This traditional German Christmas Stollen bread is a festive addition to your holiday celebration! The rich, buttery sweet bread is studded with a variety of dried fruits like cranberries, cherries and raisins, nuts, subtle notes of citrus, and plenty of warm spices. Finish it off with a blizzard of powdered sugar, grab a warm cup of coffee, and settle in for the ultimate cozy treat!
Stollen is a rich, cake-like yeast bread that's traditionally enjoyed in Germany during the Christmas season. Called Weihnachtsstollen (after "Weihnachten," the German word for Christmas) or Christstollen (for Christ), legend has it that this holiday favorite originated in 1329 at a baking contest offered by the Bishop of Nauruburg. The bread was mentioned for the first time in 1474 in the accounts of the Christian Hospital of St. Bartholomew in Dresden, Germany, where it was referred to as a cake for the fasting period. That initial version of stollen was dry and hard -- not sweet or buttery like today's bread. Of course, the basic recipe has been changed and adapted over the last 600+ years, and there are as many versions of the classic yeast bread as there are German home cooks!
Why is it called Stollen?
Just like its origin, the story behind the bread's name is also somewhat unclear. The word stollen was used to describe a post or boundary stone for a city, or an entrance to a mineshaft. Some historians believe that the shape of the bread reminded the locals of the entrance to a mine tunnel -- reflecting the mining culture in Dresden at the time. From a religious standpoint, the bread was called Striezel (meaning "loaf") or Christstollen, perhaps because the shape and appearance of the sugar-coated loaf was a symbolic representation of baby Jesus in swaddles.
Ingredients for Stollen Recipe
A traditional German stollen is a cake-like yeast bread with a rather dense, somewhat dry texture -- very different from the moist, rum-soaked fruit cakes of American Christmas culture. The rich dough is not particularly sweet, but instead gets its flavor from citrus zest or candied citrus peels, as well as dried fruits. Some versions include additional ingredients such as rum, nuts or marzipan. Our family's easy stollen recipe does not include marzipan, but instead features a cinnamon-sugar swirl throughout the center of each loaf. Finally, the bread is dusted with a thick coating of powdered sugar for a "snowy," festive touch.
- Dried fruit: raisins, golden raisins, dried cranberries and dried cherries
- Dark rum or orange juice
- Active dry yeast
- Warm water and whole milk
- All-purpose flour
- Grated lemon zest
- Nutmeg and cinnamon
- Nuts (pecans or almonds both work well)
- Granulated sugar and confectioners' sugar
How to Make German Stollen
This is the stollen bread that my parents make every year during the holiday season. The recipe originally comes from The Food Network, which our family has since modified based on trial and error (for instance, doubling the yeast!). This version is the best stollen bread recipe, and I'm so excited to finally share it with you!
The process isn't difficult, but it is definitely time-intensive. There are multiple steps involved, and you need to allow a few hours for the dough to rise, so this isn't a last-minute dish to throw together when a guest drops by. Instead, it's a fun way to devote a cozy day to a Christmas baking project that yields an unbelievably delicious reward! Best of all, you'll get two loaves for a single effort -- which means that you can freeze one for later, or share the extra bread as a holiday gift with friends or neighbors.
Step 1: Soak Fruit
Combine the dried fruit with the rum or orange juice and let it soak while you make the sponge. Stir or shake occasionally so that everything is evenly coated.
Step 2: Prepare Sponge
Make the sponge with yeast, warm milk, honey and flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm spot until bubbly -- about 30 minutes.
Step 3: Make Dough
To prepare the dough, add the soaked fruit, honey, egg, butter, lemon zest, salt, nutmeg, nuts and flour to the sponge. Use a paddle attachment to mix for about 2 minutes, then gradually add the remaining flour until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. At this point, switch to the dough hook and continue to add small amounts of flour until the dough begins to clean the bowl. Then knead for 4-5 minutes.
Step 4: First Rise
Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, turn to coat the dough in oil, cover, and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size -- about 1-2 hours (but sometimes up to 3 hours). It should get nice and puffy and fill a mixing bowl!
Step 5: Shape and Fill
Divide the dough in two, rolling each portion into a 7 x 9-inch oval (or rectangle). Don't worry -- this doesn't need to be perfect! Brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle half with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
Fold each loaf in half (lengthwise), and gently shape into even loaves.
Step 6: Second Rise
Cover and let rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes - 1 hour.
Step 7: Bake
Bake the bread in a 375 degree F oven for about 25 minutes (or until it reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees F).
Step 8: Dust with Powdered Sugar
Once the bread is cool, dust with a heavy coating of powdered sugar. Then slice and serve!
