This is the time of the year in Italy when the usual Christmas cake skirmish begins: are we having Panettone or Pandoro? Originally from Milan, panettone has a domed shape, with a soft and airy interior beneath a dark exterior. The cake dough requires several hours to make because it must be cured in a way similar to sourdough, rising and falling three times before being baked. Traditionally, it contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins. Pandoro hails from Verona. As its name suggests – golden bread – it is the product of the ancient art of breadmaking. Sweet breads enriched with eggs, butter and sugar were reserved for nobility and were known as “golden bread”. Pandoro has an eight pointed-star section shape. It is often served dusted with icing sugar. Panettone and Pandoro are the classic Italian Christmas cakes. If you’re in doubt, simply get both, you won’t be disappointed!
But I also like Stollen or ChristStollen from Dresden in Saxony in today’s Germany.
Stollen is a fruit bread containing dried fruit and often covered with powdered sugar or icing sugar. The bread is usually made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts and spices. Stollen is a traditional German bread usually eaten during the Christmas season, when it is called Weihnachtsstollen (after “Weihnachten”) or Christstollen (after Christ).
Stollen is a cake like fruit bread made with yeast, water and flour, and usually with zest added to the dough. Candied orange peel and candied citrus peel (Zitronat), raisins and almonds, and different spices such as cardamom and cinnamon are added. Other ingredients, such as milk, sugar, butter, salt, rum, eggs, vanilla, other dried fruits and nuts and marzipan may also be added to the dough. Except for the fruit added, the dough is quite low in sugar. The finished bread is sprinkled with icing sugar. Stollen is like regular sweetened fruit bread. However, because it is slathered with melted unsalted butter and rolled in sugar as soon as it comes out of the oven, it results in a much better-keeping and moister product. The marzipan rope in the middle is optional. The dried fruits are macerated in rum or brandy for a superior tasting bread.
Dresden Stollen (originally Striezel), a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit, was first mentioned in an official document in 1474, and Dresdner Stollen remains notable and available – amongst other places – at the Dresden Christmas market, the Striezelmarkt. Dresden Stollen is produced in the city of Dresden and distinguished by a special seal depicting King Augustus II the Strong. This “official” Stollen is produced by only 150 Dresden bakers.
Every year Stollenfest takes place in Dresden. This historical tradition ended only in 1918 with the fall of the monarchy, and started again in 1994, but the idea comes from Dresden’s history.
The tradition of baking Christmas Stollen in Dresden is very old. Christmas Stollen in Dresden was already baked in the 15th century.
In 1560, the bakers of Dresden offered the rulers of Saxony Christmas Stollen weighing 36 pounds each as gift, and the custom continued.
Augustus II the Strong (1670–1733) was the Elector of Saxony, King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania. The King loved pomp, luxury, splendour and feasts. In 1730, he impressed his subjects, ordering the Bakers’ Guild of Dresden to make a giant 1.7-tonne Stollen, big enough for everyone to have a portion to eat. There were around 24,000 guests who were taking part in the festivities on the occasion of the legendary amusement festivity known as Zeithainer Lustlager. For this special occasion, the Court architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann (1662–1737), built a particularly oversized Stollen oven. An oversized Stollen knife also had been designed solely for this occasion.
Today, the festival takes place on the Saturday before the second Sunday in Advent, and the cake weighs between three and four tonnes. A carriage takes the cake in a parade through the streets of Dresden to the Christmas market, where it is ceremoniously cut into pieces and distributed among the crowd, for a small sum which goes to charity. A special knife, the Grand Dresden Stollen Knife, a silver-plated knife, 1.60 meters long weighing 12 kg, which is a copy of the lost baroque original knife from 1730, is used to festively cut the oversize Stollen at the Dresden Christmas fair.
The FrauenKirche, Dresden.