December 23, 2010

Stollen: My First Daring Bakers' Challenge

I am so excited to have completed my first Daring Bakers' Challenge! I decided to join the Daring Bakers because baking is my weak point. I know how to cook with intuition, but baking is a different story. It requires discipline and rigorous application of tried and true methods. It doesn't let you play around and experiment and tweak if you want a slight change. Or so I thought... As I slowly begin to bake more, and read more blogs that are devoted to baking, I've found that people who bake a lot do the same thing I do with cooking. It just takes practice, the same way learning to cook took practice. So each month I'll have a specific baking challenge. I'm going to try to follow the recipe to the letter the first time, then try to tweak it towards my own tastes- change flavors, textures, etc. And then try to find people to generously accept some baked goods from me so that E and I don't develop diabetes before we turn 30.

The first challenge for me was stollen.  This is a yeasted bread filled with fruit, nuts, and sometimes marzipan, then covered in powdered sugar.  It's a traditional German Christmas-time treat.  Now, I like fruit, and nuts, and bread.  But I don't really like the three of them all together.  I am not a big fan of panettone, which is what I figured this would taste like.  I'd prefer to eat my fruit plain, and my bread with cheese.  And I'm not a fan of powdered sugar.  But stollen surprised me.  It's heavier than a panettone (or at least mine was), but the crumb is still light and delicate.  I used dried cranberries, apricots, and homemade candied orange peels, and it was good, tart combination to counteract the sweet outside of the bread.  And the crunchy crust was awesome- I loved the texture contrast between the inside and outside.  So all in all, it was a total success- wouldn't say my heart was stollen (go ahead-groan and roll your eyes), but I did enjoy it more than I'd expected.  I might make it again next Christmas, but it will be filled with chocolate and whiskey-soaked cherries and hazelnuts.  And topped with cinnamon-powdered sugar.  
The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Don't get overwhelmed by the length of this recipe. It's actually not too time-consuming to make (especially considering the dough can be made up to a week in advance) and looks more difficult than it really is.  Even making my own candied orange peels was simple.  It's too bad I don't actually like them... although I haven't yet tried them dipped in bacon chocolate.  (Ha! I seriously was thinking chocolate but wrote bacon... what does that tell you?)  At any rate, if you're willing to give this a try, plan on sharing or playing around with the leftovers (see bottom) as it makes a lot of bread.  
You can find the original recipe and lots of other bloggers who baked their version of stollen here, and below I've detailed how I made it:

4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup milk
10 tablespoons butter
5½ cups all-purpose flour (measure, then sift)
½ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract or orange extract
¾ cup candied orange peel, chopped
1 cup firmly packed dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
3 tablespoons rum or orange juice
1 cup flaked almonds
melted unsalted butter for coating 
confectioners’ sugar for dusting 
making the dough
1. Mix yeast and water together and let it sit for about 5 minutes.  
2. Melt butter and milk together in a bowl and set aside to cool off.  
3. Beat eggs with zest and extracts.
4. Add dried cranberries to orange juice or rum and let soak. 
5. Sift 51/2 cups flour.  For this step, you'll want to have some good music, movie, or tv show on.  It takes a while to sift this much flour, and if you have a bad sifter (like me- did I mention I don't bake much?) it takes even longer.
6. Mix the wet ingredients together (including the yeast) making sure that the milk/butter mixture has cooled enough that you won't cook the eggs or kill the yeast.
7.  Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until combined, then cover and let rest for 10 minutes.  
7. Stir in the dried cranberries, apricots, and almonds. 
8. Flour your counter generously and turn the dough out onto the counter.
9. Knead for about 6-8 minutes, adding flour as needed.  When done kneading, the dough should feel satiny and smooth, but not sticky, and the dried fruits should have trouble staying in.  
10. Form dough into a ball, and place in a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover tightly and store in fridge overnight or up to one week.

making the stollen
11. When ready to bake, take dough out and let it come to room temperature (this will take about 2-3 hours).
12. Flour your counter and rolling pin, and roll into a 2'x1' rectangle.  
13. Roll the rectangle up long-wise, tightly.  
14. Turn your tube of dough into a circle, using a bowl turned upside-down as a mold, if you need.  Pinch the ends of the tube together to make a smooth seal. (You'll want to do this on the surface you plan on cooking the stollen on- either parchment- or nonstick-liner-lined baking sheet, or lightly oiled baking sheet.)
15. You can cut into the dough (about 3/4 way through) with a sharp knife, and fan out, to create a wreath look, as well as to make easy pieces for hungry people to pull off and gobble.  Make the cuts about 2 inches apart.  This is not necessary, though, and the bread will taste just fine if left uncut.
16. Lightly spray the dough with oil and cover loosely.  Rest for 2 hours, or until nearly doubled.
17. Preheat oven to 350F.  
18. Bake stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate 180 degrees, and bake for another 20-30 minutes.
19.  Bread will be dark brown on top, sound hollow when rapped upon, and will make your kitchen smell absurdly delicious.  
20. As soon as bread comes out of oven, you will brush the surface with melted butter 3 times.  Then sprinkle confectioner's sugar over it.  These steps are KEY.  They make the stollen so much more than just a fruity, sweet, bread.  
21.  Let your stollen cool for at least one hour before cutting into it.
Ideas:  Penny was right- this was phenomenal over the next few days toasted up and buttered with coffee for breakfast.  I think you could also do a good bread pudding or french toast with it- add a rum or whiskey sauce and some whipped cream with orange zest...
Since they can't have stollen, they decide to share a stick...all over the couch

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