My friend Jules spent many years kind of ignoring the fact that she is German. Educated in the UK and a following a career path that took her from St Louis to South Africa, when I first visited her in Hamburg she swore that there were no German restaurants in the city. Then she thought she knew of one and it ended up being Italian! Ten years on she is now better on the German cultural front and the gaps in her knowledge about where to find the best herring or the kitchiest of Easter kitch are filled by her friends Martin and Simone.
Germany, for those of you who don't know it, may be the food capital of Europe. Yes there are sausages, yes there are potatoes, indeed they do eat cabbage, and yes there is beer. But what sausages! What potatoes! What cabbage! And what beer! More to the point, Germany, rather like Italy, is not one country. Founded either in 1815 or 1871 depending on who you want to believe, Germany is a very young country although its individual nation states are very old indeed, steeped in strong culture and traditions and full of fantastic food. The Germans, you see, just don't put up with poor quality anything. End. Stop. The North is all about the sea, Bavaria is all about mountains and the divine pig, The West (bordering France) has a cuisine that absolutely rivals the French and in the East you find continental fare - incredible cakes, lots of game, rich sauces. Very modern history has brought Italians and Turks, Vietnamese and Koreans, Central Asians and Sub Continentals - the choice of food in many places rivals London.
What Germans do best, though, in my humble opinion, are cakes.
Cake may be my favourite food. I know I should not say that because I am actually a bread baker, not a cake baker and that is by choice. I am pretty lame at cake: not enough attention to detail. However, I have been playing with Stollen recipes for years, telling myself that it has yeast and so it comes into my official remit. There are about a zillion stollen recipes and the only thing anyone can agree with is that it seems to have originated in Dresden. Some research into stollen explains that the sausage of marzipan in the middle symbolises the Baby Jesus and the dough is his swaddling clothes. That presumes you have a marzipan sausage in the middle; a thing with which I did not grow up. No, I like my stollen commando style and don't like the idea of cutting up the poor little Baby Jesus and spreading him with butter and eating him with a cup of tea. Don't get me wrong. I love marzipan, just not in my stollen.
I had never been happy with the recipes I found and so I turned to Simone, the oracle on German traditional cuisine. She has not let me down and her recipe, I am delighted to say, calls for no eggs, no marzipan, and plenty of lard. You can substitute butter for the lard, add in a sausage of marzipan if you must but don't add any eggs please or else you will throw out the balance of everything else.
The day before you want to bake, you soak plenty of fruit and slivered almonds or ground almonds in rum. 80 proof if you can get it.
The next day, you make a predough and let it rest for 30 minutes. The foamy bits are the predough foaming through and in the photo you see the butter, lard, lemon peel, and more flour on top.
Make the final dough and let it rest for 30 minutes. Roll it out and put in the rum soaked fruit. Fold it in gently. Let it rest for 45 minutes or leave it, covered, in the fridge overnight. That's what I always do. It's a lot easier to handle when it is cool.
Divide the dough into stollen sized pieces (800 g or so) and pat each one into a square about 2 cm thick. If you are using a sausage of marzipan, lay it in the middle. Then fold up the dough square rather like you would fold a piece of A4 (8 1/2 x 11") paper and let it sit for 10 minutes. A dough scraper helps with this. If you have let it rest overnight in the fridge, let it rest in the loaves, covered with cling film, for 2-3 hours so it can come up to room temperature. An alternative method of shaping is to shape it into an oval and cut a channel down the middle of at least 1 cm deep.
Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with vanilla sugar and icing sugar. Then dribble more butter on them, let them cool and sprinkle on more icing sugar.
Wrap tightly in waxed paper and aluminium foil. Let rest in a cool, dry place for six weeks at least. Like English Christmas Cake, stollen needs to mature or it will be bland and simply fall apart when you try to cut it.
When you are ready to eat it, slice it thickly and lavishly spread butter on it. Invite friends over for tea during advent, light some candles, sing some carols and share it with them. It's great training for Christmas dinner. Want to learn how to do it in a friendly, hands-on course, and bake stollen to take home? Click here to take the stollen course. Confident baker? Click here for the recipe and have fun baking!