Food Stories | Festive Bread

Stollen Fest

Breadmaking as it is known today probably started with the Romans. Breadmaking as it is known today probably started with the Etruscans and the Romans. Borrowing from a much older tradition in ancient Mesopotamia and a innovative tradition in Anatolia, the sophisticated peoples of the Mediterranean began to change the fabric of bread.

They used flour milled from rye, spelt and wheat.

They made sourdough from boiled flour left to ferment, and got into the habit of keeping a piece of dough back for the next day’s baking.

They used grape juice and honey to sweeten their bread.

They made bread with butter.

And they were very fond of spices, putting aniseed, black and white pepper, caraway, cumin and fennel into their bread.

Panis Alexandrinus might therefore be the first spiced, sweetened bread. It contained cumin and honey, and was probably made with spelt.

However, it was the Assyrians and the Greeks who introduced the concept of spiced, sweetened cake specifically for festive, marriage, religious and ritual occasions.

Their cakes were made with cream, honey and a variety of spices.

More significantly the peoples of these regions put dried fruit and nuts into their cakes, and probably into their breads.

Spiced breads and cakes were popular in northern and western Europe after the 1100s, probably because the food cultures of eastern Europe and western Asia became known. Gradually fruit breads became functional at special occasions, especially at weddings and particularly at rituals and rites of passage – christenings, birthdays, first communions and military initiations.

By the 1600s bread made with sourdough or a pre-ferment, dried fruits, candied citrus fruits, nuts, butter or cream, honey, yeast and sugar was commonplace in virtually every country in Europe.

It seemed though that the tradition was rooted in Celtic, Germanic and Scandinavinan food cultures.

Hutzelbrot – 1

Aromatic and dark, enigmatic and fruity, hutzelbrot is one of Europe’s iconic festival breads. This is a modern recipe.

500 g Schwarzbrotteig/dark wheat flour (t1050, see flour)
500 ml water
250 g apples, dried, diced
250 g figs, dried, diced
250 g pears, dried, diced
250 g plums/prunes, dried, diced
250 g sultanas, dried
250 g sugar (optional)
125 g apricots, dried, diced
125 g candied lemon peel
125 g candied orange peel
125 g currants, dried
125 ml dry red wine, for soaking
100 ml kirsch/apple juice
75 g almonds, whole
75 g hazelnuts, chopped
75 g walnuts, halved
25 g yeast
1 lemon, juice
1 tsp aniseed, ground
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
1 tsp cloves, ground
1 tsp ginger, ground
Cardamom, ground, pinch
Salt, pinch
Cherries, whole, for decoration
Almonds, sliced, for decoration
Walnuts, chopped, for decoration

Soak fruit overnight in apple juice/kirsch, lemon juice, water and wine. For sweeter breads add sugar to marinade.

Spoon out 500ml of the soaking liquid, bring to a quick boil, cool and add yeast.

Mix flour with spices and salt, add yeast liquid, work into a dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, knead for ten minutes and leave to rise for two hours. Degas twice, at 45 minute intervals.

Add fruit, nuts and peel, knead for five minutes and form into six oblong loaves. Place on greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Leave to rise for an hour.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Brush loaves with apple juice and decorate with almonds, cherries and walnuts.
Bake for 70 minutes.

Hutzelbrot – 2

Traditionally hutzelbrot was made with fruit grown in the valleys of Bavaria and Swabia, and was unsweetened. Gradually sugar was added, the fruit content increased with more variety of fruits.

1.5 litres water
1.5 kg whole grain wheat flour
750 g pears, dried, chopped
500 g plums, dried, chopped
250 g nuts, chopped
250 ml water 
125 g currants 
125 ml kirsch
125 g sultanas
40 g candied lemon peel, diced
40 g candied orange peel, diced
25 g yeast
10 g cinnamon, ground
1 tsp cloves, ground
1 tsp salt

Soak the pears and plums for 24 hours in the kirsch and one and a half litres of water. The following day place the fruit in a large pot, bring to a boil in the soaking liquid. Cook until soft, then strain, preserving the liquid. When it has cooled, set aside 20ml and add the yeast to the bulk of the remaining liquid.

Warm up the flour and sieve it into a bowl, add spices and salt.

Add yeast water with 250ml water, form into a dough.

Knead for 20-30 minutes until the dough is smooth.

Mix the fruit into the dough. Shape into six small loaves, place on baking trays and leave to rest for three hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 160°C.

Brush with fruit liquid.

Bake for 85 minutes.

Brush with fruit water, return to oven and bake for a further five minutes.

Wrapped in foil the loaves will stay fresh for several weeks. They can also be frozen.

Panettone – 1

Angelo Marchesi makes a traditional panettone at his bakery on the Santa Maria delle Grazie in the heart of Milan using a tried and tested method with an old twist.

Panettone is traditionally made with natural yeast. Most bakers achieve this by fermenting flour and water in a controlled environment.

Marchesi aids the process by macerating hop leaves in mineral water. This liquid is strained and mixed with flour.

Sourdough is then added in stages.

Piergiorgio Giorilli, a master panettone baker, calls this the mother yeast and without it Milan’s favourite sweet bread is not the same.

Without a doubt it is possible to obtain a good panettone using beer yeast,’ he says. ‘However, it will not have the same preservability or the same taste as one prepared with mother yeast. Furthermore, in panettone prepared with beer yeast it is not possible to incorporate the same quantity of eggs and butter.

There are many critical points in the preparation of panettone.

First and foremost, the mother yeast must be of optimum quality, the temperature of the dough, the correct leavening between the first and second kneading and the ingredients that during the second kneading must be added slowly, especially the sugar at the beginning of the second kneading.

