I’d like to be clear that despite the similar-sounding description and the fact that it contains fruit, stollen is not fruitcake. It’s a softer, flakier, and all-around better version of its dreaded cousin. Please just think of coffee cake, not fruitcake. Also, how cute is this: the folded top layer is supposed to be reminiscent of the blanket that wrapped Baby Jesus. The only logical conclusion is that your failure to bake stollen this year will make Baby Jesus cry. Is that what you want?! For your penance, you shall attend Dresden’s Stollenfest. I’ll meet you there.
OK, so on to the logistics. The only things in this recipe (from Joy of Cooking) contains that you may not have handy are active dry yeast, dried fruit cubes, and confectioner’s sugar. Otherwise, it has pretty simple, standard ingredients that betray its humble beginnings. Please note there are a few points at which you have to let the dough sit. This is the kind of recipe you work on on a weekend or other relaxed day.
6 to 8 cups all-purpose flour
Combine in a medium bowl and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
1 ½ cups warm water or milk
2 packages (1 ½ tablespoons) active dry yeast
Add 1 cup of the flour. Cover this and let it rest in a warm place until light and foamy and sponge-like, about 1 hour. Set aside.
Beat in a large bowl until creamy:
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
Gradually add and beat until light and creamy:
¾ cup sugar
Beat in one at a time:
3 large eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon grated lemon zest
Add the yeast sponge, then gradually knead in enough flour to make a smooth, elastic dough. Cover and let rise until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Toss in with a little more flour:
1 ½ cups raisins
1 ½ cups chopped or slivered blanched almonds
½ cup chopped candied fruit
Toss the dough onto a floured board. Knead in the fruit and nuts. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces; cover one piece and set aside. Using a rolling pin, roll the other piece of dough into a ½ inch thick oval about 16 inches long and 9 inches wide. The edges should be thicker than the center. Brush the top of dough with half of:
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Fold the dough oval slightly less than half lengthwise so the long edges are about ½ inch apart. Tuck the two short ends (about 1 inch on each side) underneath the loaf. Place the stollen on a greased baking sheet. Shape the other piece of dough in the same way. Loosely cover both loaves with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes.
Position a rock in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake the loaves until deep golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.
Brush the loaves with:
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Sift over the top:
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
Return to the oven for about 3 minutes. Sift over again with:
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
Transfer to a rack to cool