Christmas Wreath by Anja Dunk

Advent: 3 traditional German Christmas bakes to spark the festive spirit

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Christmas baking season is upon us, and thankfully, Anja Dunk has three wonderfully traditional recipes to help you celebrate the festive period.

Let’s face it – one of the best parts about the festive season is the food. Party canapes, glazed ham, roast turkey, brussels sprouts (for those who are fans), endless Quality Streets, cranberry Wensleydale, Christmas pudding… Of course, you can make all of these things at any time of the year – except for the last one. A tradition that’s been commonplace since the 18th century dictates that traditional Christmas pudding should be made on ‘Stir Up Sunday’ – the last Sunday before the advent period begins. But if you’re not a Christmas pudding fan, there are plenty of baking alternatives that will still put you in a festive mood.

Freelance food writer Anja Dunk grew up in Wales with her German mother and Welsh father, where her love affair for baking, specifically German recipes, developed. Now, she’s translated her passion into her new book, Advent: Festive German Bakes To Celebrate The Coming Of Christmas. A collection of over 100 quintessentially festive recipes, it will become a staple on your bookshelf, packed with anise-filled sugar cookies and an abundance of cake varieties. Inside, Dunk encourages us to celebrate this magical time as is traditional in German culture – with lots of sweet treats in our immediate vicinity. Trust us, this is the stuff of Christmas baking dreams.

Advent by Anja Dunk
Advent by Anja Dunk

Firstly, if you’re a fruit cake fanatic you’ll love Dunk’s Christmas stollen. One of the more traditional German bakes, its dark rum-infused dough is oozing with raisins soaked in a nutmeg, cardamom and clove spice mixture that’s perfect for dishing out a slice or two at festive dinner parties.

If whipping up some Christmas cookies takes top spot on the agenda, look no further than Dunk’s spiced almond biscuits. Swirling with a potent mix of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, these almond-flecked cookies are the perfect 3pm pick-me-up snack.

Lastly, a statement-making cake that truly gives Christmas baking the respect it deserves, Dunk’s Christmas wreath is a recipe that delivers the sweet festive kick we need. Its fluffy, circular-shaped sponge is the pièce de résistance of any festive dinner. Best of all, the aesthetically pleasing drippy white ice glaze and glacé cherry topping to give it stellar Insta-worthy status. Christmas pudding just got competition…

  • Christmas stollen

    Christmas Stollen by Anja Dunk
    Christmas bakes: stollen by Anja Dunk

    Anja says: Stollen is a quintessential part of German Christmas, and the most renowned version originates from the East German city of Dresden, where it is called Christstollen. It is sold in Christmas markets up and down the country, but in Dresden itself they even have a special festival (Stollenfest) just before the second Sunday of Advent, where a giant-sized Stollen is marched through crowds of appreciators and admirers on the streets to many oohs and aahs before it is cut up and sold off in pieces. 

    Butter is one of the key ingredients that make a Stollen dough so rich, the others being eggs and boozy dried fruit. Just as important as what goes into the Stollen itself is what it is covered by, which is usually more butter and two layers of sugar.

    Makes 1 large stollen (serves 10-12)

    Ingredients

    • 75g mixed peel
    • 175g raisins
    • 1 tbsp dark rum
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 350g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
    • 50g caster (superfine) sugar
    • ½ tsp fine sea salt
    • ¼ tsp ground coriander
    • ¼ tsp ground cloves
    • ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
    • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
    • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
    • 150g (²⁄₃ cup) unsalted butter, at room temp, cut into cubes
    • 1 egg
    • 20g fresh yeast, or 10g dried
    • 150ml tepid whole milk
    • 60g flaked (slivered) almonds to coat
    • 50g unsalted butter, melted
    • 50g  vanilla sugar
    • 50g icing (confectioners’) sugar, plus extra to serve

    Method

    Put the mixed peel and raisins into a bowl, spoon over the rum and vanilla extract and set aside to infuse while you prepare the dough. Put the flour, sugar, salt, spices and lemon zest into a large mixing bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon. Add the butter and egg. Crumble the yeast (or sprinkle if using dried) into the tepid milk and stir to dissolve. Pour the yeasted milk into the flour mixture and, using your hands, bring the ingredients together until a rough dough is formed. 

    Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with the heels of your hands for about 10 minutes until it becomes more elastic. Form it into a neat ball and nestle it into the bottom of the bowl.

    Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1–3 hours until visibly larger in size. As the amount of butter in this dough is hefty, it won’t double in size when it rises; you’re looking for the dough to expand roughly by half its size again. Alternatively, put the dry ingredients and lemon zest into the bowl of a free-standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the butter and egg. Pour in the yeasted milk and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is elastic. Cover and set aside, as above.

    Knock the dough back with your fist and add the almonds and boozy dried fruit (along with any liquid) to the dough. Knead the fruit and nuts through for a couple of minutes until evenly incorporated. Form it into a neat ball and nestle it into the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside in a warm spot for about 20 minutes for a short second rise. Lightly dust the work surface with flour, gently tip the dough out and roll into a rectangle 30 × 15cm/12 × 6in. Lay the dough on a large baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment, take one of the long sides and fold it three-quarters of the way back over the dough to create a classic Strudel shape. 

