lift the dough and flip it over the marzipan filling, with the top edge just about a half inch shy of matching up with the bottom.
Now pinch together any large cracks in the dough,
and push down the top lip of dough gently to make sure it seals to the bottom.
Now make up a 27 inch long band of folded parchment paper for each cake: fold 6-inch wide strips of parchment into thirds lengthwise (to make a three layer strip that's 2 inches wide). Staple or sew two of them together to make a long strip and trim it to 27 inches long. Staple the ends together (overlapping 1 inch) to make an oval.
These bands will help the Stollen to keep their shape and prevent them from spreading too far. In Germany they have special Stollen pans to invert over the cakes to help shape them, but these parchment bands work just as well, and allow for a more rustic, natural shape on top, I think.
Slip the Stollens onto baking sheets with their parchment paper. Place one ring around each Stollen - you may have to gently push in the ends of the Stollens to make them a bit shorter so the band fits loosely around them.
Make sure the parchment bands are pushed right down and resting on the pans.
Now bake the cakes to golden deliciousness. As soon as they come out of the oven, brush them liberally with melted butter,
then sprinkle each one with a tablespoon of sugar.
Now slide them onto a rack to cool.
When they're completely cool, set the rack over the used parchment paper, and sprinkle liberally all over (flip them to sprinkle the bottoms first) with a thick layer of icing sugar shaken through a sieve.
Now cut into one to have a slice, or wrap them in wax paper or parchment paper, then slide them into a sealed container, plastic bag, or wrap in foil.
Stollens will keep at room temperature for at least a month, and in Germany it's said they'll keep until Easter time, but I'd store them in the fridge, then. The butter and icing sugar combine to form a protective layer that actually preserves the cake for lengthy storage. With time, the cake gets moister and the flavour just gets better. Rewrap the cake tightly after every time you open it to cut off a slice or two.
It's time to make up a pot of coffee and slice ourselves a little bite of Stollen while we talk of Christmas secrets and plans.
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Maybe you'd also like to make a traditional Canadian fruitcake - this amazing family recipe has gumdrops in it, and is sure to convert even the staunchest fruitcake hater into a fruitcake lover. Kids of all ages gobble this one up!
Or maybe you'd like Panforte, the Italian Christmas Cake? It's chewy and almost candy-like but not too sweet, rich with spices, nuts, fruit, and honey - and it's absolutley quick and easy to make (the gluten-free version works great, too!).
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Kitchen Frau Notes: The Stollen cake batter itself doesn't contain much sugar. The sweetness in the Stollen comes from the raisins, candied citrus peel, marzipan, and icing sugar coating.
Making the parchment paper collars for the cakes helps a lot in them keeping their shape. I recommend you use them; they really are not too difficult to make. Without them, I had cakes spread out too flat.
If you have a kitchen scale, use it to weigh the ingredients for this recipe, as weight measurements are much more accurate than cups and will produce a more consistent result in your baking.
*If making the Stollen gluten free, make sure to use sweet rice flour (also called mochiko or glutinous rice flour), not regular white rice flour, as the sweet rice flour makes the dough more stretchy and pliable. In the batch where I used regular rice flour, I got huge cracks in the tops of my cakes and the marzipan filling bulged out between them.
German Quark Stollen, Traditional Christmas Cake
inspired by LandIdee Weihnachtsküche, 120 Rezepte vom Land für einen festlichen Advent, LandIdee Verlag GmbH, 1.1.2019, and other family recipe sources
Yield: 2 loaves Time: 1 day soaking time + 2 hours preparing and baking time
- 2 cups (300 g) sultana raisins
- 1 cup (150 g) mixed candied peel, loosely measured (or ½ cup/75 g Orangeat + ½ cup/75 g Zitronat)
- ¼ cup (60ml) rum
- 1 cup (250 g) German quark or 1 cup strained yogurt (to make, start with 2¼ cups natural yogurt with no added gelatin, strained overnight - see below)
- ⅔ cup (150 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature (plus more for filling and finishing - see below)
- ½ cup (100 g) sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt (reduce to ¼ teaspoon if using salted butter)
- ⅛ teaspoon of each: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom
- 1 cup (100 g) almond flour
- 4 cups (500 g) all purpose flour [or for gluten-free: use 400 grams (3 cups) gluten free flour mix + 100 grams (½ cup + 2 tablespoons) sweet rice flour + 2 tablespoons whole psyllium husks]
- 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) baking powder
for the marzipan filling:
- 225 grams/8 oz. almond paste (1½ cups diced into ½-inch cubes)
- 2 tablespoons soft butter
for finishing the baked cakes:
- 6 tablespoons (90ml) melted butter
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ¾ to 1 cup (90 to 120 g) of icing sugar/confectioners sugar/powdered sugar
The day before baking the Stollens:
- Place the raisins in a bowl or mason jar. Chop the candied citrus peel fine and add it to the raisins. Add the rum and stir to moisten everything. Then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or the jar with a lid, and stir the bowl or tilt the jar every few hours to redistribute the rum. Leave to marinate for 12 to 24 hours (or more).
