Stollen, Germany’s Christmas cake

Ten years ago, most British consumers had never heard the word Christstollen, or Stollen for short.

The UK – and even the wider world – has profited from Germany’s Christmas traditions over the years, and Stollen is just the latest import. Twenty years ago you might have found this German recipe in speciality delicatessens, but now that we have the likes of Aldi and Lidl surreptitiously slipping German produce into our shopping baskets, and now that we have German Christmas Markets invading our town centres, Stollen is very much here to stay.

For the uninitiated, Stollen is a bread-like fruitcake whose shape is meant to symbolise the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. It is made with yeast, water and flour, with candied orange peel and candied citrus peel, raisins, almonds and spices such as cardamom and cinnamon added to the dough. Other popular additions are sugar, butter, vanilla and marzipan, but any deviation from the traditional recipe automatically disqualifies the product from the official AOC, the Stollen Schutzverband (an association of Stollen bakers).

Only 150 bakers belong to this association, and they’re all in the Dresden area, for this is the city where Stollen was originally created, over 500 years ago. That original recipe (first documented in 1474) was very different to the product we know now. Composed of just flour, oats and water, it was the sort of thing you might use to hold doors open, but in those days advent was a time of fasting, and more luxurious ingredients were forbidden.

A bread-like fruitcake whose shape is meant to symbolise the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes

After several unsuccessful approaches to various Popes, Innocent VIII finally granted the use of butter in Stollen in a letter to Saxony’s Prince Elector, but this “Butter-Letter” only granted the use of butter to the Prince-Elector and his family and household. Others had to pay a fine, which was why experimentation started with different kinds of animal fats instead, pork fat and beef fat in particular. Eventually the whole butter issue was resolved when Saxony became Protestant, so Martin Luther (see the text on the great man) was indirectly responsible for putting Stollen on the world map.

These days the various bakeries in and around Dresden have their own variations on the recipe, and they still tend to be less rich and sweet than the sort you’d find in supermarkets. Some will also bake loaves brought in by some local families, who still prefer to mix their own recipe at home. Every year they also elect the Dresden Stollen Girl, who has to be a more-or-less scrumptious third year apprentice baker, pastry-cook or salesperson, and who becomes the ambassador for Dresden Stollen.

Find more information on Dresden Stollen.

Looking for more? See other destinations in Eastern Germany

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