Last December I checked Germany’s Dresden Stollen Fest off my quirky bucket list. Long before watching a 6,332-pound bread ride through Old Town in a horse-drawn cart, I’d consumed this sweet baked good.
A yeast bread, stollen usually refers to the sugar-dusted, dried fruit- and almond-studded masterpiece that I saw paraded through the streets of Dresden. In spite of the presence of dried fruit and its popularity at Christmastime, don’t confuse stollen with fruitcake. It is a sweet bread, not a cake, and has several versions including mohn or poppy seed and the ground walnut that I grew up eating.
In Germany this bread dates back to the 15th century but it didn’t appear as a Christmas treat until 100 years later. In my case it feels as though I’ve always known and loved this sweet.
While my mother was not a big fan of the kitchen, every holiday season she would break out her baking pans and make several loaves of the soft, sweet and buttery “nut roll” or stollen. For someone who claimed no German ancestry, she certainly baked an authentic looking, German bread. With its oblong shape, center fold and tapered ends her creation needed only a coating of confectioner’s sugar to be mistaken for traditional “Christstollen.”
For years I asked about the origins of my mother’s recipe. Then, after inheriting her cookbooks, I finally found it in a yellowed, 1964 edition of Favorite Recipes of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Lena Kaercher of Beaver Falls, Penna. had contributed her “Aunt Mary’s Nut Roll” to this collection. My mother had tinkered with Aunt Mary’s Nut Roll, swapping out lard for margarine, adding a few ingredients to the nut filling and making it more like the breads that I came across in Germany. Taking a cue from her, I’ve likewise altered the recipe.
Makes 2 large loaves
for the dough:
1/4 teaspoon olive oil or softened butter
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 package dry active yeast
4 scant cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 large egg yolks, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
for the filling:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups walnuts, ground in the bowl of a food processor or blender
1 teaspoon vanilla
Using either olive oil or softened butter, lightly grease a large bowl and set aside.
Place the yeast in a small bowl. Pour the milk over top of it and set it aside.
Whisk the salt and flour together in a large bowl. Add the chunks of butter. Using a pastry cutter or sturdy fork, cut the butter into the flour until incorporated.
Add the milk, eggs and vanilla to the flour mixture. Using a spatula or your hands, mix together the ingredients until a well-combined dough forms. Shape the dough into a ball. Place it in the greased bowl and cover the bowl with a piece of cling wrap. Placing the dough in a warm spot, allow it to rise for 1 hour.
Once the dough has risen and doubled in size, make the filling. Mix together the melted butter, sugar, eggs, walnuts and vanilla and then set aside.
Divide the dough into even halves. On a lightly floured work surface roll out the first half until you have a rectangle about 12″ wide and 18″ long. Using a spatula, evenly spread half the filling over the dough. Repeatedly roll the dough over itself lengthwise–like a jelly or Swiss roll or as if you’re rolling up a sheet of paper–and cover it with cling wrap. Take the other dough half and repeat the above steps. Allow both to rise for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 2 baking sheets and place one loaf on each. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and place on wire racks to cool completely.