It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I’ve been listening to my Christmas music since the day after Thanksgiving, and I have Love Actually ready to go! What was missing from my Christmas routine was a typical Christmas sweet to bake — a labor of love. Luisa Weiss’ new book Classic German Baking has an entire section dedicated to Christmas baking! I chose the wonderful Christbrot, or Sweet Christmas Bread, evocative of Stollen. Note that the candied fruit must soak for two days prior to baking!
We send our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the tragic Berlin Christmas Market incident. If you are in Berlin and would like to provide support, you may donate blood through local hospitals or the German Red Cross (On Twitter: Deutsches Rotes Kreuz). It is also possible to make contributions in other ways through the DRK website for those not local to Berlin. —Kristina
Why Luisa loves this recipe: In my recently published cookbook, called Classic German Baking, the biggest chapter by far is the Christmas chapter. The subject of German Christmas baking is so vast that, much like German bread, it really almost deserves its own book. I restricted myself to sharing only those recipes that I truly adore and those that I think are emblematic of the beautiful traditions that are still essential to Christmastime in Germany. In my attempts at developing a great homemade Stollen recipe, I discovered Christbrot, a similar but less buttery baked good. The relief I felt at discovering Christbrot was surpassed only by my surprise when I realized I actually prefer it to Stollen. Now it’s one of my favorite wintertime baking projects and one of the most coveted gifts for friends to emerge from my kitchen.
Photography by Aubrie Pick
Sweet Christmas Bread
Makes 2 Loaves
I tried, I really did, to find an excellent, reliable recipe for homemade Stollen, that heavy, raisin-studded holiday sweet bread with its distinctive folded shape and thick coating of confectioners’ sugar. But every Stollen I tried failed to live up to my expectations. With each successive loaf, I felt more and more like Goldilocks, except without the eventual appearance of Baby Bear’s perfect bowl of porridge. My Stollen turned out too hard, too flat, or too insipid, and none were anywhere near as delicious as the ones you can buy at the bakery.
I was starting to despair. What kind of German baking book would this be without Dresdner Christstollen, after all? And then I came across a recipe for Christbrot, which has the same gorgeous flavoring as Stollen — rum-soaked candied peels and raisins, thick drifts of vanilla-scented sugar on top— but with far less butter than in Stollen, which allows the dough to rise higher and develop a fluffier, lighter crumb.
Unlike Stollen, which must rest for at least 2 weeks after being baked before it can be eaten, Christbrot requires no storage period and can be eaten right away. It also freezes very well (wrap a cooled loaf well in aluminum foil before freezing). Once defrosted, it requires nothing more than a dusting of more confectioners’ sugar to prettify it before it is served. If possible, use fresh yeast here.
— 3⁄4 cup/110g raisins
— 2⁄3 cup/100g chopped candied orange peel
— 2⁄3 cup/100g chopped candied citron peel
— 1⁄4 cup/60ml dark rum
— 4 3⁄4 cups, scooped and leveled/600g all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
— 1 1⁄4 ounces/35g fresh yeast, or 1 1⁄2 teaspoons instant yeast
— 1⁄2 cup/120ml whole milk, lukewarm
— 8 1⁄2 tablespoons/120g unsalted high-fat, European-style butter, melted and slightly cooled
— 2 eggs
— 1⁄3 cup/70g granulated sugar
— 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
— Grated peel of 1 organic lemon
— 3⁄4 cup/110g blanched whole almonds (see note below), chopped
— 1⁄2 vanilla bean
— 1⁄2 cup/100g granulated sugar
— 9 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon/130g unsalted butter, melted
— 13 tablespoons to 1⁄4 cups/100 to 150g confectioners’ sugar
1. To make the dough: Two days before baking, place the raisins and candied citrus peels in a bowl and add the rum. Cover and set aside, stirring occasionally.
2. The day you plan to bake, finish making the dough: If using fresh yeast, place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Crumble in the fresh yeast. Pour one-third of the milk over the yeast, stirring carefully with a fork to dissolve the yeast and mix in a little bit of the surrounding flour. Cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth and set aside for 5 minutes in a warm, draft-free spot. (If using instant yeast, stir the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and grated lemon peel together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, melted butter, and eggs. Make a well in the flour and pour the milk mixture into the well, stirring as you go. Knead briefly by hand in the bowl until a shaggy dough forms, then proceed to the kneading phase in Step 3.)
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, eggs, sugar, salt, and grated lemon peel. Pour this mixture into the bowl with the flour and stir together until shaggy. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand until smooth, 5 to 7 minutes. Add flour only if absolutely necessary. Form the dough into a ball and place back in the large bowl. Cover with a clean dishcloth and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot for 30 minutes.
4. Gently pull the dough onto your work surface and pat out until about 1 inch/2.5cm thick. Distribute the chopped almonds and rum-soaked fruit (including any dregs of rum that may still be in the bowl) over the dough, and then gather the sides up around the fruit and almonds. Knead together until the fruit and nuts are well distributed throughout the dough. Form the dough into a ball, place back in the bowl, and cover with the dishcloth. Set aside for another 30 minutes.
5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
6. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a round loaf. Place the loaves on the prepared baking sheet, cover with the dishcloth, and set aside for 30 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until the loaves are a deep golden brown.
8. While the loaves are baking, make the topping: Place the vanilla bean in a small food processor with 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar and process at high speed until the vanilla bean is pulverized and the sugar is turning to powder. Combine with the remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons/75g granulated sugar and set aside.
9. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Let the loaves cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Then brush the loaves evenly with all of the melted butter. You will need to do this in several coats. When all of the butter has been brushed onto the loaves, sprinkle the vanilla sugar evenly all over the buttered loaves, lifting up the loaves to coat the sides evenly as well. Then sift the confectioners’ sugar evenly all over the loaves, making sure you coat the sides as well. Let the loaves cool completely.
10. When the loaves are completely cool, wrap them in aluminum foil. The loaves can be frozen at this point for up to 1 month (defrost at room temperature) or served in slices.
Note about Nuts: German, Austrian, and Swiss baking rely heavily on nuts — usually almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts — that are either ground, chopped, sliced, or blanched. Buy your nuts in bulk at a store with heavy turnover so that you can be guaranteed freshness, not rancidity.
To blanch whole almonds, place them in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 10 minutes, and then drain off the water. The almond skin will be quite loose and can be either pushed or scraped off.
About Luisa: Luisa Weiss is a Berlin-born, American-Italian food writer who grew up eating warm Streuselschnecken on her way to school and believes dark winter days are best enjoyed whilst sharing Lebkuchen and Zimtsterne with family and friends. Luisa is the creator of the blog The Wednesday Chef and author of the lauded memoir, My Berlin Kitchen. Her work has been featured on Design*Sponge and National Public Radio and in Food & Wine, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and Harper’s Bazaar Germany, among many others. She lives in Berlin with her husband and son. You can find Luisa on Twitter and Instagram.