    Lay a tea towel over the shaped Stollen and put in a warm place for a third rise of 30 minutes, by which time the Stollen should have risen slightly again. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F. Bake for about 50 minutes until browned all over, checking after 30 minutes; if it looks quite brown already, cover it with a layer of foil to stop it from burning (butter-rich yeasted doughs tend to colour quite easily). Transfer the baked Stollen to a wire rack and, while still hot, brush all over with the melted butter, repeating until there is no butter left. Sprinkle the vanilla sugar over the top, then sift the icing sugar over that.

    Allow the Stollen to cool fully before wrapping tightly in a double layer of foil. Store in an airtight container for at least a week (I think it’s best to leave it 2) before slicing and serving. The Stollen will keep well for a good 2 months. When ready to serve, dust with a little icing sugar again.

  • Spiced almond biscuits

    Spiced Almond Biscuits by Anja Dunk
    Christmas bakes: spiced almond biscuits by Anja Dunk

    Anja says: These biscuits are traditional Advent sweet treats in both the Netherlands, where they are usually eaten around the 6th December (St Nikolaus day), and in Germany, where they are eaten throughout the whole run-up to Christmas. Usually they’re decorated with images relating to Nikolaus, and more often than not have windmills depicted on them.

    Usually almond Spekulatius have a flaked almond base, but I’ve switched things up and adorned mine with them on top instead. These snappy (by this I mean crunchy and good to snap) biscuits are best eaten alongside a black coffee and are also brilliant crushed into a powder and mixed with melted butter to create a Christmas cheesecake or chocolate torte base.

    Makes around 30 biscuits

    Ingredients

    • 150g plain (all purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
    • 50g rye flour
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda 
    • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
    • ¼ tsp ground cloves
    • ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
    • 120g (²⁄₃ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
    • Pinch of fine sea salt
    • 125g unsalted butter, at room temp
    • 1 egg

    To finish

    • Milk, for brushing
    • 50g flaked (slivered) almonds

    Method

    Put all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the butter and mix it into the flour using your fingertips until it has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and bring everything together into a dough with your hands. (Alternatively, simply put all the ingredients into the bowl of an electric free-standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until an even dough is formed.)

    Heat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F and line two large baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 3mm/1/8in thickness. Cut out shapes with your cookie cutter and gently transfer them onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 1cm between each to allow for spreading. Re-roll the dough offcuts into more biscuits. Brush the tops with milk then sprinkle some flaked almonds onto each one, pressing them down gently to ensure they stick.

    Bake in the oven for 10–12 minutes until golden all over. Allow to cool on the sheets for a minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container, where they will keep well for up to 4 weeks.

  • Christmas wreath

    Christmas Wreath by Anja Dunk
    Christmas bakes: Christmas wreath by Anja Dunk

    Anja says: This might well be the prettiest thing to have come out of our kitchen all year. It has a light and fluffy, yet rich, moist and indulgent crumb. I know some of you might find glacé cherries a little too much, and you probably aren’t wrong – aside from a handful of recipes, this one included, I’m inclined to agree. They are, after all, a shallow ingredient that’s more about looks than taste.

    Makes 1 large wreath (serves 8-10)

    Ingredients

    • 450g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting 
    • 30g caster (superfine) sugar
    • ½ tsp fine sea salt
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 20g fresh yeast, or 10g dried
    • 180ml tepid whole milk
    • 200g Quark
    • 50g unsalted butter, at room temp
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
    • 50g raisins
    • 60g glacé cherries, chopped
    • 30g flaked (slivered) almonds, roughly chopped
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • For the glaze
    • 100g icing (confectioners’) sugar, sifted
    • 1 tbsp lemon juice
    • 2 tsp water

    To decorate

    • 30g glacé cherries, halved
    • 30g flaked (slivered) almonds, toasted

    Method

    Put the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Crumble the yeast (or sprinkle if using dried) into the tepid milk and stir to dissolve. Pour the yeasted milk into the flour mixture, add the Quark, butter, vanilla extract and lemon zest and, using your hands, bring everything together into a rough dough. Tip out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until elastic. Form it into a ball and nestle it into the bowl. 

    Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm spot to rise for an hour, or until considerably risen in size. (Alternatively, put the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon into the bowl of a free-standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, pour in the yeasted milk, add the Quark, butter, lemon zest and vanilla extract and knead for 5–8 minutes until elastic. Cover and set aside, as above.)

    Knock the dough back with your fist and add the raisins, glacé cherries and flaked almonds. Gently knead until evenly incorporated. Roll the dough out on a floured surface into a 30cm long sausage. Carefully lift the dough onto a large baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment and shape it into a wreath, taking care to stick the ends together to join. Cover the wreath with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes, or until the dough has visibly grown by at least half its size again. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F.

    Brush the top of the wreath with beaten egg and bake for about 25 minutes until rusty brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cool, mix the icing sugar, lemon juice and water together. Drizzle the glaze over the top and decorate with the cherries and almonds. This is best served fresh the day it’s baked.

Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas by Anja Dunk (Quadrille Publishing) is out now 

Photography: Anja Dunk

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