Kristy Wenz is a writer, entrepreneur, wine lover, experimental home cook and avid traveler. She blogs regularly at Eat Play Love, where she and her family explore cuisines and cultures around the globe.
A Rich Tradition – The Stollen Cake
The holidays are upon us once again. It’s a busy season filled with baking, shopping, and merry making. Here at Wine Tourist Magazine it’s also a chance to delve into Europe’s renowned Christmas Markets. It’s no coincidence that for many of us, the very mention of Christmas Markets conjures storybook images of Germany with snow gently falling atop the many beautiful stands in the center square, all laden with handmade crafts and dishing up local sausages alongside a warming Glühwein; there are around 2,500 such markets across Germany which are visited by more than 150 million visitors a year.
History of the German Christmas Market
The market tradition can be traced back to the 13th and 14th centuries when Germany, as we know it today, was not yet a nation and seasonal markets offered locals a chance to purchase much-needed resources. The winter market in particular offered residents, particularly those living outside of the cities, a day or two to stock up on foods and other goods before the long, grueling winter ahead.
However, the winter markets also began to serve another unintended purpose. They became a place to gather and greet one another. They offered a light, jovial atmosphere in an otherwise dreary season. Soon local merchants began selling their wares and the markets as we know them today began to take shape. Markets were often held near churches to help increase church attendance and as gift giving became associated with the holidays, so too did shopping for children at the Christmas markets.
Soon the winter markets became ingrained with the German Christmas tradition and many were renamed Christkindlsmarkts. The markets, while still often set-up in the squares and near churches, now run for weeks through the entire Advent season. Some cities even have more than one Christmas market where stand after stand features local handmade crafts and delicacies, beer and mulled wine. It’s a celebratory atmosphere where friends and family meet to revel in the season, and where tourists from around the world can catch a glimpse (and taste) of German tradition.
Dresden Markets and the Butter Letter
One of the oldest and longest continuously running markets is the Dresden Striezelmarkt which dates back to 1434. It is held in Dresden’s Altmarkt (Old Market) Square, and although one of several markets today, it remains the most famous in the region. The name “Striezelmarkt” is derived from the word “Striezel” which refers to the German Stollen Cake, a rich, dense fruit bread covered in powdered sugar whose shape is representative of a mine entrance, where many of the market’s first patrons worked. The cake became so synonymous with the Dresden market it is now referred to in the region as the Dresden Christstollen. The quality of the regional delicacy is overseen by The Stollen Association and a seal featuring King Augustus II the Strong indicates authenticity. (The Dresden Christstollen even has its own Facebook page!)
While available at Christmas markets throughout Germany today, the origins of the Stollen can also be traced back to Dresden where it was noted in hospital records in 1474. It originally served as fasting bread, consisting of yeast, flour, oil and dried fruit. It lacked both butter and eggs which were prohibited by the Catholic Church as a sign of abstention. As oil was hard to come by and butter preferred, Prince Ernst the Elector of Saxony and his brother wrote to the Pope to request the ban be lifted.
In 1491, Pope Innocent VIII replied, in what has been called the “Butter Letter,” that he would indeed revoke the ban, but only for the Prince’s family. Eventually Dresden, and the Saxon region, became Protestant, and fasting and abstention were no longer religious requirements. Butter and eggs could once again be widely used, and by the 1500’s many rich versions of the Dresden Christstollen were found throughout the Striezelmarkt – the traditional loaf weighing about 9.7 pounds! Today you can also find Dresden Christstollen at the Dresden Stollen Festival held on the Saturday before the second Advent Sunday (December 3rd this year).
Stollen at Home
So, if you’re one of the 150 million lucky people visiting any of Germany’s Christmas markets this season, make sure to try this traditional fruit bread with your glass of warming Glühwein. However, if like me, you’ll be home for the holidays, there’s no reason not to enjoy a little German market tradition in your own home. While it requires a little time to make, it’s well-worth the effort. Not only will it change all preconceived notions you may have about the much maligned fruitcake, it will also fill your home with warmth, heavenly aromas and have you in the holiday spirit in no time!