- If using strained yogurt: line a sieve with a coffee filter, double thickness of paper towel, several layers of cheesecloth or a clean tea towel or dishcloth and put the yogurt into it. Set the sieve over a bowl, and cover with a plate or plastic wrap. Set the bowl and sieve into the fridge to drain for 12 to 24 hours. To use the strained yogurt for this recipe, measure out 1 cup/250 grams and save the rest for another use (or eat it with fruit or jam).
At baking time: Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Prepare two parchment paper bands to shape the Stollen while baking: Cut four parchment paper strips off the roll that are 6 inches (15cm) wide and fold them into thirds lengthwise. Staple two of them together into one long strip (or sew them together with needle and thread). Measure and trim the excess so that you have a triple-layered parchment band that is 2 inches (5cm) wide and 27 inches (69cm) long. Overlap the ends by 1 inch and staple or sew them together to make a circular band. Repeat with the other two strips so you have two oval collars.
Cream the ⅔ cup (150 g) butter. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat until creamy.
Add the quark or strained yogurt, vanilla, almond extract, salt, spices, and almond flour. Beat well.
Add the flour (or gluten free flour mix, sweet rice flour, and psyllium husks) and the baking powder and beat on slow speed to combine.
Add the rum-soaked raisins and candied citrus peel and any rum still in the bowl or jar. Continue beating on low until they are well mixed in.
Scrape the dough onto the counter, divide it into two, and shape each half into a ball.
Lay out a square piece of parchment paper and place one ball of dough onto it. Roll it out to a 7 x 10 inch (18 x 25 cm) rectangle, using your hands to push in the edges to help shape the rectangle.
Repeat with the other ball of dough.
Prepare the marzipan filling: Dice the almond paste into cubes and dump them onto the work surface. Add the 2 tablespoons of soft butter and knead them together to make a smooth mass. Divide the mass into two balls. Roll each ball into a rope that is 9 inches (23cm) long.
Lay one marzipan rope onto each Stollen dough rectangle the long way, just to one side of the center line.
Flip the wider piece of dough over the marzipan rope, using the parchment paper to help you lift the dough, and fold it over so the top long edge doesn't quite meet the bottom edge - about ½ inch/1 cm of the bottom edge of the dough is uncovered.
If the dough has cracks anywhere, use your fingers to gently pinch them back together.
Trim off excess parchment paper - leaving about 4 inches/10 cm all around the Stollen. Lift the parchment paper with the Stollen onto a baking pan. Repeat with the other Stollen.
Place the circular collar of parchment paper you prepared at the beginning around the Stollen to create an oval 'fence' to keep the Stollen from spreading and help it retain its oval shape while baking. Make sure the parchment band is pushed down and sits with its bottom resting on the baking sheet.
Bake the Stollens for 50 to 60 minutes, until they are golden and a toothpick comes out clean when poked in.
After baking: Remove them from the oven and immediately brush each cake with half of the melted butter (3 tablespoons for each cake) while they are still hot. Sprinkle each cake with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pans, then lift each cake with the parchment paper onto a cooling rack and slide out the parchment paper (don't throw out the paper yet). Let them cool completely.
Set the cooling racks with the cakes on top of the saved parchment paper. Flip the cakes over and cover the bottoms with a thick layer of icing sugar shaken over it with a sieve. Flip them back upright, and sieve a thick layer of icing sugar over them to completely cover the tops and sides. The butter and sugar layer helps preserve the cakes and keep them moist.
Wrap the cakes in a layer of parchment paper or wax paper, them put them into a sealed plastic bag or an airtight tin, or wrap them in another layer of tin foil and crimp the edges well. The Stollen can be eaten after one day of resting time, and will keep for several months if well sealed and kept refrigerated or in a cool place. It will get moister and more flavourful as it ages.
Makes 2 Stollen.
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