“Poppy seeds have a distinctive old-world flavour about them. I associate them with the colder months of the year and they remind me of fur coats and mothballs. And likewise, whenever I see a fur coat out and about (not that often these days, I definitely don’t own one) I taste poppy seeds in my mouth, or at least imagine that I do. The memory triggers strange connections when it comes to taste and it’s such a personal thing – I’m sure, though, that I’m not alone in this one, as many German children of my generation will have had a similar experience of the winter coats coming out of the cupboards
around the same time as Mohnstollen being present on the kitchen table. I like to create a plaited pattern in this dough as it makes it a little more special for the festive time of year, but the dough can simply be folded over for ease and will taste exactly the same. It’s important to grind the poppy seeds before they are baked so that their oils are released; don’t be tempted to skip this part of the process. ”
Put the flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon. Add the butter and, using your fingertips, work it into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Crumble the yeast (or sprinkle if using dried) into the tepid milk and stir to dissolve.
Pour the yeasted milk into the flour mixture along with the egg 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 5 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 about 1 hour, or until visibly larger in size. This dough won’t double in size like a normal bread dough, as it is heavy on the butter, so long as it has grown by half its size, that is enough.
(Alternatively put the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a free-standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the butter, yeasted milk and egg. Knead for 5 minutes until the dough is elastic. Cover and set aside, as above.)
While the dough is rising, make the filling. Put the ground poppy seeds and raisins into a medium bowl and pour over the hot milk. Mix and leave to one side for 15 minutes to cool.
Once cooled, add the sugar and egg yolk and mix through. Knock the dough back with your fist, lightly dust a sheet of non-stick baking parchment with flour and gently tip the dough onto it.
Roll it out to a rectangle 40 × 30cm/16 × 12in, just shy of 5mm/⅛in thick. Spoon the poppy seed filling lengthwise into the centre, stopping 2cm/¾in short of each short side, and flatten it out until it is around 8cm/3¼in wide.
Using a pastry cutter or a sharp knife, cut diagonal lines at around a 45-degree angle and around 1.5cm/½in thick from the long sides into the dough, stopping 2cm/¾in before you reach the filling – it might help to visualize a Christmas tree here, so start with the short side of dough closest to you and cut towards the centre with the angle sloping upwards as you go.
Once you’ve cut the dough, it’s now ready to plait. Fold both short sides in to ensure the filling doesn’t leak out of the ends when it is baked. Now take the first diagonal strip furthest away from you and fold it into the centre, and
repeat this alternately with each side until you come to the end, where you will need to tuck the very end bits of dough in neatly.
Slide the Stollen on the baking parchment onto a baking sheet, cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm place to rise a second time, for around 20 minutes. Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool on the sheet.
Mix the icing sugar with the water, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon until a smooth, glossy glaze is formed. Spoon the glaze generously over the Stollen and leave it to one side for 30 minutes or so to set.
Best served the day it is made, but will keep well wrapped in foil in an airtight tin for up to a week.