If there is a gift of baking that is perfect for last minute Christmas gifts, it is the Stollen, a very traditional Western-style sweet bread. The Stollen is a Germanic holiday pastry-bread, a not-too-sweet winter holiday specialty, popular beyond belief in Europe since the Middle Ages. Stollen is traditionally eaten and exchanged during the holidays in Germany. While all the European countries have their characteristic holiday bread with butter and dried fruits, the Stollen is quite unique. If you want to impress a European visitor, this is the Christmas bread to make.
The Stollen that is prevalent in the USA is a style known as Dresden Stollen, named for the capital city of Saxony, near the Czech border, where it was created in the 14th century. As the royal residence, Dresden was a center for art and culture. Whenever you had royalty, you have the top bakers nearby aiming to impress, which morphed into the Bakery Guild of Dresden, the keepers of the tradition of the Stollen.
The special occasion bread is loaded with butter, sugar, raisins, and citron, but it wasn’t always so rich and yummy. Known originally as striezel, it contained no butter or milk. Elector Lord Ernst of Saxony appealed to the Pope to rescind the so-called “butter ban” in effect at the time by the Catholic Church. Dresden Stollen as we know it today is said to have originated in 1329 as a result of a contest offered by the Bishop of Nauruburg challenging the bakers to make a new recipe with butter.
Stollen became such a part of Dresdeners’ lives that it was cut and served with a special Stollen knife that looks like a cross between a Saracen sword and an ornate cheese knife. There is an official Stollen website, an annual Stollen festival, and even a Stollen maiden presiding for the media glitz posing with a Stollen so big and heavy it is pulled by a horse-drawn cart through town. Every Stollen bakery (some 150 exist) uses its own secret family recipe handed down over generations; some ship internationally. But really the best Stollen is easily made at home.
Stollens have a very particular, unique texture that tends to be firmer and drier than other sweet breads. It’s meant to be that way since it can stay fresh for a few days after baking since it was created before refrigeration and was designed to have a long shelf life if stored in a cool place. While Stollen may be foreign at first to your palate, it is a bread that you will begin to crave. Stollens are usually made with yeast, but there is a quick bread version I make that can be made without yeast, a boom to the timid baker or one just pressed for time. It is every bit as good as the yeasted version and ever so deliciously rich.
When forming, please note that the traditional elongated folded-over flat shape is best (similar to an oversized Parker House roll) as the dough is rich and liberally endowed with fruits and nuts, so it needs to be freeformed. It just doesn’t translate to a standard pan loaf shape at all. It’s an odd shape, rather like a flat tapered torpedo, although in some regions Stollens are formed into a long thin baguette-like logs known as Klabens. You will find the dough very easy to handle and shape, so don’t worry.
The Stollen is baked to a golden brown, brushed with butter and sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar to provide the crowning touch of looking frosted. I especially like my Stollen mit marzipan, with a tube of mouth-watering almond paste baked into the center.
Stollen is served like any other bread: sliced and served as is with breakfast, although some people prefer to warm individual slices in a toaster, since it makes great toast, or a microwave. Cut into thin slices to serve all through the holidays with hot coffee spiked with a liqueur, eggnog, or hot mulled cider.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.