Christmas is a season full of delicious food, traditions and gathering friends and family to eat together. There is nothing better than a mug of mulled wine and some gingerbread to get you in the festive spirit. But having a nut allergy can make Christmas a little more stressful. Mince pies laced with various nuts, fruitcake and endless marzipan adornments all have to be avoided. Even drinks are a minefield; Sweden’s answer to mulled wine, gløgg, is made with almonds.
There are just so many Christmas delights that I’ve never tasted, and it makes me feel like I’m missing out. One of my mum’s absolute favourite Christmas treats is Stollen. She goes wild for it, and I’ve always wanted to try it. Nuts in the dough aren’t too much of a problem, I usually replace them with seeds or leave them out completely, but the marzipan had me stumped. How on earth to replicate the taste without almonds?
But then a few months ago a friend mentioned that some amaretto, the almond liquor, isn’t made with almonds at all, but with apricot kernels. Whilst doing some digging around for other almond tasting ingredients, I heard about mahleb, a spice made from the kernels of a specific type of cherry stone that is used in Middle Eastern cooking and baking. Afer looking online and never quote committing to purchasing it because it was so expensive, I found it in a Turkish supermarket in Dalston for 99p a bag! Never one to do things by halves, I bought four bags. Exactly my kind of impulse purchase.
Once I got my haul home, I decided to make some mahleb extract by adding lightly crushed mahleb to vodka and leaving to infuse (using the same method that I do to make vanilla extract with old scraped out pods). After a few weeks it grew fragrant and very almondy. I used some of the extract in the marzipan for this stollen, but you could leave out if you don’t have any lying around (and why would you!). I think the ground mahleb seeds are flavouful enough on their own, and are a bit more complex tasting.
I tried a few marzipan base recipes, both using semolina instead of ground almonds for structure, with one using a lot of butter, and the other egg and custard powder, in addition to sugar. The butter based marzipan would be better for covering cakes, but I preferred the one without for taste and texture. For my final version, I opted for aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas) instead of egg because it was on hand. My boyfriend has also recently decided to become a house vegan (vegetarian out of the house if vegan is not available), and I thought aiming for a marzipan we could both eat would be ideal, although the Stollen itself is full of butter, eggs and milk.
Once I was happy with the marzipan I got started on the Stollen dough itself. Roughly following a recipe from Delicious Magazine, I tweaked some of the timings, proofing the old dough overnight in the fridge so I could make the first few parts on a Friday evening, then finish the bake on a Saturday. There are a lot of stages, but it means you can get lots of other things done while your dough proofs.
The final Stollen, stuffed with a rich seam of mahleb marzipan, was worth waiting for. Dense, full of fruit and fragrant from the mahleb marzipan, I can see why this is a a favourite Christmas indulgence. I’m aware that Stollen ages well, but I’m not sure it’s going to last that long!
If you’re looking for more nut-free Christmas goodies to bake, why not try another German Christmas favourite, Nut-free Lebkuchen?
Recipe: Nut-free Christmas Stollen (slightly adapted from Delicious Magazine)
Ingredients: Nut-free Christmas Stollen
Make the soaked fruit and old dough the day before you bake
For the soaked fruit
50g dried cranberries
50g mixed peel
50g preserved ginger, chopped similar size to the fruit
zest of 1 clementine
For the old dough
175g white bread flour
7g sachet of quick yeast
150ml oat milk at room temperature (you can use regular milk, I only had oat on hand)
For the main dough
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cardamon
175g white bread flour
50g caster sugar
1 egg yolk beaten with 40ml of oat milk (again, regular milk will do)
150g soft butter, the softer the better for easy mixing
For the nut-free marzipan
140g sifted icing sugar
140g fine semolina
1tsp custard powder
2-4tbsp aquafaba (the juice from a tin of chickpeas)
2tsp ground mahleb (made from cherry pits rather than a nut, but with an almondy flavour. Available online)
For the coating
Vanilla sugar (Stick old vanilla pods into a jar of caster sugar and leave for a few weeks to a few months until it is fragrant; or just use icing sugar mixed with a pinch of cinnamon)
Method: Nut-free Christmas Stollen
- Make the soaked fruit. Add the fruit, ginger, zest and whiskey into a bowl. Mix around and leave overnight to soak.
- Make the old dough. Mix the flour, yeast and milk together until a dough forms. cover with cling film. Leave at room temperature for 30-60 mins, then put in the fridge overnight.
- Make the nut-free marzipan. Mix together the icing sugar, semolina, custard powder, mahleb and 2tbsp of the aquafaba. Mix to a stiff paste, adding more aquafaba gradually if its not coming together or looking sandy. Double wrap in clingfilm and store in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, take the old dough and the marzipan out of the fridge a few hours before you start baking to get to room temperature.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer add the old dough, spices, flour, sugar and egg yolk. Mix with the dough hook attachement on low/medium until it forms a dough. Add half the butter and mix on low until incorporated. then add the rest and mix until incorporated. Leave to proof until doubled in size.
- Tip out on a minimally floured surface, push flat and put a third of the fruit on top. Fold the edges in to cover, then knead until the fruit is evenly distributed. Repeat until all the fruit is even through the dough. Pop back in the bowl, cover and leave to proof for 30 mins or so.
- Split the dough in two and the marzipan in two. For each piece of dough, push with your hand until flat and oval shaped. Make the marzipan into a long thin log and lay down the centre of oval. wrap the dough round and pinch together to seal. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Leave to proof on a baking sheet for 30 mins, covered with clingfilm. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C.
- Put the stollen in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 160C. Bake for 15mins until they start to brown. Reduce the temperature to 130C and bake for 40-60mins until the dough feels firm ish when you poke it.
- Pop on a cooling rack and let cool for 5mins or so. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle over a thick coating of vanilla sugar.