Even though we’re approaching the end of January this quickly-passing 2019, Stollen is a specialty meant to last for quiet a while after Christmas – firmly packed with butter & sugar, many Germans keep it out on their balconies as long as it lasts past the holidays, where the freezing Winter temperatures keep it oh-so-well! So here’s to our January wintery Sunday afternoon with Kaffee & Stollen!
Everywhere around the world, Christmas seems to be a time of fruitcake manifestations. And, boy, are people proud of their fruitcakes. My grandma used to make them for Christmas, wrapped & made with love, they made great gifts for her family & friends, so she said. I was never a fan. It’s definitely the black sheep of the holiday treats in my book. And I don’t think I’m alone here…according to the Internet, people really question its culinary contribution to the world: ‘The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other’ – said Johnny Carson. Ha!
However, I was pleasantly surprised to meet fruitcake’s German cousin, the Stollen, which is made pretty much in the same way as fruitcake, omitting the rum-soaking at the end. This German specialty fruit bread is made of nuts, spices, and dried or candied fruit, coated with powdered sugar or icing sugar, and plenty of butter…butter-soaking is so much more better than rum-soaking, wouldn’t you guys agree? Stollen is traditionally eaten during the Christmas season, commonly called Weihnachtstollen or Christstollen. Its preparation is a thing of family tradition, and every family has their very best Stollen recipe passed on from previous generations, as it often happens with yummy treats! Bakers are also big on competition, especially regional variations that take pride in their own Stollen.
Dresden Stollen (originally called Striezel), a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit, was first mentioned in an official document way back in 1474, and the term itself remains notable & available in the region. This beloved Stollen is produced only in the city of Dresden & distinguished by a special seal depicting King Augustus II the Strong. It’s produced by only 150 Dresden bakers, and regionally sold in their unique stands in Christmas markets all over. Today, the Stollenfest takes place annually in Dresden on the Saturday before the second Sunday in Advent, and the cake made for this grand event weighs between three and four tonnes! A carriage takes the cake in a parade through the streets of Dresden to the Christmas Market, where it is ceremoniously cut into pieces and distributed among the crowd, for a small sum which goes to charity. A special knife, the Grand Dresden Stollen Knife, a silver-plated knife, 1.60 meters (5.2 feet) long weighing 12 kg (26 lbs), which is a copy of the lost baroque original knife from 1730, is used to festively cut the oversized Stollen. I am definitely not missing it next Christmas!
The word Stollen itself, was actually a word for a support post or boundary stone for a city and also the entrance to a mine shaft…so, some historians believe that the shape of this bread (and perhaps even the weight of it!) reminded the locals of the entrance to a mine tunnel reflecting the silver & tin mining in the area of Dresden. Another name for the bread used to be Striezel, which is a word for loaf, and the shape of the bread along with being dusted with powdered sugar was a symbolic shape of baby Jesus in swaddling clothes, therefore also called Christstollen. Way back when, Stollen became such a part of Dresdeners’ lives that it was cut and served with special utensils. It was also tradition that the first piece of stollen was set aside & kept to ensure the family would be able to afford a Stollen the following year and the last piece was saved to ensure the family had enough food for the year. Yikes! Should we not eat that last bit today, then?
The bread is simple, made with yeast, water, & flour, and usually with some zest added to the dough. Candied orange peel & candied citrus peel, raisins & almonds, and various spices such as cardamom & cinnamon are all added according to preferences. Other ingredients, such as milk, sugar, butter, salt, rum, eggs, & vanilla, other dried fruits, nuts & marzipan, may all be added to the dough. Except for these additions, the dough itself is quite low in sugar. The bread is then slathered with melted butter and rolled in icing sugar as soon as it comes out of the oven, resulting in a moister product that keeps better. This is a big thing for some Germans, sometimes the repeat the process over days in order to get a very thick layer of butter-y sugar. The dried fruits are also previously macerated in rum or brandy for a superior-tasting bread. In the end, the traditional weight of one Stollen is about 2 kg (4.4 pounds)! The thicker the buttery sugary layer, the better though! Such a big Stollen is common in households, for the Kaffee & Kuchen rounds on Sunday, or as a treat for guests, or even at the office – boy did I have my good share of Stollen this past Christmas!
But luckily, smaller sizes are also available for a little treat! Stollen can be bought on every corner for Christmas, but we are lucky to welcome & enjoy the homemade variety our German friends give us each year! Proud of their sugar-coating, done days in advance and through a repeated process that goes through lots of butter & sugar, we get about 1/4 of a loaf (they usually prepare 3 for their family of 3!) and enjoy the bit until our last treat, today!