The holiday season is known for its foods. Every culture, every part of the country—and the world—all have their own traditions, and it usually involves food, cakes, cookies, and drinks.
Who doesn't enjoy food during the holiday season?
But few have the history of the Stollen—or Christstollen—the delicious German fruit bread entwined deeply with the history of Dresden and surrounding areas of Germany.
The Stollen is made during the Christmas season and is an integral part of any Christmas gathering for millions of people. It is so much a part of the season, in fact, it was partially responsible for a drastic change in law in the 15th century—law that required the hand of the Pope himself to modify, which is no small thing.
Stollen, a Storied Bread
Stollen has been around since the 1400s. Originally baked without butter, the first Stollen would taste very bland and odd to us today, but it was considered a fasting food and was designed to be tasteless. The fast was about giving up on these luxury items, after all. Bland was the whole point.
Butter and milk were prohibited by the Catholic Church during fasting times, like the Advent season leading up to Christmas, since they were considered luxury items. Without butter, pastries and breads would have been quite different than what we are used to.
The earliest record of the original Dresden Stollen is from 1474. From there the Stollen became an official Christmas tradition after being baked for the Council of Trent in 1545—a very important gathering in the history of the Catholic Church.
The Stollen has changed over time. Originally, without butter, it was a hard and thin bread. Today we enjoy a much tastier treat, peppered with raisins, fruit, and a delicious coating of sugar.
In fact, the Stollen was partially responsible for the lifting of the butter ban, and for the humorously (to us) named Butter-Letter—a letter written by the highest authority of the largest Christian church of the time, about butter. In the 15th century, Prince Elector Ernst and his brother Duke Albrecht of Saxony wrote to the then Pope, Pope Nicholas V, asking for the lifting of the ban on butter. The oil they had to use in place of the creamy butter was expensive and difficult to get in Saxony, and obviously led to a very poor Stollen. It was, in fact, made of beets.
Yum. Beet oil pastries.
But the Church took its ban on butter seriously. It wasn’t until forty years—and a few popes—later that Pope Innocent VIII officially lifted the ban, replacing it with an annual fee that went to building churches.
With the butter-ban a thing of the past, bakers were able to make what we consider today to be a Stollen, and sweeten up the holidays.
Over the centuries, Stollen have become synonymous with Christmas celebration for many around the world. Kings and princes have had giant Stollen made by hundreds of bakers at once. Large parades have been held in Germany where Stollen carried by a dozen men have woven through crowds of people.
Today, it is a serious art with its own association in Germany. Just over a hundred bakers in Germany can claim to make true Dresden Stolen, and their Stolen is highly prized.
Brandenburg Bakery’s Stollen
We at Brandenburg Bakery bake a lot of Stollen for the Christmas season. In particular, Christstollen, which is formed like a swaddled baby Jesus, and prepared by hand to the strict requirements of the Dresden Stollen Association (Schutzverband Dresdner Stollen e.V.). This guarantees our Stollen is made like, and tastes like, the very best that would be expected in Germany.
Yeah, we take Stollen pretty seriously here. And we should. There is a vast difference in quality between different Stollen, and we believe ours is the best around.
It’s a long process, taking over two days. Oh, and butter. Lots of butter. And everything is made from scratch, using organic unbleached flower, candied orange and lemon peel and tasty plump raisins and currants.
The first day is all about the dough. The spiced dough, mixed with cinnamon, clove, and other holiday spices has to be allowed to rest a few times before it's ready. The most important first steps are the proofing, hours and hours of it in fact. A lot of intensive little steps culminate into the perfect dough.
Days before we start, we soak the raisins and candied orange and lemon peel in rum, allowing ample time for the fruit to pick up all the flavor.
These rum-soaked raisins, roasted almonds, and black currants are mixed into the dough, which will later give the Stollen the delicious sweetness it's known for.
The dough is separated into balls of varying sizes for the whole Christstolen and the Stolen bites.
Then comes the shaping and baking.
Once the Christstollen is given it's knit shape, it's baked for 35–40 minutes.
The next day, all cooled off and ready to go, the Christstollen is dipped in melted butter. This is not only delicious, but helps hold the vanilla infused sugar on, giving the Stollen its recognizable sweet outer crust.
Next comes the vanilla-sugar. We grind real vanilla and mix it with sugar for an amazing combination flavors.
This delicious vanilla-sugar is what we roll the Stolen in, making sure every nook and cranny is coated with sweet goodness. It's all held on by the butter.
And finally, powdered sugar tops the whole thing off.
A Delicious and Sweet Treat for the Season
Stollen doesn't need refrigeration (and definitely don't freeze it!) and if stored in a cool, dry place they will last months, with no preservatives! This makes them great gifts, or a wonderful treat to bring to that holiday get-together with the family. Wrapped as they are in foil, and coated in sugar, they stay moist and delicious the whole time. In fact, Stollen are best after four weeks, as this lets the flavors develop.
And if you're looking for a quick, sweet, holiday snack, we also make Stollen bites. Instead of shaping the dough into large loafs, we use smaller dollops to make perfectly snack-sized Stollen, in case you don't want to commit to a whole Christstollen!
We only do Stolen for the Christmas season, and we stop selling them on New Year's, so come in soon and get a little piece of classic German holiday baking for yourself or a loved one!