Christmas Stollen: The beginning of a German baking tradition

by Susann Ferrari

***image1***Among the many traditional German Christmas treats, one specialty in particular crowns every Advent season’s festive coffee table – the Christmas Stollen.

A subtle blend of flour, generous amounts of butter, exotic spices, candied lemon peel, rum-flavored raisins and sweet almonds make this fine Christmas delicacy. Similar to a heavy fruit and nut cake, its shape is supposed to remind you of the wrapped baby Jesus.

The history of the Stollen dates back to the Middle Ages. At that time, however, the pastry was a dull tasting mix of flour, yeast and water. Catholic dogma prohibited the use of butter as part of the fasting rules in preparation for Christmas.

At the request of the bakers of the East German city of Dresden, the Electoral Prince Ernst of Saxony appealed to the pope to rescind the so-called “butter ban.” Forty-one  years, and five popes later, the Vatican finally gave in. The victory, however, came with a hitch: Dresden’s bakers had to pay a fee for the use of butter; money that was used for building churches.

Beginning with the 16th century, every year Dresden’s bakers delivered one or two Stollen, weighing 36 pounds and carried by 16 people, to their ruler for the Holy Celebration. But, in 1730, Saxony’s ruler set a new challenge: On the occasion of the “Zeithainer Lustlager”, an amusement festivity for 2,000 invited guests, he ordered a giant Stollen − one that ultimatlely weighed 1.8 tons and required eight horses to be pulled.

Modeling this historical event, Dresden’s annual Stollen Festival is Dec. 8 this year.

The festival’s highlight is the traditional procession of Dresden’s bakers and pastry chefs across the city’s baroque Old Town, delivering the super Stollen, now weighing three to four tons, to the Christmas market. The huge cake is then cut by the ‘Royal Master Baker’ and the ‘Stollen Maiden’ and sold to visitors.

***image2***Throughout the holiday season, Stollen can be found in almost any German household. Delicious variations with raisins, almonds, almond paste, poppy seeds, or streusel are being enjoyed for breakfast, afternoon coffee, together with tea, or even hot Glühwein.

Stollen can be stored for several weeks or months, even though I’ve never seen one that survived so long without being eaten.

While you find very tasteful versions of the Christmas Stollen at any local bakery, the Original Dresdner Stollen is still a class of its own. A league of 150 baking businesses from Dresden commit to a seal of quality and tightly guarded family recipes to ensure its finest quality.

Several bakers from Dresden ship their masterpieces around the world. But, if you want to spoil your family with a homemade version of this German Christmas delicacy, I’ve included my grandma Eva Augustin’s recipe for you. With my family being from Dresden, this almost qualifies as an original.

Christmas Stollen

*Courtesy of Susi’s Grandma Eva

*If you are going to make Christmas Stollen, you must pepare it one week before serving to get its full flavor.


1 lbs flour

2 tablespoons dry yeast               

¾ cup milk               

3.5oz sugar + extra for coating       

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

minced peel of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon salt               

3 oz soft margarine

3 oz butter

1 oz lard               

1 oz candied lemon peel

1/2 oz minced bitter almonds or few drops of bitter almond extract    2 oz minced sweet almonds       

10 oz raisons soaked in rum


1. Dissolve yeast and 1Tbsp of sugar in 1c of lukewarm milk, then mix it with the flour. Knead until you have a firm dough ball. Let stand for approx. 2 hours until the dough almost doubled its size.

2. Work in all remaining ingredients, except raisons. Knead thoroughly.

3. Work in raisons last.

4. Let sit at a warm place for 2 hours, knead again.

5. Form dough into bread like shape and make a half inch deep cut through the middle.

6. Preheat oven and bake for 60minutes at 350F (170C).

7. Let cool. Brush some melted butter on top. Pour a thin coat of crystal sugar on top, finish with a powdered sugar coating.

8. Please have the patience to store your masterpiece for at least 1 week in a cool place so it can unfold its full flavor.