Stollen is a traditional Christmas bread laden with as much history as it has fruit and nuts. Since at least the 14th century, stollen has been a traditional German Christmas bread, known as Weinachtstollen or Christstollen at this time of year. It is a sweet bread made with cinnamon, nuts, and dried fruit. The fruit used can include raisins, currants, candied orange, and lemon. It’s not uncommon to find rum in the bread as well, and it is often covered in powdered sugar or icing. It is a dense bread, often weighing in around 4 pounds, although that can vary depending on the bakery
A specific type of stollen is Dresdner Stollen. This is a special designation given to stollen made in Dresden, a city that has had a special relationship with stollen for centuries. Since 15th century Germany was Catholic, bakers were not allowed to use butter during Advent, a time when stollen is popular. The oil they used instead made the bread rather dry and tasteless, so Dresden nobility eventually obtained a permit from the Pope to use butter in stollen during Advent. This was only allowed in Dresden; the rest of the region had to continue using oil. To be given the title Dresdner Stollen, the stollen must be made with raisins, butter, sweet and bitter almonds, candied orange and lemon peel, flour, water and yeast, as well as whole milk or whole milk powder, crystal sugar, clarified butter, lemon zest, table salt, powder sugar, stollen spices and spirits. Once these requirements are met, each baker can add their special twist to the stollen.
Since the 18th century, a giant stollen has been made each year in Dresden to celebrate the original giant stollen presented to Augustus the Strong. Bakers in Dresden traditionally presented the palace with stollen at Christmas. In 1730, Augustus the Strong requested a giant stollen from Dresden during the summer- this one weighed 1.8 tons. The tradition of the giant stollen has continued since then. Most recently, the Christmas stollen in Dresden weighed in at over 6,000 pounds.
One of the many good things about stollen is that it actually tastes better if you make it ahead of time and let it rest. Instead of becoming stale like many baked goods, the flavors actually develop and the bread becomes softer. While stollen doesn’t require any special skills to make, it does require patience to ensure that the dough rises properly and that the flavors have time to develop before you serve it. While time consuming and requiring some planning, it can be well worth the effort. If you’d like to try your hand at it this Christmas, here are a few recipes to try: