There are many fruit breads in the world, but there's one that stands out: the German Stollen!
Fruitcake, panettone, julekake, you name it, are local versions of fruit bread. But for many, the German Stollen is the king. Stollen is a sweet bread stuffed with delicacies like dried fruits, nuts, candied citrus peel, marzipan, and then coated in powdery sugar.
Stollen originates from Dresden, where it was first mentioned in 1474. Stollen was mostly enjoyed as an exclusive treat around Christmas, because the ingredients had to be imported at high costs. Stollens were baked to honor noblemen, and to sell at high prices at fairs during holiday celebrations.
The word Stollen literally means "pillar" or "post", and seems to have little connection with the product. But there is religious symbolism: The white loaf resembles the wrapped infant body of Jesus Christ. Another popular legend purports that the Stollen's hump resembles a camel carrying gifts for infant Christ.
Initially, Stollen was a simple loaf made with just flour, yeast and water. The resulting bread was hard and tasteless, and perfect for fasting during the Advent period, when the church would not allow bakers to use butter. In 1650, Prince Ernst von Sachsen, at the request of bakers in Dresden, successfully petitioned Pope Urban to lift those restrictions.
From that point onwards, the Stollen developed into an enjoyable sweet bread, incorporating tasty ingredients like marzipan and raisins. In 1730, King August commissioned the bakers of Dresden to bake a gigantic Stollen in celebration of the Saxon military. It took eight horses to bring the Stollen to the king’s table and a 5 foot knife to cut it. To commemorate that event, a similar Stollen is baked every year at the Dresden Stollen Festival.
Eventually, bakers discovered the benefits of adding Marzipan to the Stollen. Marzipan is a paste made of grated, powdered almonds and powdered sugar, which adds great flavor and moisture to the bread. Since those early days, the Stollen has evolved from a Christmas treat into a year-round delicacy with a global customer base, who enjoys it for dessert, snack, festive occasions, etc.
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