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!
The German Christmas Stollen
What you’ll need
16g of dry yeast (which is appx 2 packages)
1/2 cup of warmed water
2 1/2 cups (600g) of soaked rum raisins (overnight) in 4 tbsp rum
8 cups baking, or fine AP flour
1 1/2 cup warmed milk
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 lb unsalted butter (450g)
Grated zest of 1 fresh lemon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup (100g) dropped almonds
1/2 cup (100g) candied lemon peel, finely chopped
1/2 cup (100g) candied orange peel, finely chopped
Melted butter for coating, confectionary sugar for dusting
Night before: Soak raisins overnight before baking in 4 tbsp of rum
Combine dry yeast and warm water in a small bowl. Add a pinch of flour and a pinch of sugar, mix, and set aside for appx 10 min until bubbling and active.
While yeast is proofing, begin to cream your sugar and butter in a stand-alone mixer (or bowl, with wooden spoon). One by one, begin to add the ingredients slowly, combining before adding next ingredient. Begin with flour, then milk, salt, nutmeg, zest, almonds, lemon candies, orange candies, yeast, and add raisins last. (note: depending on your mixer, at the half-way point the dough may become too large for your dough hook. Mix in bowl or on a flat surface.
Roll dough out onto a floured surface. Divide dough evenly into 2, weighing each equally. Knead each dough ball fully for appx 8-10 minutes using the ball of your hand, picking up any flour from the surface as needed. Using 2 greased bowls, place the 2 stollen balls and cover. Cover and let rest in a warm room far from drafts for appx 1-1/2 hours (I use an electric blanket to cover).
Once doubled in size, roll dough balls out, knead again and return to bowls, let rise for another 30 minutes until doubled. While waiting, preheat your oven to 350F (180C) and center your baking rack. Fill a ramekin with water and set in oven to prevent stollen from drying out while baking.
Take 2 cookie sheets and cover with baking paper. Roll dough out forming a loaf. Cut a small slit down the center of the bread before baking. Place in oven. Bake between 45-60 min until golden brown and skewer comes out clean.
Set aside to cool on wire racks. With a fork, remove any burned raisins. Brush both stollens with melted butter once. After 10 minutes, brush with melted butter again covering all the stollen and sift a generous amount of powered sugar before serving.
*Note: stollen can be prepared days in advance and often 2-3 days after baking tastes better after flavors develop. To store, cover with plastic wrap or place second loaf in the freezer.