Authentic Hutzelbrot (German Fruit and Nut Bread)

An very traditional and rustic recipe, this old-fashioned German fruit and nut bread is deliciously dense, chewy, moist and flavorful.  This authentic Hutzelbrot recipe is a labor of love that’s worth every effort!

hutzelbrot recipe german fruit nut bread cake authentic traditional swabian pears figs hazelnuts rum

What is Hutzelbrot?

This is a very old-fashioned, very rustic bread from where I grew up in the Swabia region of southern Germany.

Schwäbischer Hutzelbrot is also known as Kletzenbrot, Früchtebrot, Bierewecke or Schnitzbrot.  But whatever name you call it by, it is a very dense and chewy, fruity, nutty bread with aromatic spices.  It is a sweet Winter bread that keeps well.

You could say that Hutzelbrot is a forerunner of what we know as fruitcake today.  Fruitcake has a very long history, dating back to Roman times, though the fruitcake of today bears little resemblance to its ancestors.  Today we think of fruitcake as that cloyingly sweet, rum-soaked stuff that’s studded with artificially colored candied fruits that taste more like chemicals than anything botanical.  But Hutzelbrot stands as an example of earlier days when fruitcake (or more accurately fruit bread) was something virtuous and noble.

Packed with a large quantity and variety of dried fruits, nuts, spices and incorporating whole grains, Hutzelbrot is very different – and special – from the fruit cakes or breads of today.

hutzelbrot recipe german fruit nut bread cake authentic traditional swabian pears figs hazelnuts rum

The star ingredient of Hutzelbrot is pears. “Hutzeln”, the bread’s namesake, is the old Swabian dialect for dried pears.  Farmers would harvest their pears in the fall, a portion of which would be dried to last until the following season.  These dried pears would be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes such as stews or reconstituted to use in baked goods.  Hutzelbrot is one of the most famous uses of Hutzeln.

What really defines Swabian Hutzelbrot is its large quantity of dried fruits and nuts in relation to the flour.  The flour is secondary and the amount that is added is just enough to hold the dense fruit-nut mass together.  The result is a remarkably dense, chewy, moist and flavorful fruit bread unlike any other.

hutzelbrot recipe german fruit nut bread cake authentic traditional swabian pears figs hazelnuts rum

I grew up in Swabia in southern Germany (home of the Hutzelbrot), in Stuttgart, and along with Bavaria (where my mom is from), those remain my favorite areas of the country.  Though every region of Germany has breathtaking landscapes, villages and architecture, the south is my home.  Below are just two examples of the many beautiful places I grew up around in Swabia.

Liechtenstein Castle was a childhood favorite.  Precariously positioned on a steep cliff and originally built in the 12th century, our family toured this castle many times and enjoyed its scenic setting.

The town of Maulbronn.  With it’s gorgeous timber-framed buildings, it’s also home to a World UNESCO Heritage Site, the Maulbronn Monastery.  It is also within that monastery that one of my favorite Swabian dishes was invented.  It was there that the Maulbronn monks first invented Maultaschen.

With this brief introduction to the Hutzelbrot’s home, let’s make some!

Before we begin, I have to say Hutzelbrot is definitely a labor of love.  Not only is it time-consuming to prepare and chopped the dried fruits and toasted nuts, there is a lot of waiting time involved – so patience is also required.  You can save yourself time though be prepping some of the things in advance.  For example, the soaked, drained and chopped dried fruits can be made at least a day ahead and refrigerated and the nuts can be toasted and chopped in advance as well.  That way all you have left to do the next day is mix the dough together…and then the waiting period begins to let the dough go through various rises.  And then of course there’s yet another wait time…letting the bread “ripen” for at least a few days (ideally two weeks) to get the best flavor and texture results.

But though a labor of love and a test of patience, the effort is worth it!

hutzelbrot recipe german fruit nut bread cake authentic traditional swabian pears figs hazelnuts rum

Hutzelbrot Recipe

Let’s get started!

Place the dried fruits (except for the raisins) in a pot and pour the water over them.  Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let it sit for at least 3 hours.  NOTE:  Depending on how soft your dried plums are, you may not need to simmer them, just add them for the soak.  Also, if your dried pears are on the softer side you can reduce the length of simmer time.

NOTE:  While the dried pears are the featured fruits of Hutzelbrot (“Hutzel” means pear) and should be used generously, feel free to adjust the ratios of the other dried fruits or substitute them according to your preference.  You can also include dried apples.

Once the fruits have sat at least 3 hours, pour them into a colander over a bowl to collect all of the liquid.  Let it strain for a sufficient amount of time to ensure as much of the liquid is drained out as possible.  Reserve the fruit liquid, you’ll need it later.

NOTE:  Depending on how thirsty your dried fruits were, if you find you don’t have enough liquid for the 1 1/2 cups you’ll need for the dough plus extra for brushing the loaves later on, add a little extra water to it now.

soaking the dried fruits

While the dried fruits are cooling, place the raisins in a bowl and stir in the rum so the raisins soak it all up.

Toast the whole almonds and hazelnuts in the oven until fragrant (be careful not so scorch them) and once cooled chop them very coarsely (basically just in half).  Coarsely chop the drained dried fruits.

adding raisins and nuts

Heat 1 1/4 cups of the reserved fruit water (keep the rest for later) until just lukewarm.  Stir the yeast into it along with a couple teaspoons of the sugar.  Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes until very frothy.

While the yeast mixture is sitting, add the flours, sugar, salt, ground anise seed and cinnamon to the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine.  Make a well in the center and pour the yeast mixture in.  Using the dough hook, knead the mixture until it comes together and then knead for about 6 minutes.

combining wet and dry mixture

The dough will be very firm.  Lightly spray the bowl and put the dough ball back in.  Loosely cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.  The dough will not rise much, it will just get slightly puffy.

Add the chopped dried fruits, raisins, candied lemon and orange peels, chopped toasted nuts and lemon zest.

kneading into a dough and adding fruits and nuts

Again using the dough hook, knead the mixture until it is thoroughly combined.  The fruits will become mushier and incorporate into the dough and depending on how much liquid was drained out of the dried fruits, the dough may be very wet. It’s going to look super messy and mushy, but don’t panic! Continue adding a little flour at a time until the dough is manageable.  You do NOT want it to become stiff and dry, it needs to remain soft and moist but not too wet.  You want to reduce the moisture just until the dough is manageable enough to turn out onto a work surface where you will continue to add a little more flour as needed.

NOTE ABOUT STAND MIXERS:  Mine is 6 QT and everything fit.   If your stand mixer is smaller it will need to be mixed in two batches which is fine because everything will get dumped out on the work surface and mixed together again.

kneading mixture into a dough

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured work surface.  (I’m not even going to pretend that it looks appetizing, because it doesn’t!)  Use your hands to knead the dough to make sure all the ingredients are evenly incorporated, adding more flour as needed until you’ve got a round dough ball that is soft and malleable but not sticky on the outside.

forming dough into a loaf

Place the dough ball into a lightly sprayed large bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let it rest at room temperature for about 2 hours.  It will not rise very much, it will just become a little puffy.  Punch it down in the center, cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight.  This will improve the flavor of the yeast dough and also enable to flavors of the fruits and spices to develop and fully penetrate the dough.

NOTE:  If you’re in a hurry, you can skip the overnight refrigeration step (though we recommend it).  After letting the dough rest at room temp for 2 hours, follow the steps to form the Hutzelbrot loaves, and let them rest for another 60-90 minutes until slightly puffy, brush with the fruit juice and bake as instructed.

letting dough rise

The next day, remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 4-5 hours.  Again, it won’t rise a whole lot but it will become puffier.  Cut the dough ball into 4 equal portions.  Note the pictures below:  Though it won’t rise a lot, the dough will be nice and puffy when you cut into it.

Note: Don’t make the loaves any larger, you want to ensure the inside is fully baked before the outside burns.

dividing dough

Form each piece into oval-shaped loaves and place them on a lined baking sheet.  NOTE:  If you prefer, you can divide them further to make 8 smaller loaves (in which case I recommend forming them into little round loaves) and reduce the baking time.

Place the whole, blanched almonds on top in the traditional manner as pictured below.  Loosely lay some plastic wrap over the top and let the loaves rest in a warm place for 60-90 minutes until just slightly puffy.

preparing loaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush each loaf all over with the reserved fruit juice, saving half of it for later.  Bake the loaves on the middle rack for about an hour until very dark brown but not burnt.  Pick one up with a dish towel and knock on the bottom to see if it sounds fairly hollow.

Remove the loaves from the oven and, while still hot, poke them all over with a toothpick and brush them with the remaining fruit juice.  Let them cool completely and then wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and then foil to let them age for a few days (traditionally it was for a couple of weeks) before eating.  Note, if you’re letting them age for more than a few days you can transfer them to the fridge but they will get hard in the cold temperature.  You can microwave the slices for a few seconds to soften them up.

glazing the loaves with syrup

Slice, spread with a little butter. (I like it best heated up for a few seconds in the microwave.)

Enjoy!

hutzelbrot recipe german fruit nut bread cake authentic traditional swabian pears figs hazelnuts rum

For more traditional German Christmas goodies try our:

Originally published on The Daring Gourmet December 15, 2018

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