No, Germany didn’t sneak into Whoville and actually steel Christmas, but if the Grinch had wandered into Annaberg Germany to steal Christmas his bag of contraband would have most certainly been weighted down with German Stollen Cake. I’m not sure that he would have made it back to his perch on the mountaintop.
Butter Stollen is a dense type of bread or cake that is a staple on the table in German households during the holidays. Much like Starbucks starts putting out eggnog drinks in November, all around Germany you start to see Stollen in the shops.
Stollen is like a fruitcake with less fruit and more butter. I remember always having some sort of fruit and nut cake on the table at my Grandma Ott’s house for the holidays. However, there was no frosting, sprinkles, or chocolate on it, so I didn’t pay it much attention to it as a kid, it was just something my crazy German American relatives ate.
After spending time at the award winning Annaberger Backwaren bakery in Annaberg Germany, I have a pretty good idea why Stollen Christmas Cake is so loved and such an important part of the German culture. I think it has something to do with the butter and sugar; there is an excessive amount of each involved. Let’s just say this isn’t the type of Christmas cake that makes the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes – instead it may stop his heart! A typical Stollen includes yeast, water, flour, butter, candied orange peel, rum soaked raisins, and nuts. After is comes out of the oven, then it’s time to drench it in more butter and sugar that actually preserve the cake making it ‘age’ better over time.
The cake is the kick-off to Christmas season in the region. On the Saturday before the first Advent, the famous Annaberg Christmas Market is opened when the first cut is made into the enormous 22 pound Butter Stollen from the bakery of Annaberger Backwaren.
Learn to Bake Your Own German Stollen Cake
“Bread connects family,” said Martin Hubner. Martin and his sister work at the family run Annaberger Backwaren bakery that produces Stollen shipped all over the world. For him it is a family business that has crawled back to life after the fall of the GDR. As I walked into the bakery’s factory I inhaled deeply. There are few things better than the smell of fresh bread baking. I wondered why they didn’t infuse this aroma into offices; I think it would make everyone happier in their cubicle…and hungry.
The factory floor had the feeling of a warm Santa’s workshop as baking elves worked non-stop making homemade Stollen from dough to kneading, to baking, to butter drenching, to packaging. And this was in early October. They start making the Christmas Stollen early in order to let it age properly and have time to ship it around the world.
Martin outfitted me with an apron and a hairnet and put me to work. I pretty quickly learned that kneading dough is a lot of physical exercise. No wonder why bakers always have muscular arms. We went through the process of kneading the dough and then letting it rest, and then more kneading, and resting until finally we started to form it into rectangular loaves. I’d like to say that I did this all perfectly, but I got a little help from the professionals.
The professional Stollen bakers can form 125 Stollen in an hour per person. It took me 10 minutes to get mine right. I don’t think they’ll be hiring me for seasonal work anytime soon. It takes 7 hours of total time to make Stollen, and then it sits for 2 days to rest before it gets shipped out. They produce 3,000 a day during the season. And as soon as Christmas is over they start the whole process again by sourcing and securing all of the ingredients locally.
The Stollen gets shipped worldwide, so Martin kindly offered to ship the loaf I made back home so I could enjoy it over Christmas with my family. I was excited to know that my poorly kneaded Stollen would make its way all the way across the Atlantic and onto my family’s holiday table in South Dakota preserving a German tradition. After all, bread connects family. And we all know that sharing a Christmas cake is way better than Whoville’s roast beast for the holidays.
Want to make, eat, or buy your own Christmas Stollen? Then stop in at Annaberger Backwaren in Saxony Germany, to steal a little slice of Christmas for yourself.