My Stollen Adventure: History

This post has been under preparation for a long time; in fact, I started this draft since December of last year but did not get to finished until now.  Originally, I wanted to combine both the background and the making of the Stollen in one post, but I decided that would be too long.  In this post, I will outline how I become acquainted with Stollen and its history.  It is important to know a bit of history and significance of a food item, in my opinion, so one can appreciate the evolution and experience that are embodied by the food.  I hope you will enjoy it and that it will not take me another year to write the subsequent post!

Growing up in America, I kept hearing that fruit cake is probably one of the less delectable food items.  The puzzling part is how in the world a cake with fruit and nuts can be anything but delicious?  Even until today, I have never tasted an American version for fruit cake only because I am afraid that it is indeed that inedible.

So why do I mention fruit cake?  I am actually crazy about it, but its German cousin, Stollen.  My encounter with Stollen is very serendipitous.  Back in 2005, I wondered in one of the local Trader Joe’s during the holiday season, then one box stood out from all types of curious products, a  Marzipanstollen.  Not knowing exactly what it was, the description printed on the box seemed so enticing to the point the my frontal lobes gave in to the temptation.  The result was not disappointing; in fact, it was heavenly.  The texture of it was a cross between a pound cake and bread.  Though Stollen is always a big hunk, it is semi-moist in the center.  The delicate aroma radiated from the candied fruit coupled with the warm fragrance from unidentified spices (at that time).  The marzipan added another layer of flavor.  The faint almond aroma tied together the rest of the flavors.  That was it.  It became an annual ritual that I secured my Stollen from Trader Joe’s during the holidays.
Exactly how much do I like Stollen?  I did an oral report in my German class on Stollen and from the instructor, I got the impression that it was complex to make from scratch.  While Marianne kindly proofread the draft to the oral report, she mentioned that Stollen from Dresden was and is still the most sought after, especially prior to German reunification.  Keep in mind that during this time, I have not done extensive research on the history of Stollen, so these fragmented information just lurked in the back of my mind.  I was extremely lucky that I made a friend via correspondence who happened to live in Dresden and learned about my weird obsession of the Christmas baked good that was famous in her home town.  From the very first Christmas that we knew each other, she would send me a Stollen from Dresden.  Marianne’s mom, who also makes Stollen every Christmas, would also send me a slice or two of the Stollen that she made in the winter.  As you can see, I am extremely spoiled.

Just how important was Stollen to Dresden?  Traditionally, Stollen was consumed as a Christmas fasting food, made with three simple ingredients:  yeast, water, and flour, which compare to modern Stollen was rather austere.   Catholic Church at the time banned the usage of rich ingredients, such as butter and milk, during time of Christmas for a time of abstention.  The Elector of Saxony requested for a papal dispensation on usage of butter from Pope Innocent VIII, and a butter missive (Butterbrief) was granted in 1491 so bakers in Dresden were allowed to richer ingredients to make the beloved bread.  Stollen was first sold to people in Dresden’s Christmas market in 1500 and since then, it was part of the Christmas celebration in Dresden for bakers to present their stollen to the sovereign during this time.

The height of this Stollen celebration, as well as the foundation of the bread, was accredited to Augustus the Strong.  In fact, because of this Elector Prince’s immense interest in Stollen, his image is on today’s Dresden Stollen Seal that authenticates and guarantees that a said Stollen has met the Stollen Association’s standard of quality.  Augustus had commissioned a giant Stollen that entailed 3,600 eggs and 326 churns of milk.  Imagine the resources that this Stollen had called during the 18th century!  Definitely a sign of extravagance and also the precursor to the modern day Stollen Festival in Dresden.

This is a bit of background on Stollen and how I become enchanted by it.  In the next post (or two), I will describe more about my Stollen making experience.  Stay tuned!


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