Monday, December 19, 2011

The Dresden Christstollen Cake

The Dresden Christstollen is a traditional German Christmas cake. The main ingredients include flour, yeast, water, almonds, macerated raisins, candied orange and lemon peel. Sometimes marzipan is used. Spices such as cinnamon and cardamom may also be added. Normally very little sugar is used to make the dough and some recipes call for milk, butter, and eggs.

The history of the Christstollen goes back to the early 15th century when it was first baked during the Advent at the Royal Saxon Court. The recipe was much simpler, though. 

The original Christstollen cake was rather tasteless. No raisins or spices were used in the recipe, just flower, water, and rapeseed oil. Because Advent was a time of fasting and penitence, the bakers were not allowed to use any butter in the recipe. The rapeseed oil made the cake hard and tasteless. Eating it must have been a penitence itself. 

The Saxon Court petitioned Rome in 1450, but the petition was declined by the Pope Nicholas V. More appeals were made by the Saxon royals until, finally, in 1490 Pope Innocent VIII granted a permission to use butter during Advent. However, the permission was granted to the household of the Prince Elector and his court only. The famous "Butter Letter" arrived in Dresden in 1491. 

With the passage of time the permission to use richer ingredients was extended to other households, but the bakers had to pay fine. The money was then used to build the Freiburg Cathedral. 

The general ban on butter during the Advent period was lifted when Saxony converted to Protestantism in 16th century. 

Over the centuries the cake evolved from a rather tasteless loaf of bread to a delicious, but not too sweet, cake. 

  • 10 oz raisins
  • 2.5 oz almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 2.5 oz candied orange peel
  • 1.5 oz candied lemon peel
  • 2 tbsp rum, optional
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1lb 2 oz wheat flour
  • 1 bag of dry yeast
  • ca. 3/4 cup milk, lukewarm
  • 2oz granulated sugar
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp pink Himalaya salt
  • 7 oz unsalted butter, melted
  • zest of 1/2 of organic lemon, finely grated
  • 3 oz / 100g unsalted butter
  • powdered sugar
  • Place raisins, candied orange and lemon peel, chopped almonds, rum and 2 tbsp of water in a small bowl. Stir ingredients together and set aside. Let them soak for a few hours.
  • Sift flour into a mixing bowl. Make a little depression in the center.
  • Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup of lukewarm milk. Pour into the center of the bowl, add 1 tsp of sugar and mix with some of the flour. Let the starting dough rise for ca. 20 minutes until it becomes very bubbly.
  • Add eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and lemon zest. Stir well.
  • Add butter and the remaining milk. Knead the dough until it is smooth and firm. Adjust consistency with either a bit more milk or a bit more flour. Make sure the dough is not too dry, otherwise it will be difficult to mix in the raisins and almonds.
  • Cover the mixing bowl with clean kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place until the volume has approximately doubled.
  • Incorporate the raisins, orange and lemon peel, and the almonds into the dough. Let it rise again until volume has almost doubled.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • To make a loaf, gently shape the dough into a thick oval and fold the edges over so that they meet in the center.
  • Let the so formed stollen rise for another 10-20 minutes.
  • Bake for about an hour or until fully baked - test with a wooden skewer before taking it out from the oven. When the skewer appears clean and dry, your cake is ready.
  • Remove from the oven. Brush with melted butter, sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  • Let it cool then wrap in aluminum foil. Keep it in a cool and dry place for at least a few days before slicing.
Enjoy in good company!