Saturday, 21 December 2013

Winter Stollen

I've done it. I've veganized Stollen.

If you aren't excited, you haven't had Stollen before (or you're not vegan). Or you're one of those people who hates raisins. If that's the case, I'm sorry, but I can't be friends with you. It would just never work out between us.

Stollen is a dense, sweet bread with fruit and nuts and it's a Christmas tradition in Germany. (If you're interested, Germans would pronounce it "Shtollen" and so do I. You know, to justify the one year of German I took in unversity...)

So what was the problem, you ask? Well, Stollen is loaded with butter, and that's largely what makes it taste so good. So I've taken out the butter and replaced it with Earth Balance (which isn't buttery, exactly, but does the trick) and added some almond milk for that extra creaminess and nuttiness. I've also switched to roasted (rather than raw) almonds to bring out the richer flavour and added a dark rum (rather than brandy) and nutmeg so that you kind of just forget that this bread is supposed to be buttery because it's loaded with equally amazing flavour...

Full disclosure: this recipe takes a long time to make. (There's a reason things like banana bread are called quickbreads.) That being said, it's not hard to make. If you've ever made yeast bread, you know what I mean. You'll spend about 3 hours just waiting for the stuff to do its thing. But that doesn't mean that you need fancy skills to make this. It's actually about as hard as mixing up a batch of cookies, skill-wise.

Oh yeah, and if you're trying to watch how many rich things you're eating this holiday season, maybe don't tempt yourself with this bread. I'm not going to lie: it's addictive. One year I made two loaves with my brother's girlfriend on Christmas Eve night and between the two of us, only one of the loaves made it till morning. And I'm not even sorry.

So you're basically going to start with a simple bread dough with a little spice, rum, fruit and nuts. Step 1 is to get your dough together and make sure that the last bits of flour are mixed in before doing your first rise. To do that, you'll dump your dough onto a floured table so you can play with it. No, for real. The most important part of making bread is getting your hands up in there.

This dough needs some mixing yet, but it's going to be a really nice bread before you know it!

If you're new to kneading, don't get stressed out; it's easy. You just basically pull up one corner of the dough and fold it over, giving it a good push with the ball of your hand. You're basically trying to fold it on itself a bunch of times as though you're making a wonky dough accordion. The folding makes lots of little air pockets where it will get that gorgeous light texture we love in bread.

The heel of your hand is key in kneading. Don't be too afraid to overwork the bread; you're actually trying to be rough on it and work it lots so lots of air bubbles get stuck in the dough and make it really light and chewy (the texture we're used to yeast breads having). I needed to knead the dough for about 5 minutes.

You'll know the dough has been kneaded long enough when it's smooth (except obviously the chunks of fruit and nuts) and quits sticking to everything in sight.

This dough is ready for a little alone time. The only flecks and specks are from the chunks of fruit and nuts.

Once you're done with the kneading, you basically grease a bowl, dump the dough in, turn it over (so the bottom that was greasy from the bowl is now on top) and put it in a non-drafty place to rise for a while.

I stick my dough in a covered bowl in my oven (heat off) with the light turned on. The light actually emits a little heat in there, and because the bowl's in an enclosed space, you don't have to worry too much about drafts. It's a perfect little incubator for the yeast to have a little supper (that is, create the carbon dioxide that makes the bread rise).

Once your dough has finished rising the first time, you'll need to punch down your dough. It's actually quite fun. (Get your aggression out. Seriously, you're not going to hurt it.) Then it's time for shaping. First you cut the dough in half, and you'll work with one half at a time.

Then you want to pat the dough into an oval. This oval is actually smaller than the recipe suggests, because I was making half-size loaves for gifts, but the method is exactly the same.

Your goal is to make an oval that's not too thick, so that it can easily be folded over. This oval is already brushed with butter and is a little smaller because I was making mini-loaves for gifts.

You'll brush some melted butter (vegan, obviously) on the top of the oval, and then you'll fold it in half lengthwise. You'll basically end up with a long, thin half-moon.

This Stollen has been folded over, edges pressed together, and is ready to be put on the baking sheet for its second rise. This shape is largely what makes Stollen so distinctive.

Stick your loaf onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and then repeat with the other half. I didn't have a single baking sheet free that was big enough for both loaves, so I used two small ones. You then put them back wherever you had them to rise (in my case, the oven) and let them rise for another hour.

I'll cover these with a dish towel and let them rise for another hour before I bake them.

When it's time to bake the Stollens, you'll want to brush them with another little bit of butter on their tops so they brown nicely.