The quantity of fruit is significant, and the balance is difficult to achieve to the satisfaction of those who argue that panettone is a sweet bread.

The authentic recipe by Francesco Elmi has that balance, according to panettone lovers.

150 g raisins/sultanas, soaked in water, dried
75 g candied lemon, cubed small
75 g candied orange, cubed small
1 lemon, zest
1 orange, zest
1 vanilla pod, deseeded
First Kneading
250 g strong white flour
160 g egg yolks
165 g butter at 20°C
115 g sugar
100 g natural yeast dough, cubed
100 ml water

Dissolve sugar in the water, add the flour and the natural yeast.

Turn out onto a clean surface, gradually add the butter, then the yolks.

Knead for 15 minutes until the dough stretches without breaking.

Place dough in a bowl large enough to allow it to rise three-fold.

Leave to rise for at least 12 hours in a warm environment.

Desired dough temperature is 26°C.

Second Kneading
60 g strong white flour
40 g butter at 20°C
40 g egg yolks
25 g sugar
1 tsp salt
Butter, for greasing

Knead the flour into the risen dough, work in the sugar, the yolks a little at a time, then the salt followed by the butter and finally the fruit mixture.

Leave to rise for an hour.

Divide into required sizes and place in greased moulds, bearing in mind that the dough will triple in size.

The dough temperature should be 26°C.

Leave to rise for three hours.

Preheat oven to 165°C.

Bake for 55 minutes, until the crust is dark brown.

Test with a skewer.

Turn moulds upside down and leave to rest for three hours before removing from moulds.

Panettone – 2

The remarkable similarities between sweetened breads across Europe would suggest a common heritage, the adventurous Romans perhaps?

They carried herbs, plants and various produce like dried fruit across the continent, and freely shared their recipes as well as their rapaciousness!

The peripheral areas of the ‘British’ Isles were not the only places where they refined the recipe. South of Milan in Florence, Pellegrino Artusi’s cook Marietta Sabatini made a panettone he said was worth trying.

‘It’s much better than the Milanese-style panettone that’s sold commercially, and isn’t much trouble to make.’

This is an adaptation of Marietta’s Panettone.

It uses yeast instead of baking powder and includes fresh along with candied peel.

500 g strong white flour
300 ml milk, warm
150 g butter at 20°C 
125 g sugar
125 g sultanas 
5 egg yolks (100 ml)
30 g candied peel, cubed small
30 g citrus peel, chopped small
50 g yeast
1 lemon, zest
Salt, large pinch
Butter, for greasing
Flour, for dusting (optional)
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

Dissolve yeast in the milk with a large pinch of sugar.

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl, add yeast mixture and form into a loose dough.
Combine remaining ingredients, stirring thoroughly with a wooden spoon or with a hand-held mixer.

Pour batter into moulds.

Marietta suggests dusting moulds with powdered sugar mixed with flour.

Leave to rise for 90 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180°C, bake for 65 minutes for a large mould.

Stollen Fest

Stollen is a heavy yeast-raised loaf with a high butter and fruit content associated with the German city of Dresden but is found in the months up to the end-of-year festivities throughout Germany and Switzerland, where it is known as stollen fest.

Free-formed by hand and shaped into loaves, stollen come in several sizes. Dresdner stollen, also known as Dresdner Christstollen, has an interesting history. In 1490 Pope Innocent VIII exempted Dresden‘s bakers from the 1450 ban on baking with butter during Advent (which was then a period of fasting). Today‘s Dresden bakers regard this ‘butter‘ letter as an historical document that establishes stollen as a traditional product exclusive to the food culture of their city. The two million stollen produced every year in the city are sold worldwide. A Dresdener stollen has a light aerated crumb, with an aromatic smell and taste.

But stollen is no longer associated exclusively with Dresdener food culture. It has become an integral aspect of alpine food culture, with countless variations on the original ‘butter’ recipe. Butter is still prevalent but spices play a larger role in the alpine version.

1 kg white wheat flour (t550)
500 g raisins
300 g butter, melted, for surface
300 ml whey
200 ml apple and pear purée
200 g butter
175 ml kirsch/rum
150 g almonds, chopped
150 g candied lemon and orange peel, fine cut in blender
150 g icing sugar 
150 g milk
2 eggs 
100 g almonds, ground 
60 g yeast 
25 g vanilla sugar 
15 g honey
10 g salt 
10 g speculaas spices

Dissolve 40 g of yeast in the milk with the honey, and 100 g of the flour. Knead into a loose dough, leave for at least 16 hours.

Soak chopped almonds, peel and raisins in the kirsch or rum.

Dissolve remaining yeast in the sugar and two tablespoons of the whey.

Sieve remaining flour into a large bowl, add salt, yeast mixture, remaining whey, eggs and spices.

Bring together, fold onto a clean surface, knead into a loose dough, add fermented dough and work into a soft dough.

Leave to rise for an hour, degas, leave for a further hour, then work in the softened butter.

Leave to rise again for an hour.

Work two-thirds of the fruit mixture into dough. Do not knead. Leave for an hour.

Combine fruit purée with ground almonds, add remaining fruit mixture.

Divide dough into four 600 g pieces, shape into rectangles, then flatten each one in turn.

Spread almond paste along the middle of each rectangle, take the long end and fold over, to create a tunnel shape.

Leave to rise for an hour.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Bake the stollen in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes.

Increase the heat to 195°C, bake for 15 minutes.

While still hot brush the surface with the melted butter, dust with icing sugar.

Allow to cool.

Leave to mature for two days, then slice and eat.