Yield
2 loaves
Time
30 minutes active, not including soak time for raisins and vanilla or rise time prep, 35 minutes cooking, About 2 hours, not including soak time total
In old New York at Christmastime, bakeries sold stacks of paper-wrapped and beribboned stollen, the beloved German holiday bread. When I serve samples of fresh-baked stollen at the bakery, the customers' faces light up with discovery. Once I served it and a customer asked what he was eating. "It's stollen," I said. With a straight face, he replied, "Well, you should give it back!" This recipe, inspired by pastry chef Dieter Schorner, is extraordinarily light and flavored with rum-scented raisins and other fruits and nuts.

Ingredients

Rum Raisins:

  • 1/2 cup seedless raisins
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Bread:

  • 1 ounce (2 packed tablespoons) compressed yeast or 3-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm (105° to 115°F) whole milk
  • 2-1/2 cups bread flour, divided, plus more as needed
  • 10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, well softened, plus more for the bowl
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Grated zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1/4 cup (1/3-inch) diced dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup (1/3-inch) diced dried pears
  • 1/3 cup (1-1/4 ounces) toasted and coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) toasted sliced almonds

Coating:

  • 2/3 cup superfine sugar
  • Seeds from 1/2 Plumped Vanilla Bean (instructions follow)
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar

Plumped Vanilla Beans:

  • 12 vanilla beans, preferably Madagascar or Bourbon
  • Dark or golden rum, as needed


Instructions

1. The day before baking the stollen, prepare the rum raisins. Place the raisins in a heatproof bowl and add enough hot water to cover. Let stand until the raisins are plumped, about 30 minutes. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels. Return to the bowl. Add the rum and vanilla and toss together. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 16 hours.
 
2. To make the stollen, crumble the compressed yeast (or sprinkle the dry yeast) over the warm milk in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Let stand 5 minutes, then whisk to dissolve the yeast. Add 3/4 cup of the flour and stir well to make a thin, sticky dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until bubbly and doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.
 
3. Add the remaining flour, the butter, sugar, salt, almond extract, lemon zest, and orange zest. Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed just until the dough comes together. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Knead on medium-low speed until the dough is smooth, adding more flour if needed, about 3 minutes. Add the rum raisins, apricots, cherries, pears, pecans, and almonds, and mix until they are incorporated into the dough. Gather up the dough and shape into a ball. Transfer the dough to a large bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume, about 1-1/2 hours.
 
4. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface. Cut the dough in half. Very gently shape each portion into a ball — do not knead the dough, as you want to retain its light texture. Place the balls on the floured work surface and cover each with a clean kitchen towel. Let stand in a warm place until the dough looks puffy but not doubled, about 45 minutes.
 
5. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Press one ball into a thick round about 7-1/2 inches in diameter. Fold the dough in half from top to bottom. Starting about one-third from the bottom, using your thumbs, firmly press a deep semicircular trough in the dough, reaching almost through the dough. This will keep the stollen layers from separating when baked. Repeat with the second ball. Transfer each to a prepared pan and cover with the towels. Let stand in a warm place until the dough looks puffy but not doubled, about 30 minutes.
 
6. Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Uncover the loaves and bake, switching the positions of the pans from top to bottom and front to back, until deep golden brown, almost walnut-colored, about 35 minutes. The stollen may look a shade darker than you might expect, but do not underbake them.
 
7. To make the coating, combine the superfine sugar and vanilla seeds on a half-sheet pan. Brush the hot stollen twice with warm melted butter. Roll each loaf in vanilla sugar to coat well. Return to the pans and sprinkle with the remaining vanilla sugar. Cool completely. Generously sift confectioners' sugar on top. (Store at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.)

For the vanilla beans:
 
Baker's Note: Look for a reliable source of vanilla beans and compare prices. Vanilla beans are never inexpensive, but if you buy them in bulk, the price will become more reasonable. This recipe uses 12 vanilla beans. However, you can soak up to 3 dozen in the same amount of rum. The beans will last for up to 6 months in the rum, after which time they may get too soft.
 
1. Cut 1/8 inch off the bottom end of each vanilla bean. Stand the beans, cut ends down, in a large glass jar that is at least 12 inches tall. Pour in 2 inches of rum. Cover the jar and let stand until the beans are softened, at least 2 weeks. There is no need to turn the vanilla beans — just let them be.
 
2. To use a bean, remove one from the jar. Hold the cut end of the bean over the bowl containing the mixture that you want to flavor. Starting at the unsnipped end of the bean, squeeze down the length of the bean to extrude the pulp. (This will remind you of squeezing the last bit of toothpaste from its tube.) If using the bean, split it lengthwise to release more flavor. When a recipe calls for less than a whole bean, return the unused part to the jar.

From Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours by Sarabeth Levine with Rick Rodgers (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2010). Text copyright ©2010 by Sarabeth Levine. Photographs copyright ©2010 by Quentin Bacon. Used with permission of the publisher.