(POSTED: December 8, 2006)
German Stollen, History and Tradition
To begin our discussion of Stollen, we first stopped at Stollenbäecker in Mendig-Obermendig, Germany, a generations-old producer that every year takes the prize for the best Stollen. This year-end bread, with more than 500 years of history behind it, is traditionally made from the end of September until the end of December. Stollen is a marzipan-filled fruit bread, served hot or cold, though personally, explains Bernd Kütscher, I think it is even more delicious at breakfast the second day when you bite into a nice toasted slice slathered with butter!
There are several varieties of Stollen, including one that looks like a big filled crêpe. It is actually a cake, studded with candied fruit that has been soaked in rum, filled with almond cream and folded over to contain the filling. This particular shape symbolizes the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes.
The bakers of Dresden created this recipe, a subtle blend of spices, candied lemon and orange peel, rum-flavoured raisins and kirsch.
A short history of Christstollen
It was at the Sarodnick bakery in Dresden that we learned all about Christstollen, a tradition that goes far back in time: in fact, it was mentioned as early as 1330 in Naumburg an der Saale, where Stollen was made by the bakers' guild with episcopal privilege. There is also a record of Stollen in Dresden in 1400, but it was not until a century later that the tradition became widespread. "Christ's Christmas breads" were sold at the market in Striezel, the oldest German Christmas market. It is recorded that in 1560 two Stollen weighing almost 18 kilograms were presented to the lord of the manor, each one transported by 8 bakers, including 4 master-bakers. This custom survived for many years.
It was August the Powerful who ordered the biggest Stollen of all time in 1730. It weighed 1.8 tonnes and was made by the bakers' guild on the occasion of the Zeithainer Lustlager attended by 24,000 guests.
It was not easy to produce good Stollen from just flour and water, since the Catholic church had banned the use of milk and butter in the cake. In 1647 Kurfürst Ernst and his brother Albrecht decided to petition the pope, asking him to strike down the butter ban. History does not tell us whether the bakers included a Stollen with their request, but the pope received it favourably, and sent out a "butter letter" allowing milk and butter to be used in Stollen with his blessing, on the condition that a just and reasonable tax be paid.
In Stollenbäecker's kitchens We also discovered at Stollenbäecker in Mendig-Obermendig:
Almond and Walnut Stollen
This specialty Stollen, with its scent of toasted walnuts perfectly balanced with little pieces of almonds, is irresistible. Almond-walnut Stollen is also made without candied citrus peel or raisins, which is why it is enjoyed even by those who ordinarily don't like Stollen.
Crunchy hazelnuts, a few almonds and chocolate chips