Just like many classic Christmas recipes, Stollen is something that has been adapted and featured in many different recipe books, stocked in supermarkets, and given the celebrity chef seal of approval. The Stollen story however begins in Dresden, Germany some 500 years ago.

Dresden forms part of one of Germany’s original tribal provinces called Saxony, and the Saxon court were one of the first to enjoy this seasonal treat, which was originally called Striezel. Ruled by the Church, the fasting period preceding Advent was observed, so in the early days, Stollen was nothing more than a bland product, baked using basic ingredients like flour, water, oats, yeast and oil.

The princes of Saxony wanted to create a more interesting product, and appealed to the Pope for the lifting of the ‘butter ban’. The next chapter in the history of Stollen, included a wait of some 41 years until a ‘butter letter’ was released by Pope Innocent VIII, allowing the current Prince of Saxony and his household to add butter to the Stollen recipe. Any others found to be using butter were fined, and the money collected went towards church construction.

The Stollen of today is well-known as the lighter alternative to Christmas Cake. The rich and fruity yeast bread often contains orange and candied citrus peel, other fruit such as raisins, marzipan, sugar, button, cardamom and cinnamon.  Although there are still variations produced by bakeries throughout Germany, the original basic Stollen recipe produced in Dresden is protected by Stollen Schutzverband, an association of 150 bakeries and pastry shops in the area, who work to preserve the recipe, and Dresden Stollen brand.

Stollen is now a firm favourite at German Christmas Markets, and can always be found at one of the oldest in Dresden, which has been held since 1434. Known as the Striezelmarkt , it attracts millions of people each year, who sample the yeast bread it was named after, and other German delights. There’s also an annual Stollen Festival, held during Advent, where visitors can see the ceremonial cutting of a giant Stollen, and a Stollen parade through the old town.

The shape of the Stollen was made to symbolise the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling, and with its origins in the Saxon court around Advent, there are many associations with this tasty delight and Christmas. Recipe variations and global sales aside, this alternative to Christmas cake will always remain one of the great German Christmas Traditions.

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