The Christmas Stollen: Holiday Baking Traditions from Dresden
Glancing out the car windows as the northern villages quickly ticker-taped by, the hamlets’ holiday lights radiated a blur of December gray-blue hues. The morning fog was opaque and waxy as we cut northbound on the Autobahn with a speed that promised to get us to Dresden in less than an hour. Gas station morning coffee between my knees and our crooner Christmas music streaming; Bing, Frank, & Nat. It was finally Saturday and there was a special holiday festival that I personally wouldn’t’ve missed.
Last weekend, the Saxon city of Dresden was hosting its annual Stollenfest. A Stollen is a Christmas raisin fruit bread made from butter and sugar dating back to the 18th century. Every year at the festival approximately 60 bakers and confectioneries join to bake the world’s biggest Christmas Stollen for charity to support the state opera and the advancement of the next generation of bakers. (Fantastic cause) The holiday bread is my favorite Christmas sweet that is nearly impossible to locate back in New England (a few years I was successful, however). New England or not, nothing truly can compare to the real German Dresdener Stollen once you have experienced it.
After a bit of crowd negotiating we managed to tuck ourselves against a food stand covered with fragrant German mountain evergreens. We looked on to see that day’s holiday centerpiece being pulled by 8 horses which were handsomely donned with red, green, and gold feathers and sashes. The record-breaking Stollen came to its rest in the center of the Christmas market square. After a brief ceremony, the bakers and helpers scrambled to cut, carve, and pass pieces of the Stollen to the eager crowd. “Get some, get some!” the husband cheered as he nudged me to the men and women in powdered-sugar-white bakers’ caps. I looked back and we both smiled at each other. My wool scarf was flying through the Christmas air as I made my way closer, truly smelling the rum, lemon, fruit, and the almonds more than ever. “Einem Stück, bitte,” I asked politely through a toothy grin. Success.
The city’s program continued that day with Santa potato sack races, angels and devils from city folklore roaming the cobbled streets, and mulled wine perfuming the air with its sweet scent of clove, anise, and orange. Each square overflowed with Christmas markets that showcased carved utensils, regional wines, handwoven quilts, and so much more. The Elbe river flowed peacefully whilst bouncing the laughter and cheers back from her waters to the city. What a day it was. It truly felt like Christmastime.
Below you will find the official German Dresdener Stollen recipe. It is a rich, sweet cake that makes for a perfect gift, too. The shelf life also is quite long so you can bake well in advance and enjoy it throughout the season. The recipe’s yield below is for 2 loaves. For other holiday baking ideas, be sure to visit my dessert section. For more German recipes, find inspiration here.
And to all, enjoy this season of food, festivities, and holiday celebrations!
- 2 1/2 cups (600 g) raisins
- 4 tbsp rum
- 8 cups (1 kg) flour
- 1-2 cups (250-500 ml) milk
- 2 packages dry yeast or 2 cubes of fresh yeast
- 1 cup (200 g) sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 lb (450 g) unsalted butter
- Grated rind of 1 lemon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 3.5 oz (100 g) chopped almonds
- 4 oz (113 g) candied lemon peel, finely chopped
- 4 oz (113 g) candied orange peel, finely chopped
- Unsalted butter for coating
- Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
- Soak raisins in rum overnight.
- Combine flour, milk, yeast, sugar, salt and butter to form a smooth yeast dough (appx 7 - 10 min) Incorporate almonds, candied lemon and orange peel, zest, nutmeg and raisins, one after another always kneading the dough thoroughly.
- Once kneaded completely, divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Shape and place into 2 clean bowls and cover away from drafts. Let rest for 1 hour. Secondly, roll the dough out and deflate by kneading, reshape and return back to the bowl for its second rest for 45 minutes.
- Once the dough has min. doubled twice in size, form your loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Center your baking rack. Bake for appx 1 hour in a preheated oven at 350 F (170 C) or until a toothpick comes to clean.
- After baking the Stollen, set aside and let let cool. Remove any burned raisins from the top of the bread. Brush the loaves with melted butter and dust generously with confectionery sugar. Allow the Stollen to absorb the flavors for 2-3 days before serving.
- Garnish with orange zest, dried fruits, or a sprinkling of cinnamon.