How to Serve Stollen
Serve the stollen bread at room temperature with butter, honey or jam. It's a perfect breakfast with a cup of hot coffee, tea, or Wassail. It also makes a delicious afternoon snack or a not-too-sweet dessert. If the bread starts to get dry and stale before you finish the loaf, pop a slice in the toaster or microwave and spread butter on top. It will be delicious!
Once cool, wrap the bread tightly and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. The bread will actually become slightly more moist as it sits and absorbs the liquid from the soaked fruit. If the bread starts to get stale or dry, don't despair -- it still makes great toast with butter!
Can you freeze stollen?
Absolutely! Prep ahead for the holidays and stash a loaf or two in the freezer. Allow the bread to cool completely, do not dust with powdered sugar, wrap tightly and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw the bread on the counter overnight, and then dust with powdered sugar right before serving.
- Use chopped dates, currants or chopped dried apricots in lieu of the dried cherries or raisins. Any combination of dried fruits will work -- so long as it totals about 2 cups.
- Substitute 1 cup of candied fruit for the golden raisins, cherries and cranberries.
- Almonds are a classic ingredient, but chopped pecans or walnuts also work well.
- Instead of dusting with powdered sugar, make a simple icing to drizzle over the top of your bread. To do so, whisk together 1 cup of confectioners' sugar with 1-2 tablespoons of milk until smooth.
- Add more spices to your dough in addition to the nutmeg. Cardamom, ginger, allspice or extra cinnamon would all be tasty!
Tips for the Best Christmas Stollen Recipe
- When zesting the lemon, be careful that you do not scrape off any of the fruit's bitter white pith. Just grate the very top layer of peel, which is where you'll find all of the flavorful essential oils.
- Store yeast in the freezer. Even unopened packets of yeast with a good expiration date can go bad at room temperature, so I always keep the yeast in the freezer. Old yeast will impact the dough's ability to rise.
- Rise in a warm spot. If your dough isn't rising, check the temperature of your kitchen. Ideally, you want to find a spot that's about 75 degrees F, but this doesn't have to be exact.
- In some cases, the first rise may take at least 3 hours for the dough to double in bulk.
- Bake in the center of the oven to prevent excessive browning on the top or bottom of your bread.
- If you prefer a thicker coating of powdered sugar on your bread, brush the loaves with melted butter while they're still warm. Then sprinkle a generous amount of powdered sugar over the bread, rubbing it into the creases and down the sides. Let the stollen cool, and then dust with powdered sugar again right before serving.
More Traditional Christmas Recipes to Try
- Old-Fashioned Williamsburg Gingerbread Cookies
- Russian Tea Cakes
- Scottish Shortbread Cookies
- Old-Fashioned Gingerbread Cake
- Virginia Oyster Stew
- Soft Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
- Gingerbread Man Cookies
FOR THE FRUIT
- 1 cup raisins
- ⅓ cup golden raisins
- ⅓ cup sweetened dried cranberries
- ⅓ cup dried cherries (coarsely chopped if the cherries are particularly large)
- 3 tablespoons dark rum or orange juice
FOR THE SPONGE
- 2 packets (¼-ounce each) active dry yeast
- ¼ cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
- ⅔ cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
FOR THE DOUGH
- ⅓ cup honey
- 1 large egg, beaten
- ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ cup chopped nuts (such as almonds or pecans)
- 3-4 cups all-purpose flour
- Vegetable oil, for coating bowl
FOR THE FILLING
- 2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
FOR THE TOPPING
- ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
- Combine the raisins, golden raisins, cranberries and cherries in a small bowl. Add rum (or orange juice), cover, and set aside. Stir occasionally to make sure that the fruit is evenly coated in the rum.
- In the large bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Warm the milk to 110 degrees F and add it to the yeast. Stir in honey and 1 cup of flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until light and bubbly, about 30 minutes.
- In the large bowl with the sponge, add fruit mixture (with the rum), honey, egg, butter, lemon zest, salt, nutmeg, almonds, and 2 cups of flour. Using the paddle attachment, beat the mixture on medium-low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour, ¼-cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
- Remove the paddle attachment and change to the dough hook. Continue to add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough just begins to clean the bowl. Knead 4-5 minutes on medium-low speed.
- Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat the dough with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and set aside to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours (but in some cases it may take at least 3 hours for the dough to double in bulk, so just keep an eye on it).
SHAPE AND FILL
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a 7 x 9-inch oval. Brush the melted butter over the top of each piece of dough.
- In a small bowl, combine cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle over half of the dough, lengthwise.
- Fold each piece of dough in half lengthwise and carefully place the breads on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press lightly on the folded side to shape the dough into an even loaf.
- Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes - 1 hour.
- About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Bake bread for 25 minutes (or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees F). Remove from the baking sheet and place on a wire rack to cool.
- Just before serving, dust with a hefty coating of powdered sugar.