These (mini) loaves are risen, brushed with butter and ready to be baked.

Bake them at 375°F for about 25 minutes or until they're a really nice golden brown colour.

This bread bakes pretty quickly, so watch it to make sure that you don't over-bake it. You'll know when it's done, because it'll be a really pretty golden brown colour and the crust will look kind of dull (not shiny anymore).

You'll sprinkle some icing sugar on them while they're still hot, and then let them cool totally before you wrap them for storage. This is an important step, because if you wrap up your Stollen while still a little warm, your Stollen is going to get mouldy. (And who wants their Stollen to go mouldy after they spent a day making them?)

In my experience, the easiest way to sugar these loaves is with a little, fine strainer and a scoop of icing sugar. A little shaking of the strainer over the loaves sifts the sugar onto them nicely.

They're now ready to enjoy! Slice and eat them as you would any other sweet bread (some people like to spread more butter on sliced Stollen).

These little guys are for gifts, but full-sized loaves are quite large. Expect them to be about the same size as a sandwich loaf you'd get at the bakery.

You're welcome.

Winter Stollen
Makes 2 large loaves
¾ cup candied mixed peel
½ cup dark raisins
¼ cup dark rum
½ cup golden cane sugar (turbinado)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup almond milk
½ cup vegan butter
1 package (about 2 teaspoons) dry active yeast
¼ cup warm water (about 110°F)
½ cup chopped roasted almonds
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons vegan butter for brushing
Confectioner’s (icing) sugar for dusting

In a pint mason jar with a tight-fitting lid, mix together candied fruit, raisins and rum. Set aside to soak for at least one hour.

Warm the almond milk in the microwave for about 45 to 60 seconds, until pretty hot but not at boiling temperature. Let cool down to lukewarm, which should feel pleasantly warm to the touch, not scalding. Also melt ½ cup of the vegan butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds and allow to cool to lukewarm. In the mean time, in a medium bowl, mix together cane sugar, salt, nutmeg and 2 cups of flour.

Separately, in a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. (The water should be about the same temperature as the almond milk--that is, pleasantly warm to the touch but not scalding hot. This is important because yeast is alive and you can't burn the little guys, and how would you like it if someone tried to give you an ice-cold bath?)

Add the lukewarm almond milk and vegan butter, as well as the flax eggs, stirring well. Strain the soaked fruit over the bowl, adding the remaining rum to the yeast mixture and reserving the fruit for later. Stir in the flour mixture until smooth.

Add almonds and reserved fruit, mixing well. Stir in remaining flour until it gets too hard to stir, then sprinkle a little extra flour on the table or counter and turn the dough out onto the surface for a little kneading. Knead by pulling up one side of dough and folding it over on itself, turning and repeating until the dough starts sticking together and picking up the excess flour. If it’s sticking, add a little extra flour. When the dough feels smooth (aside from the fruit and nut lumps) and isn’t sticking so much to the table, it’s ready. This should take about 5 minutes.

Rinse out your mixing bowl quickly (it doesn’t need to be perfect) and pat it dry. Using a vegetable oil spray or a piece of waxed paper with vegan margarine, grease the bowl lightly. Place the dough in the bowl, then turn it over so the greased side is facing up. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set in a slightly-warm spot where it will be free from drafts. (What works best for me is putting it in my oven with the heat off, but the light on, so that the light gives off a gentle amount of warmth.) Let  the dough rise for an hour and a half.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

When the dough has risen to almost double in volume, punch it down. (There’s a tutorial here if you’re not sure how to do that.) Melt your remaining vegan butter for brushing. Divide the dough into halves. Using one half, press it into an oval shape that measures about 10 inches long by 7 inches wide. Brush the whole top with vegan butter and fold the dough in half lengthwise, so that you have a long half-moon shape, and press the edges together so it doesn’t unfold. Place this loaf onto the parchment-lined pan (leaving room for another loaf) and repeat with the second half.

Cover the loaves on the baking sheet with the tea towel again, and let rise once more in the same warm, draft-free place as before, allowing to rise again until almost double in volume (about 1 hour). They will expand quite a bit more while baking.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush loaves with more vegan butter (which can be re-melted if it gets solid again). Bake until a nice golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle the loaves with a little powdered sugar while still hot. Let cool down completely before wrapping and storing. (They keep best if wrapped in foil and then put in a plastic bag, but can also be stored for short periods in a regular bread bag.)

Makes 2 loaves.


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