There’s the old holiday joke that there is only one holiday fruitcake and it is passed from family to family every year. Not true. There are 1,487 American-style fruitcakes in all existence, and they are passed around from family to family every year. (really people, if you are going to share a suburban legend make it plausible!)
But today is not about American fruitcake, it’s about the German variety: Stollen. There are some things that the Germans do better than Americans: building luxury cars, incredible rail systems, of course Stollen. There are fruit cakes called “stolen” available in some markets this time of year but other than a name and shape, these carb filled blobs have about as much to do with the German tradition as those Volkswagens that were built in the old VW factory in Westmoreland PA (remember that debacle? Ugh!) The great news for this holiday season is that Rachel Crampsey of the Montclair Bread Company has uncovered an authentic recipe for Dresdner Stollen and the results are ausgezeichnet!
Historically Advent, the nearly month long Christian Season just before Christmas, was marked with fasting in preparation of the birth of the Christ Child. The season was not that different from Lent in that its end was marked by a feast of gastronomic proportions. The original 15th Century Stollen was a staple of that season and reflected the lack of flavor that is associated with dishes from these seasons of fasting. Once Saxony became a Protestant state things began to change – filled with dried fruits, drenched in butter, and covered in sugar the Dresden Stollen came to symbolize the sweetness of the Christ Child. The stollen even bears a slight resemblance to a tightly swaddled infant. (and no, this is not the origin of the Spiritual “Sweet Little Jesus Child” but kudos on the musical tangent!)
So what makes Dresden Stollen so different from the one available in the supermarket for $5? Well, only Stollen from Dresden can be called “Dresden Stollen” – just as only bubbly from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne, everything else is sparkling wine. Semantics aside, the preparation of Stollen following the Dresdner tradition makes all the difference. As a sweet risen bread, most American recipes forget about some of the science that goes into the rise which results in a hard, dense loaf. Despite knowing this secret, and knowing that Rachel knows this secret, I cannot share it. All I can tell share is “OMG – I’ve had four of these Stollens so far this season with stashed away another for Weihnachten.”
There are some secrets of the Montclair Bread Company that can be shared. The recipe is an authentic Dresden Recipe. Instead of using purchased candied peel, the entire Crampsey family joins in the process of peeling and candying fresh fruit (so there is none of that gummy green stuff and none of that chemical preservative taste). Sweet butter is used throughout the preparation, shortening would be cheaper, but Stollen is about authenticity and flavor. And finally the sugar – confectionary sugar has become the standard for store bought stollen but they didn’t have that powdered stuff in the 15th or even 19th century so Rachel rolls her stollen in sugar crystals that actually sparkle just a bit on a table illuminated by candlelight.
Since purchasing the Montclair Bread Company early this year, the Crampseys has revitalized one of the township’s best known brands into a bakery that now embraces European traditions and is as good as the best bakeries in San Francisco and Portland. Go for the stollen, and come back for the baguettes, pretzel bread, and jammies!