Now this recipe is a bit more time consuming than our typical World Platter dish, but rising time is key – multiple rising times. The dough rises without the fruit the first go-round so that it’s not weighed down. Once it’s gained some strength the fruit is mixed in for the second rise, and shaped into loaves for the third rise. You’ll also need a good 24 hours prior to making the dough to soak the dried fruit in rum or brandy. But aside from the time required, the recipe comes together fairly easily, especially with the use of a stand mixer.
Traditional Stollen is served after 24 hours and for up to 2 weeks; however, we won’t fault you for having a warm slice. It’s nearly impossible to resist and you won’t be sorry! The Stollen is dense, yet not heavy; rich, but not too sweet; and the fruit provides a nice sour contrast to the subtly sweet, yeast-risen crumb. While baking a Stollen at home may not be as romantic as strolling through a German Christmas market, it is sure to lift your spirits. So invite over a few friends and family members, throw on some holiday tunes, light the fire, warm some Glühwein and revel in the season.
For the Fruit
- ¾ c dried cherries
- ½ c chopped dried apricots
- ½ c golden raisins
- ¼ c rum
- ¼ c hot water
- 2 T flour
- 1 T crystallized ginger
- Soak the dried fruit in the rum and water overnight for up to 24 hours.
- Drain and pat the fruit dry.
- Toss with the ginger and flour. Set aside.
For the Cake
- 2 ¼ ounce packets of active dry yeast
- 2 t sugar
- ¾ c water heated to 100-110 degrees F
- 1-1/2 c milk
- ¾ c butter (1-1/2 sticks)
- 5-6 c all-purpose, unbleached flour
- ½ c sugar
- 1 t ginger powder
- 1 t cardamom
- ¼ nutmeg
- 1-1/2 t salt
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 t vanilla
- 1/2 c melted butter, divided
- 2 T sugar
- ½ nutmeg
- ¾ c confectioner’s sugar
- Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water (around 96F-110F). Let proof for ten minutes, or until risen and bubbly.
- In a small sauce pan, heat the milk and butter until melted. Remove from heat and cool to 100F-110F before adding the yeast to the mixture.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the flour, spices, salt and lemon zest. Sift together. Next pour in the liquid and begin kneading the dough using the dough hook attachment at a low speed. Add in the eggs and vanilla while it’s mixing and continue beating on low for approximately 10 minutes, or until the dough begins to pull away from the sides. (If the dough is too wet, add small amounts of flour, a little at a time, until elastic and smooth.)
- Grease a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and let rise, covered, in a warm place for 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
- Once the dough is doubled in size, punch it down. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Begin to gently knead in the dried fruit mixture until fully incorporated. The dough will be slightly sticky.
- Place the dough back into a greased bowl, cover and let rise again for another 1 to 1-1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
- After the second rise, gently divide the dough into two equal portions. Shape into flat ovals (roughly 7” by 12”) and place on parchment lined baking sheets.
- Mix the 2 T of sugar with the ½ t of nutmeg.
- Brush the dough evenly with the ¼ of the melted butter and sprinkle on the sugar and nutmeg mixture.
- Next crease the dough in the middle and fold lengthwise, so that one side is within an inch of the opposite side (you want it slightly uneven). Pinch up the ends of the loaves slightly, cover and let rise for another 45 minutes or until doubled.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Once the loaves have risen, place them in the oven and bake, uncovered, for about 30-40 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and brush the tops and sides of the loaves with the remaining melted butter and sprinkle liberally with confectioner’s sugar (dusting through a fine mesh strainer works nicely to coat it evenly).
- Once cooled, wrap in plastic and set aside for a minimum of one day before serving. Lasts up to two weeks. Pairs beautifully with a warm mulled wine.